Italy, 1968, 40 min
Loosely based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe and included as part of an omnibus film called Spirits of the Dead, Toby Dammit is a phantasmagoric masterpiece with a bewitching central performance by Terence Stamp. He plays the titular character, a dissolute British actor who arrives in Rome to shoot a film. A stranger in a strange land, the alcoholic actor finds himself barraged by a surreal parade of people, places, and props, and pursued by a strange little girl with blood-red fingernails. When he meets with studio suits about the project, itís described as "a Christian western Ö a cross between Pasolini and John Ford," but Toby is far more interested in how much money theyíre going to pay him and the promise of a new, red sports car.
Darkly recapping many of the themes of La Dolce Vita (also showing at this yearís Festival), Toby Dammit explores the absurdities of celebrity, with Felliniís outlandish visual style perfectly complementing the overheated story and Tobyís own incipient madness. Stamp, eerily charismatic and wonderfully photogenic under ghostly makeup, creates an indelible portrait of a dim-witted and vain man hell-bent on self-destruction. Rarely screened but with a wide cult following, this is one of Felliniís most accomplished and little-known works.
Toby Dammit screens as part SFIFF54's Peter J. Owens Award program, An Evening with Terence Stamp.