Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dispatches from the Tribeca Film Festival – " Toby Dammit" & "The Beyond"

My first reaction while watching Frederico Fellini's "Toby Dammit" was "oh no I am going to hate this movie." The film (that appeared to share the same makeup team as "Beetlejuice" [double feature?]) is full of seemingly nonsensical images: people with paper mask faces; packs of sunglass wearing nuns; a cardboard chef on the side of the road holding a basket. I felt the need to treat these images as symbols and decode them (what does it all mean ?!?!) and I was all ready to slot the film into the category of: needs to be seen more than once to be understood at all, (not that the "ring"esque little girl as devil would have encouraged future viewings on my part, I am a total wimp when it comes to horror).

As a rule, I am not a fan of films that force the audience to work hard and uncode some "deep hidden meaning (DHM). Good films do gain from repeated viewings but a good film should not need to be repeated. So I was worried that despite how much I love Terrance Stamp, this film was going to disappoint. And yet as the film continued I realized that my initial reaction of frustration and confusion was in fact all part of the grand master Fellini plan.

I once had a dream that my face was being smothered by a pillow and I could not move my head to avoid being suffocated. I tried and tried to turn my head but no matter what, lack of air and panic ensued. This is what the world of Fellini's "Toby Dammit" is like. For much of the film, Dammit is trapped driving around a strange town, unable to find his way back to Rome (turns out not all roads lead there). No matter what he does, he cannot escape.

The frustration that Toby feels is not unlike my initial frustration at trying to decode the film's images. All through the first half of the film I was trying to decipher and keep note of various images and characters in case they were to return later. But that is just what Fellini wants you to do, to try to make sense of that which is nonsense. Like Toby, we are trying to find roads where there are none. The nuns, the chef, these are all red herrings. Fellini has created an unsolvable maze for the viewer that mirrors the maze that Toby tries to navigate. So in a way, we feel what Toby feels.

(note: Spoilers Ahead) In "The Beyond," Lucio Fulci does not try to bait us with red herrings to get us to feel boxed in, and yet the world he creates is eerily similar in feel to the world that Toby is trapped in. Fulci, through the narrative, simply shows us the horrors of the place ( a hotel that is actually a gate to the underworld oh no!). He is telling a story in a more traditional way in comparison to Fellini. The hell that he shows us is a world in which no matter where you turn, you are faced with the same view. The protagonists find themselves surrounded on all sides by the same painting never to see or find an escape ever again. This place is a hell that battles the world of "Toby Dammit" for the title of worst and most inescapable prison on earth. Even though Fulci simply tells us the story and does not provide us with the "feel" of the place, can we say that this place is any less scary? These are two similar situations, presented very differently in terms of filmic style by two different directors, that end up, perhaps, not so far from each other in the end (both have me hiding under bed covers).

Other Tribeca screenings In brief:

"Night Tide"/ "Picnic"
(Curtis Harrington) - Surprise visit from Dennis Hopper! Pity that they got the reels in the wrong order (!!!). I was distracted.

"Three Kingdoms" - (Daniel Lee) All over the place. Should have picked one kingdom.

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