Oct 29, 2008

Toby Dammit

Toby Dammit is a segment featured in the three tales of the macabre by Edgar Allan Poe film Spirits of Dead. I have singled out the segment Toby Dammit because it stands out as the best short film on the feature and is worthy of exclusive mention. The short was directed by master maestro and supposed former circus clown (probably one of his many lies) Italian director Federico Fellini. Toby Dammit is about an alcoholic former Shakespearian actor who is losing his career. For this short, Federico Fellini once again directs the film in a dreamlike surrealism that slightly resembles a nightmare. Some people in the film are merely cutout and models, while most are living. These artificial individuals makes film a disconnected quality of what odd dreams are made of.

Toby Dammit is essentially a nihilist with nothing left to live for. He agrees to do an Italian film in return for a Ferrari that is a signed death wish. Upon entering Italy, Mr. Dammit is bombarded by the paparazzi (the origin of this name is from a photographer in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita) and he becomes immediately annoyed. Toby throws a bag of luggage at one of the paparazzi and is instantly denounced by the photographing scumbags. At the airport, Toby also first comes in contact with a little girl with a ball. As Toby rides up an escalator, is as if he’s finally trying to escape a hell that has been reserved for him. His trip in Italy will soon tell.

The little girl Toby Dammit encounters is very pale, blond haired, and has fairer than fair skin. She smiles in a way that slightly hides her face as if she has something to hide. This girl and her ball look as if they should be on display as priceless porcelain that could be shattered at any minute. On an Italian talk show Toby Dammit is asked if he believes in god and he replies “no.” When asked if he believes in Satan, Toby enthusiastically (for once) replies “yes.” Toby claims that Satan to him is a little girl. What individual would proclaim a little girl to be Satan and why? Toby Dammit is a suffering individual whose inner demons go deeper than merely being an alcoholic.

Toby Dammit attends an Italian award show that looks as if it is shot in a wet, cold cave in hell. Although beautiful women surround Toby and guests show their gratitude, Toby continues to drink himself into a pathetic state. A woman pronounces her love to Toby and he seems like he couldn't care less. Upon reading Shakespeare, Toby tells the audience he could have been a great actor and admits his contempt for all at the show. He immediately runs out of the award show and gets in his Ferrari. The life of luxury and hedonism is not appealing to Toby. It seems as if only the fast and dangerous can revive the bitter soul of this almost lost cause of a man.

Toby Dammit takes his Ferrari and speeds down small roads of an Italian town. He immediately encounters odd wood cutouts of human beings and artificial sheep. Dammit looks as if none of these things bother him as he is eager to get where he is going. He finally encounters a real human being who looks slightly retarded and deranged who does not respond to Toby’s verbal inquiry. Toby drives faster and faster until he reaches a fallen bridge. This single madman car ride is easily more entertaining than any action film car chase I have had the displeasure of watching. Toby knows what he has to do as he sees the little girl with the ball on the other side.

Toby Dammit is one of Federico Fellini’s most overlooked films and as good as his greatest of films. Federico Fellini was a master of mise en scène and Toby Dammit demonstrates the directors ability to make every detail of a shot purposeful. Whether the actors in the film are human or merely cutouts, they are genuinely colorful and many times alluring. How many horror films can say that?

-Ty E

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