Toby Dammit / La Jetee
Federico Fellini and Chris Marker come together in this double feature from Janus Films. In Fellini's Toby Dammit - a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" - an alcoholic actor (Terence Stamp) suffers from disturbing visions while trying to make a film in Italy's famous Cinecittà film studio. And in Marker's influential sci-fi classic La Jetée (Terry Gilliam's inspiration for 12 Monkeys and told strictly via still photography), a man travels through time to a moment in his childhood that holds the key to averting World War 3.
Toby Dammit (1968) & La Jetée (1963) film notes by Tova Gannana for Faraway Entertainment
Toby Dammit (1968) feels like a hangover, a warning. In the future there will be fog machines, an airport filled with forgotten passengers, film producers as the only reliable adults, an awards show with fake sentiment, alcohol and barbiturates, a devil who wants to play catch with a white ball, a fast car that can’t get you where you want to go. Toby Dammit takes place in Italy. Everyone speaks French. Toby Dammit is an actor. He is famous; he doesn’t want to comply. “You swore you’d leave me alone,” he says to one and all. The film is specific and general. Everyone a stand in is replaceable, forgettable. Toby arrives by plane. The multicolored sky is peaceful. Toby enters an airport that no one is meant to leave, as though the building was their destination. Photographers huddle and snap photos of Toby. He cringes. Life in this film is weird. Toby acts weird, throwing his blonde hair around like a pair of hips. He is an icon who doesn’t want attention. A capitalist who is an anarchist, a nihilist who is a believer. He contradicts because he is the future. A wet rag squeezed dry, he is a personality not a person. Toby is making a film because he was promised a Ferrari. He is a guest on a TV show without an audience. Two men in lab coats turn dials for fake laughter. The host of the show crawls on hands and knees out of the frame. Toby is interviewed by a woman sitting off camera. He enjoys answering her questions. This is how he sees evil and temptation. The devil is not a black cat but a little girl in a white dress. Never alone, Toby is driven from one event to the next. His first night in Italy ends at an awards show he can’t wait to leave. The room is filled with the grotesque and bloated. A door to the netherworld has opened. Toby may have once been a great actor, but no longer. He’ll work for the keys to a car. He leaps from the stage before his acceptance speech. Like a maniac Toby drives his Ferrari through an Italian town all tucked in for the night. The only people out are a crew of electricians hanging a street light. Toby can’t find the road back to Rome. The road he is on wraps around the town from one dead end to another. Toby pulls over and cries. No one hears him. He yells louder. There is no life left in Toby. Toby Dammit is like the day after, a day that never ends.
La Jetée (1963) begins at the airport with a family waiting on the tarmac. La Jetée, shot in black and white, is mostly still photographs. Toby Dammit, shot in carnival colors, is all movement. Watching one after the other is like switching channels. In both these films the future is already here. La Jetée takes place in Paris with people speaking German. The narration is in English. The people who have survived WWIII live underground and perform experiments. They are not actors and producers. They are scientists and their subjects trying to time travel. The action in La Jetée is memory. To remember is an act itself. There will always be a nostalgia for the time before. In Toby Dammit, Toby knows he is doomed and drives towards his death. In La Jetée, a man with no name is given a choice. When does he want to live, in the past before the war or the future? He is dangerous to the scientists because his memories are strong. Toby Dammit is dangerous only to himself. As humans we think of ourselves or of others, our personal impact or how we are doing as a collective. Both films are about not being able to escape the present. No one can put their life on pause. Time simply moves on.
Tova Gannana writes for the Seattle Art Museum Film Department and CSA Hitchcock.