Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Terence, Federico & Toby Dammit

An Edgar Allen Poe double bill: I had forgotten about SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES) from 1968, and I liked Roger Corman's THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH in 1964 and caught it again this week on our Horror channel.

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD was the kind of art-house fodder we liked back in that crazy (it seems now) late '60s era, and the film magazines had ample spreads on its star cast: Jane Fonda with brother Peter in the first story METZENGERSTEIN directed by Roger Vadim; Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot in Louis Malle's WILLIAM WILSON and the one that generated the most interest - easy to see why once one has seen it - Terence Stamp as TOBY DAMMIT directed by Fellini. Good its on dvd now. It catches Fellini at a good period after his big '60s hits and before SATYRICON, ROMA, AMARCORD, CASANOVA etc.

These are 3 Edgar Allen Poe stories freely adapted for the cinema, from that era of portmanteau films (I liked GOLD OF NAPLES, BOCCACCIO 70, YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW, LE BAMBOLE, LE FATE and others (Italian label). We can dismiss the Vadim segment out of hand, a very silly soft-core medieval romp which wastes the talents of all involved, at least Jane Fonda was going on to her great roles; the Malle one isn't much better - Bardot is totally wasted here and wears an unbecoming black wig, one would have expected more from the teaming of her and Delon - we get two Delons though as he plays the wastrel William Wilson and the doppelganger who pursues him or is he a man who is driven to the murder of his conscience; there are some unpleasant sadistic scenes too. Then we go to Rome as wasted English actor Toby Dammit flies in ...

Everything about TOBY DAMMIT shows Fellini at his peak, this 50 minute segment is full of fabulous moments as we share Federico's vision of an airport, a tv interview, an awards show as frayed strung-out actor Toby gets more and more out if it as all the producers and movie hanger-ons latch on to him. It really makes me want to go back to FELLINI 8 1/2 now again ... Nino Rota contributes a terrific score and its deliriously shot by Giuseppe Rotunno, with production design by Fellini regular Piero Tosi.  Central to it all is that stunning performance by Stamp - one of the most attractive actors here looking a total wastrel with that frizzy blonde hair  .... 

Toby Dammit, according to Poe, was a poor, foolish young man who would bet on anything, and, because he had no money, it was his head he used as his ante. Eventually, of course, the devil collects the bet. Here Toby agrees to do an Italian film - a Catholic western - in return for a Ferrari, a long sleek red Ferrari ... and again he sees that little girl playing with a ball.  To him the devil is in fact a little girl ... after a night of demented drinking he finally flees from the movie people and screams off into the night in his low red car ...
Fellini presents a fantasmagoria, a descent into a maelstrom of grotesque settings, props and faces - is Toby embracing his own destruction? Does he know how his car ride will end ? Toby cannot bear the lights and photographers bothering him at the airport - it seems clear that stardom has taken its toll and the spotlight has drained him dry of all his life and he's just going through the motions by the bitter end .... the end is stunning as he drives his car over a gap in the motorway into a blank abyss where we see there is a wire stretched across the road with blood on it .... and the little girl with the ball picks up the dismembered head .... It could of course be a metaphor for selling your soul for 15 minutes of fame and how the bright lights can burn one out. Its surreal, beautiful, and mesmerising and Stamp is stunning here. 
Terry & Monica/Modesty = the height of '60s glamour for me
This was "the look" then
He began as that beautiful BILLY BUDD and the thug in TERM OF TRIAL both 1962, then he was THE COLLECTOR for Wyler in 1965 followed by those mid-'60s essential films, going from Losey and Monica Vitti as MODESTY BLAISE to Schlesigner and Julie Christie in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Loach's POOR COW and that western BLUE and then Italy called: Pasolini and TEOREMA with Silvana Mangano, (sensational at the time) and Fellini here with TOBY DAMMIT
I used to have the poster
Terence wrote 3 marvellous volumes of autobiography covering it all, took lots of time off, made some very adventureous choices (unlike his old friend Michael Caine)  and continues filming now. I am looking forward to seeing him and Vanessa Redgrave and Anne Reid in SONG FOR MARION coming out soon. Certainly one of the most individual actors out there. I used to see him a few times in London as I worked for 20 years in Regent Street, just as it curved down to Piccadilly and sometimes in the morning I would see Terry clutching a carton of milk, as his apartment then was at The Albany just behind where I worked, in Piccadilly. I resisted asking him what Monica or Julie were really like .... and I also saw him on stage playing DRACULA

We also liked those early '60s American-International Poe adaptations by Roger Corman like THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDELUM - that last shot of Barbara Steele! - and the 2 he made in England in 1964: MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, all starring terrific Vincent Price. Vincent of course was terrifying in Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL in 1967, and later had a lot of fun as DR PHIBES and in THEATRE OF BLOOD where he met his wife Coral Brown, that very individual actress. MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a sheer delight with its depiction of the village, the castle and the red death plague. It has moments that suggest Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL, and has great images as lensed by Nicolas Roeg. Vincent is in his element as Prince Prospero imagining he can keep the plague from entering his castle, and we liked young Jane Asher here, David Weston, and Hammer scream queen Hazel Court who makes an unwise pact with "a friend of Prince Prospero" ... it all looks terrific. Corman of course shot cheaply and quickly, here on sets left over from BECKET.

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