SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
Review by Michael Jacobson
Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Terence Stamp, Alain Delon
Directors: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: November 13, 2001
three renowned European directors and one indelible American writer, and you
have Spirits of The Dead. A
trio of classic tales from Edgar Allan Poe are translated into three separate
film segments by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini, respectively.
Like any soup with more than one cook, the results are a little mixed,
though mostly quite savory and satisfying.
first segment is the best, both cinematically and story wise.
It is Vadim’s reworking of “Metzengerstein”, turning Poe’s male
title character into a woman, played by Jane Fonda as “a petty Caligula”.
She is a baroness who lives a life of lusty and sometimes cruel
pleasures, but finds her world changed by a handsome young man who spurns her.
For revenge, she has his stables burned down, but unintentionally kills
him in the process. His spirit
returns as a wild, fiery black stallion who responds only to her, as her
hedonistic lifestyle becomes a mournful and obsessive one, and eventually body
and soul succumb to a burning justice.
Malle directs “William Wilson”, a well-known Poe tale in which a vicious
young man’s life is intertwined with that of a mysterious figure who shares
his namesake…and possibly even half of his identity. Alain Delon plays the title character, who forces a priest to
listen to his confession of murder. It
is an act that will lead to his undoing. The
highlight of this story is a game between Wilson and a lovely young card shark
played by Brigitte Bardot, a game he cheats in solely for the satisfaction of
seeing her degraded and humiliated.
if I didn’t know going into the film who directed which part, I could have
still easily identified Fellini’s installment.
“Toby Dammit”, based on Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”,
is a good indicator of what would become the director’s tendencies towards
indulgence and excesses in the 1970s. It’s
what his fans might call challenging, but most moviegoers would call
incoherent…it is easily the most frustrating and memorable of the segments.
Stamp plays the title character, an English actor with a terrible drug and
alcohol problem who seems to be withering before our eyes.
His skin is pale, his eyes are blank, his hair is matted…yet he finds
himself in Italy at an awards show that celebrates ugliness and emptiness.
He ends up on a mad Ferrari ride through the streets of Rome (a dazzling
cinematic sequence) where he encounters mannequins, sheep, people who smile but
don’t speak, and even the devil, as a little girl bouncing a ball. Only in a Fellini film.
choice of stories in Spirits of the Dead seems to be indicative of its
time, repeating themes of debauchery, degradation, humiliation, with no moral
compass or code to serve as a guideline. All
portions seem to warn of a danger inherent in absolute freedom, or at least,
absolute power. The ugly side of
human nature is self destructive, and when it wins out over everything else,
there can be only one logical conclusion.
the film brings a great sense of style and atmosphere to the works of Poe, I did
miss the sense of horror usually associated with his writings.
The prevailing emotion is one of despair peppered with repulsion…fear
is never a factor.
the efforts of the three directors prevail, even though the efforts aren’t
combined. It cost the film its
sense of fluidity, but brings instead unashamed sense of style.
There is excess, to be sure, but sometimes, madness is truly defined by
this is a quality anamorphic transfer from HVe, but not without some problems.
The opening segment is by far the best looking, with rich, colorful
visuals indicative of a quality period piece.
Images are sharply defined and colors are natural looking.
The finale doesn’t fare as well…Fellini’s portion suffers from some
extra grain, a little haziness from time to time, and less definition in darker
scenes. The overall package
measures out to be quality, but the few problems are worth noting.
is a fairly standard mono mix…the dialogue is in French and dubbed, so judging
its quality is rather futile. As
for the rest of the track, it’s mostly very clean, with good presentations of
sound effects and touches of music here and there.