Toby Dammit opens on an aerial descent into Rome and concludes in the chasm of a broken bridge, and the forty-three minutes contained within offer the corresponding spiritual deterioration of a profoundly disaffected, drug-addled man. Loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” the film appeared as part of the Poe-inspired omnibus project Spirits of the Dead alongside segments by Louis Malle and Roger Vadim, and the deferential format produced one of Fellini’s most concise, emotionally affecting films. Featuring Terence Stamp at the height of his international prestige as a British actor brought to Italy to star in a Western described by its producer as “somewhere between Dreyer and Pasolini with just a hint of John Ford,” Toby Dammit’s film-within-a-film never gets to the production stage, as its star must first brave a nightmarish awards ceremony that ultimately drives him to the brink of his madness. Lavished with attention by a garish film intelligentsia in his waking life and trailed by a demonic little blonde girl in his dream world, Stamp’s titular figure finally escapes into nocturnal Rome by way of a trophy Ferrari, at which point the film becomes something truly singular and strange: a ghostly phantasmagoria-cum-hotrod action thriller. Bathed in sepia tones and complex zoom-pan-dolly shots, this is one of Fellini’s more primal bursts of creativity.
De Sica, Fellini, Monicelli and Visconti all contributed to the comic anthology Boccaccio ’70, loosely based on tales from The Decameron. Marking the first time he worked in color, Fellini’s episode joyfully follows the ridiculous antics of the high-minded, religious Dr. Antonio, who is obsessed with bringing virtue back to his holy city. Taking full advantage of this new cinematic palette, Fellini fills the screen with a colorful carnival of characters and visions, as well as a teasing finger pointed directly at the Italian censors. When the doctor is confronted with the ultimate disgrace—a billboard featuring a larger-than-life Anita Ekberg suggestively extolling the virtues of drinking milk—he goes to extreme lengths to have the billboard taken down, until his unconscious is exposed—through a dream sequence—revealing what is really fueling his fire. – AV/BG