Spirits of the Dead (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle & Federico Fellini / France-Italy, 1968):
(Histoires Extraordinaires; Tre Passi nel Delirio; Tales of Mystery and Imagination)

Absolute decadence absolutely castigated. Three devout libertines have a go at Poe, fear and trembling invade their debauchery voluptuously. Roger Vadim's Metzengerstein is an amorphous Ovidian doodle, blessed with a full-bodied and empty-headed sense of gratuitousness. Jane Fonda in Renaissance Fair cape and Swinging '60s boots is a lissome Caligula, whose reign of terror demands orgies with at least one leopard present; her closeted yearning for wholeness is exposed when the one man she covets (Peter Fonda) dies and returns reincarnated as his majestic black stallion, l'amour et la mort etc. Alain Delon as a colossal prick is the center of Louis Malle's William Wilson, with frigid horror amalgamated from Les Enfants Terribles and Young Törless plus an Alfred Hitchcock Presents stinger. Delon is a joyless De Sade ("We'll remove despair and the pain of love... along with the heart," he says while approaching the bound victim with a scalpel), gambling lady Brigitte Bardot challenges him but the real nemesis is his doppelganger, the Self encountered in an ocean of faddish cruelty. If Vadim's linchpin image is a tapestry left unfinished, and Malle's is a Rorschach blot in red ink, Federico Fellini's in Toby Dammit rests on Terence Stamp's lingering glance of jet-lagged dissoluteness, superbly embodying the phenomenon of the Hip British Actor run amok in Cinecittŕ. The themes of stressed-out celebrity and corrupt genius are taken from 8 ˝ and passed through virtuoso visions -- the whirring of the paparazzi in an orange-saturated airport lounge, views of a limousine as a coffin on wheels, the overexposed inanity of the talk-show circuit and awards show. The superstar is recruited for a Biblical-Marxist Western ("Sort of a mix between Piero della Francesca and Fred Zinnemann"), but the only thing in his mind is the Ferrari he's been promised. Dreyer is name-dropped to set up Fellini's remake of the great short They Caught the Ferry in Rome's dark streets, capped by a bow to Bava (the Devil is glimpsed through a moppet's blonde tresses). It ends, as it should with Poe, with the dread and the allure of the Reaper slammed together. Cinematography by Claude Renoir, Tonino Delli Colli, and Giuseppe Rotunno.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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