Spirits of the Dead Jan 15, 2012 19:49:41 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Jan 15, 2012 19:49:41 GMT -5
The 60s mania for Edgar Allan Poe adaptations reached it’s loony, art-house apex with SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, an anthology that makes up in dated, 60s time-capsule fascination what it entirely lacks in chills.
The first story is directed by Roger Vadim and stars his then wife Jane Fonda. It’s set in the…I’m guessing the Middle Ages (?) and concerns the adventures of a debauched, decadent noblewoman. (One of the ways we know she’s a hedonist is that she keeps a pet ocelot on a leash. I mean, really – who else does that?) When not playing cruel games with the lives of the local peasants, she’s engaging in steamy bi-sexual antics in, what appears to be, a non-stop, 24-hour orgy.
One day in the forest around her castle, her path crosses with a cousin from a more upstanding side of the family with whom she shares a longtime enmity and some soon revealed subterranean sexual longings. This fellow is played by Fonda’s own brother, Peter, and it says something about this section of the film that these incestuous undertones aren’t even the creepiest part of Vadim’s tale. Anyway, the cousin rejects her advances and, to get revenge, Jane has one of her lascivious minions burn down the stables at the rival castle.
One horse, however, emerges unscathed from the inferno and the rest of this story involves the powerful, erotic affinity that develops between woman and beast. That’s right; we are treated to long scenes of Fonda and the horse traipsing around in enraptured love montages. There’s even a bit where she lovingly serenades him with a lute. Um…okay. And, by the way, these scenes aren’t brief – they go on…and on. They’re very much in the cliché, muted style of French filmmaking of the time with the male narrator intoning over the languid images. Parodies of this school would soon be prolific on Monty Python and elsewhere.
But, boy, does Fonda really commit to these scenes. She’s really into this, to the point where I thought she looked like she might be high when this was shot. She’s the whole show here, and she looks spectacular. She’s done up in these laughably anachronistic outfits that are revealingly diaphanous when they’re not form-fitting and scanty. It’s like THE SEVENTH SEAL meets BARBARELLA, completely ridiculous, but smokin’ hot.
The next story, directed by Louis Malle, stars the great Alain Delon in his 60s prime as a 19th Century, Austrian prick with a doppelganger problem. At various points in his wretched life we watch as, right when he’s about to visit some sadistic act of cruelty on someone, a figure who looks like his exact double arrives and thwarts his plan. The man even shares his own name!
In terms of delivery and general coherence, this is the best of the three stories and it’s driven by Delon’s steely charisma. There is a large chunk of time taken up with a card game he plays with a raven-haired (pun intended) Bridget Bardot (an earlier wife of Vadim’s) that goes on a little too long. Like the first story, this one also meanders to it’s grim and, by now, predicable end. Still, this is a tight, neat little story, and those looking for a no-frills, standalone entry, will most likely find this their clear preference.
Federico Fellini directs the final chapter and it’s a wild, freewheeling parody of Italian television and awards shows. The plot, set in the present day, involves a Richard Burton-style British actor arriving in Rome to appear in a Spaghetti Western allegory about the life of Christ. As soon as his plane lands he’s whisked to a fatuous TV interview and later gets hammered at a surreal film ceremony, all the while he’s being haunted by the little girl who represents some kind of Satanic muse.
This all plays like a colorful, more overly comic variation on the movie industry satire of 8 ½, and it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. Terrence Stamp plays the actor and, if he doesn’t own this segment in the manner of the prior two stars, he’s still impressive. And as entertaining as some of the humor in this chapter is, its climax also includes the most genuinely creepy note of the entire film, even if it is distractingly vague. (And it also calls to mind the subsequent DON’T LOOK NOW.)
This picture isn’t going to make anyone forget those fondly remembered Vincent Price Poe adaptations that preceded it. It’s simply not that entertaining. But it’s a one-of-a-kind, watchable hodge-podge that offers an entertaining look at the filmmaking styles of the day, as well as some of its firebrand young stars.