A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Spirits of the Dead (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini, 1968)

Jane Fonda in Spirits of the Dead: Metzengerstein
Contessa Frederique de Metzengerstein: Jane Fonda
Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing: Peter Fonda
Contessa's Advisor: James Robertson Justice
Contessa's Friend: Françoise Prévost

Director: Roger Vadim
Screenplay: Roger Vadim, Pascal Cousin
Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Production design: Jean André
Film editing: Hélène Plemiannikov
Music: Jean Prodromidès

William Wilson
Alain Delon in Spirits of the Dead: William Wilson
William Wilson: Alain Delon
Giuseppina: Brigitte Bardot
Priest: Renzo Palmer

Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Louis Malle, Clement Biddle Wood
Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli
Production design: Ghislain Uhry
Film editing: Franco Arcalli, Suzanne Baron
Music: Diego Masson

Toby Dammit
Terence Stamp in Spirits of the Dead: Toby Dammit
Toby Dammit: Terence Stamp
Priest: Salvo Randone
TV Commentator: Annie Tonietti
The Devil: Marina Yaru

Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi
Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Production design: Piero Tosi
Film editing: Ruggero Mastroianni
Music: Nino Rota

Of the three short films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories collected here under the title Spirits of the Dead, only the third, Federico Fellini's Toby Dammit, a freewheeling version of Poe's "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," really works. Roger Vadim's Metzengerstein is simply cheesy, with his then-wife Jane Fonda sashaying around in supposedly period costumes that are designed to reveal as much flesh as possible. The casting of her brother, Peter, as the man she loves, is obviously there to elicit a frisson of some sort, but it doesn't. Louis Malle's William Wilson stuffs a little too much of Poe's doppelgänger fable into its confines, and despite the presence of a cigar-puffing Brigitte Bardot, manages to pull whatever punches the story may have had, ending up rather dull. But Toby Dammit is a small gem, a concentration of Fellini's usual grotesques and decadents into a bright satire on celebrity: It's almost impossible to watch another awards show without recalling Fellini's acid-bathed take on it. Only the conclusion of the film really retains much of Poe, which suggests that Vadim and Malle might have been better off devising contemporary riffs on the material, as Fellini does.

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