Archive for Toby Dammit

Fellini Vs. Casanova

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2020 by dcairns

Thrilled to publish David Ehrenstein’s appreciation of FELLINI CASANOVA. I should note that I don’t yet have the Blu-ray, so my frame-grabs from the “Hollywood Classics” DVD are a touch hideous.

FELLINI CASANOVA

By David Ehrenstein

Across the course of his peerless career Federico Fellini has produced films both sweet and sour. The “Felliniesque” is cinema at its most bizarre and most moving — often simultaneously as in his primary masterpieces 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. But sometimes they’re strikingly separate entities. Consider Fellini Casanova — just released as a beautifully produced Kino Lorber blu-ray, replete with a highly informative commentary track by critic Nick Pinkerton.

        Coming right on the heels of Amarcord — arguably the warmest and most convivial of all his works, this meditation on  the life and character of a man whose very name is synoymous with seduction is as cold as the ice featured in its finale. There the anti-hero is seen waltzing on ice skates on a frozen lake with the love of his life — not a woman but a meticulously crafted automaton. Beneath the smooth enamel mask of a face is an actual actress, Leda Lojodice, who goes through her paces so perfectly it’s barely possible to regard her as “real.” This matches Casanova himself as embodied by Donald Sutherland in a performance which, while expert, is a world away from the romantic anti-heroes so memorably embodied by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s most famous films. Even Terence Stamp in the maestro’s other English-language work Toby Dammit (1968) is more simpatico.

        Outfitted with a prosthetic nose and chin Sutherland is the image of Giacomo Casanova. And Fellini Casanova is nothing but image, rather than individual. The project came to him as a “film de commande” of sorts in the Dino Di Laurentiis, the original producer (he left the project before pre-production got underway and was replaced by Alberto Grimaldi) thought a Fellini film about Casanova would fit perfectly into the then-current trend of sexually semi-explicit “art films” made by such greats as Nagisa Oshima and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But while Fellini’ films have been filled with beautiful women for Marcello to make love to (Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Barbara Steele and Nico to name just a few) he wasn’t playing the lead here. Sutherland operates from an emotional remove as Casanova — and so does Fellini.

        As Pinkerton explicats as he got into the project Fellini discovered that the “great lover” was someone he didn’t really like. While the youthful anti-heroes of Fellini Satyricon (1970) romped with all and sundry with great elan, Sutherland’s Casanova copulates as if he were drilling into concrete to lay a new pipe for Con Edison. While Margaret Clementi, Tina Aumont and Olympia Carlisi are more than lovely Fellini seems as  removed from them as his anti-hero. Perhaps this proceeds from the problems the film faced when a great number of reels were stolen from the lab during production and had to be reshot. The thieves were fascist thugs looking for Pasolini’s Salo, then in production as well. They thought it was going to expose their current activities. Instead it was a flashback to the Mussolini period. Fellini portrayed that time as curiously convivial in Amarcord. Perhaps Fellini Casanova would have had a lighter tone had this theft not taken place, necessitating his cancelling of a sequence that would have featured Barbara Steele. But what we have is far from cinematically unsatisfying. It’s a  full frontal attack on machismo and male vanity in every form. Fellini may not be able to feel for Casanova as a man but he does feel for the spectators, male and female, who long for this mythical figure of romance as a kind of “role model” however imperfect.

After this Fellini’s City of Women reunites him with Mastroianni and takes up the subject of feminism — a movement Fellini freely admits he cannot comprehend. He loved women and celebrated them throughout his career, but his love isn’t always reciprocal. And in this Fellini may have been closer to Casanova than he suspected. The films that follow, And the Ship Sails On, Ginger and Fred and Intervista are exercises in nostalgia and his last the sadly neglected The Voice of the Moon an exploration of the fantasy life of a”village idiot’ with a perfectly cst Roberto Benigni. It’s quite warm. But those of us who love Fellini may well prefer Casanova’s frozen cold “Replicant” pas de deux.

The Elsie Beckmann Brigade

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2020 by dcairns

The opening of Damiano Damiani’s GIROLIMONI, THE MONSTER OF ROME (1972) is SO arresting. A line-up of little girls is issued with white TOBY DAMMIT bouncing balls and driven off in a black maria to act as bait for a serial killer.

And the movie continues to provide startling scenes throughout — what it can’t quite do is synthesise them into a wholly coherent drama. It is amazing how — and you wonder WHY — it manages to veer from horror (graphic descriptions of the killer’s child-mutilating technique) to comedy (star Nino Manfredi is an adept underdog). Manfredi plays a suave seducer to begin with, his attitude to the crimes one of morbid curiosity, his reaction to the cops’ suspicions one of arrogant amusement, not a very attractive character, but as his life disintegrates under the burden of unjust suspicion, his increasing vulnerability makes him more likable a, a smoothie battered into the shape of a schlemiel.

It’s a wild ride. There are some big problematic bits — the actor playing Mussolini (Luciano Catenacci) is quite strong and interesting but it’s an issue that he doesn’t look or act like Mussolini — but it’s an incredibly bold piece of writing with a beautiful seventies-does-twenties look, all soft-focus and deco. Of course, it’s nothing to THE CONFORMIST, but what is there to compare with that one?

Arse Marathon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 21, 2015 by dcairns

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Ha! I wrote so many things in Bologna last year at Il Cinema Ritrovato that I lost track of what I had done. Here’s one piece that never saw the light of your screens —

“Nobody’s really captured the quality of a film festival,” observed musician/composer Neil Brand, “You’re doing something that’s pleasurable, but then the fatigue sets in…” It’s true — a celluloid feast like Il Cinema Ritrovato is a particular case, too, since so many of the films are rarities. It’s like being a cake specialist and suddenly somebody offers you fifty magnificent cakes of unique recipe but says “You have to eat them all in an hour or I’ll take them away and you’ll never see them again.” You plunge in, and even when nausea starts to replace pleasure you can’t bring yourself to stop…

Cinephiles like to grumble, and the venues of Bologna attract a certain amount of criticism (one has a bar which runs between the front row and the screen, cutting the subtitles in half; air conditioning is switched on and off at random; and then there’s the “simultaneous translations” which come with heavy sighing free of charge) but fortunately the seats are all fairly comfortable, at least compared to Edinburgh Filmhouse, so I was able to average five shows a day without feeling like a funny balloon animal specialist had been let loose on my spine. The damage was purely mental, a combination of fatigue (screenings begin at 9 and end between midnight and one), overload (films blur together, and then reality blurs in too, and isn’t that the festival director lurking in the background in TOBY DAMMIT?)

Weird coincidence — when I attended Toronto Jewish Film Festival my arrival was greeted with thunderstorms and by the end of a week trudging the city with Serbian dandy Milos Tomin, my shoe exploded with an audible PFFT — the squishy remains afforded insufficient protection cause my right foot to assume the texture of bubble wrap — in Bologna, I got the impression that thunder was following me around, Frankenstein-fashion, as torrential downpours and cloudy rumblings (“God moving his furniture”) again heralded my arrival, and my right shoe, newly purchased, peeled loose its heel. I just got one blister this time, but of the size and contours of a second David Cairns, only even softer and slightly translucent.

Things I shall attempt to write about in some detail — curious and exciting earlies — Italian compendium film extracts — MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE — early Wellmans — movie serials — restored Chaplins — a host of Hitlers — Germain Dulac projected by carbon lamp — the daughters of Blasetti and De Sica. Things I mainly missed — Polish Cinemascope — early Japanese talkies — Colleen Moore’s soundie WHY BE GOOD? — Garbo as THE TEMPTRESS.

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It’s really going to be a pain to not be able to afford to go to Bologna, Pordenone, Telluride… here’s hoping a big pay cheque comes in!