While not entirely extinct, the omnibus film stands today as a largely moribund tradition, a relic of the peak mid-century era of the international co-production. This is no great loss. While often smattered with big-name talent, these conglomerate products too frequently served as an opportunity for directors to dump half-formed concepts, or sketch out ideas that would come to greater fruition in their standalone output. Yet for these same reasons, such shorts can prove instructive when sussing out the arc of their creative development, even if these segments are not completely satisfying in themselves.

Fellini’s three non-feature-length works all stem from these types of co-production, although only the third was an international collaboration. Together they serve as a fairly representational cross-section of what the genre had to offer, representing both the all-too-common mediocre midline and the rare nice surprise. Spanning from early career realism to the twisted dream logic of his late ‘60s output, the three shorts boil down to one insubstantial trifle, one interesting folly and one legitimate masterwork, in that order.

The first, Marriage Agency, is an episode from 1953’s Love in the City anthology, which hinges on the cutesy framing device of a series of faux-reportage pieces, envisioned as dispatches from a special magazine issue. Conducting an investigation into the dubious industry of for-hire matrimonial services, an unnamed journalist (Antonio Cifariello), shows up at a seedy apartment building, where he’s guided to his destination by a symbolically expanding fleet of impoverished children. Testing the agency’s boundaries, he presents the company with an outlandish scenario involving a wealthy shut-in friend stricken with lycanthropy, and is shocked to find a mate quickly assigned. He meets with the woman, discussing the difficult realities of her lower-class life, in a scenario that fizzles out once its initial points about deprivation and deceit are made.

Coming just before 8 ½, and likely representing the half of the title, 1962’s The Temptation of Dr. Antonio is a riff on moral panic that serves as a riposte to critics of the sexual content of his films. An extension and outgrowth of La Dolce Vita, it reintroduces Anita Ekberg as a fantasy version of herself, menacing and tormenting a humorless middle-aged prude. One-man vice squad Dr. Antonio (Peppino de Filippo) spends his evenings throwing cold water on Rome’s simmering passions, breaking up strip shows and shining a spotlight on youngsters necking on the city’s deserted side streets. Giving a speech to a troop of Boy Scouts in the empty lot behind his apartment block, he’s horrified to discover a gigantic ad for milk, anchored by Ekberg’s equally titanic bosom. Making every effort to get it removed, he descends into manic obsession, eventually being absorbed into an extended nightmare sequence in which the billboard comes to life, the giant Ekberg toying with him as he begs for mercy. Effective, if a little thin for its nearly hour-long runtime, the short serves as a reminder to naysayers that he’s just reflecting the salacious overabundance of everyday Italian life, depicting qualities that are intrinsic to the national character.

Saving the best for last, Fellini released Toby Dammit in 1968, as part of Extraordinary Stories, a trio loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of horror. Stylistically similar to La Dolce Vita, it’s another roving tour through the glittering minefield of Rome’s upper crust, with fame again serving as a dark, compulsive force. Here though, the tone has shifted from wearied bemusement to outright exhaustion, creating a caustic and nasty portrait befitting Poe’s sinister influence. Following the titular English theatre actor (Terence Stamp) as he descends into alcoholic madness, the film embraces sheer, chaotic abstraction, mirroring the subject’s fractured state of mind. Lured into a disreputable movie role by the promise of his own Ferrari, his face smeared with white greasepaint, Toby roams a nocturnal landscape fringed with demonic insiders and menacing hangers-on.

In addition to compounding and complicating the structure of La Dolce Vita – which managed to soften its acidulous portrayal with some residual romanticism – Toby Dammit helps clarify some of its more cryptic concepts. That film involved the repeating figure of a young girl, a vision of immaculacy whose actual symbolic relation remained mysterious. This enigmatic quality played into the film’s power, but in this case all inscrutability is stripped away, as Toby is hounded by visions of a female child bouncing a ball, which eventually leads to his demise. In this corrupt world of licentious, predatory desire, even entertaining the idea of lingering purity is presented as an invitation to disaster. Bridging the relative realism of Juliet of the Spirits and the scattered surrealism of Fellini Satyricon, this memorable short serves a significant, if small, function in the director’s overall oeuvre.

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