SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (TRE PASSI NEL DELIRIO) (HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES) (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini, 1968)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, September 14, 7:10; Friday, September 21, 7:00
Series runs September 14-27
The Quad gets right to the heart of the matter in the title of its new series, “Some Are Better than Others: The Curious Case of the Anthology Film.” Also known as an omnibus, anthology films are compilations of shorter works, often by master directors, on a specific theme. The Quad festival, running September 14-27, includes Aria, in which ten directors, among them Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Nicolas Roeg, and Ken Russell, make films inspired by opera pieces; the four-part 1945 British horror anthology Dead of Night; Lumière and Company, in which forty-one international filmmakers create fifty-two-second films using original equipment from the Lumière brothers; and Twilight Zone — The Movie, with Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg revisiting classic episodes from the Rod Serling TV program. It is rare that all of the short films are of equal quality — hence, “Some are better than others” — and such is the case with the 1968 trilogy of Edgar Allan Poe stories, Spirits of the Dead.
The film begins with Roger Vadim’s Metzengerstein, in which a lush and lavishly shot Jane Fonda, in spectacular outfits and hairstyles, plays Countess Frederique de Metzengerstein, who has inherited a massive estate and rules it without any inhibitions — yet her devilish debauchery doesn’t quite satisfy her. After an accidental meeting with her calm, easygoing cousin, Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing, portrayed by her brother, Peter Fonda, she tries to end a long-running feud with his family, resulting in some extremely peculiar moments of lust for him and, later, his horse. Vadim was married to Fonda at the time, adding to the incestuous titillation and bestiality that run through the tale, which was based on Poe’s first published short story.
In Louis Malle’s William Wilson, Alain Delon is the title character, an elegant cad who has been followed since childhood by his doppelgänger, who determinedly, and very publicly, rights his wrongs. The film, which is told in flashback as Wilson confesses to a priest that he has killed a man, features a chilling card game with a black-haired, ultra-serious Brigitte Bardot. Malle was not happy with the film, which he took on just for the money; thus, he acquiesced to certain elements because he was told to do so, from casting to certain plot points, going against his instincts. The three-pack concludes with Federico Fellini’s fiercely unpredictable Toby Dammit, adapted by Fellini and Bernardino Zapponi from Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral.” Fellini evokes La Dolce Vita and 8½ as British actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp) is lured to Rome to make a movie in exchange for a Ferrari. Amid bizarre interview segments, an absurdist awards ceremony, and meetings with his overbearing producers, Toby is haunted by a girl with a white ball (Marina Yaru).
Originally advertised as “Edgar Allan Poe’s Ultimate Orgy!,” Spirits of the Dead, narrated by Poe icon Vincent Price, is choppily edited and wildly uneven. The filmmakers deal with fear, fire, eroticism, passion, obsession, power, ennui, and death more directly than they do in their full-length works, but things are also often more unclear. Still, this is a rare chance to see these three shorts together on the big screen. And beware of what Poe wrote in his 1827 poem “Spirits of the Dead”: Thy soul shall find itself alone / ’Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone; / Not one, of all the crowd, to pry / Into thine hour of secrecy. / Be silent in that solitude, / Which is not loneliness — for then / The spirits of the dead, who stood / In life before thee, are again / In death around thee, and their will / Shall overshadow thee; be still. / The night, though clear, shall frown, / And the stars shall not look down / From their high thrones in the Heaven / With light like hope to mortals given, / But their red orbs, without beam, / To thy weariness shall seem / As a burning and a fever / Which would cling to thee for ever.” Spirits of the Dead is screening at the Quad on September 14 at 7:10 and September 21 at 7:00. The series continues with such other anthologies as Boccaccio ’70 (De Sica, Monicelli, Fellini, Visconti), Far from Vietnam (Klein, Ivens, Lelouch, Varda, Godard, Marker, Resnais), New York Stories (Scorsese, Coppola, Allen), and Seven Women, Seven Sins (Akerman, Cohen, Export, Gavron, Gordon, Ottinger, Sander).