Even though I wasn’t able to attend TCM’s Classic Film Festival I did make time for Terence Stamp’s special appearance at the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival this year. It was a somewhat spontaneous event that was only announced a week before the actual festival took place and it didn’t receive any mention in the official festival catalogue. I only learned about the event after word got out on the social media that Stamp was going to be in the Bay Area to receive the prestigious Peter J. Owens Award as well as take part in a special Q & A Event and film screening at the Castro Theatre. Rearranging my schedule on such short notice wasn’t easy but I was determined to see one of my favorite actors discuss his work in person so I immediately made plans to attend.

Terence Stamp was welcomed on stage at the Castro Theatre with a standing ovation and a thunderous applause following the screening of a short film that contained clips from many of his most memorable performances in Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov ; 1962), The Collector (William Wyler; 1965), Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey; 1966), Far from the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger; 1967), Poor Cow(Ken Loach;1967), Toby Dammit (Fredrico Fellini; 1968), Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini; 1968), Superman II(1980), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott; 1994) and The Limey (Steven Soderbergh; 1997). Once the crowd quieted down Elvis Mitchell, film critic and host of TCM’s own Under the Influencebegan asking Stamp questions about his fascinating career and extraordinary life but Mitchell didn’t have to do much prodding. Stamp was eager to talk and share his stories with us.

Many of his entertaining tales were recounted in the actor’s memoirs and would have been familiar to anyone who had read them but hearing Stamp repeat them in public with his own voice was a thrilling experience. He’s a terrific storyteller! And as a performer he also enjoys mimicking the people he’s discussing so the crowd got the opportunity to see him impersonate friend and one-time roommate Michael Caine along with director’s Fredrico Fellini and Orson Welles, just to name a few of his impromptu impersonations. Even when Mitchell’s questions occasionally lacked focus, Stamp kept the discussion lively and entertaining. He’s a real showman with a great sense of humor so the audience spent the evening laughing at Stamp’s uncensored anecdotes. It was definitely an ‘Adult’s Only’ night out and I really appreciated the actor’s candid responses to the questions he got from Mitchell as well as audience members.

Stamp wasn’t shy about discussing his romantic relationships and attraction towards his female costars. He had a lot of nice things to say about the lovely Italian actress Silvana Mangano, who he co-starred with in Teorema and referred to her in a revered voice as “beyond beautiful,” and “goddess-like.” He also had abundant praise for actress Julie Christie who he dated and co-starred with in Far from the Madding Crowd. While discussing Christie Stamp said “She had this incredibly photogenic face. She was one of the most lovable people that I ever met. There was something about her that was intimately lovable. And I stayed friends with Julie. And this thing that makes her lovable has sort of become more lovable. It’s not connected with the part of her that’s aging, you know?” Mitchell responded to the actor’s observations with, “You’re describing yourself right now.” And I couldn’t agree with him more.

A lot of time was spent discussing Stamp’s later career and his uninhibited performance in the award-winning film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which was extremely popular with the Castro audience. But when discussing his favorite performances, Stamp referred to his roles in Billy Budd as the sensitive and stammering hero and The Collector where he plays a deeply disturbed kidnapper. These are the two films that introduced me to Terence Stamp when I first caught them playing on television in the 1970s as a child. Both movies have remained extremely important to me over the years for numerous reasons. I think Stamp is brilliant in them both and his timeless performances helped me develop a deep appreciation for screen acting. I was extremely surprised and secretly thrilled that Stamp defined himself by those two unforgettable films.

Some of the funniest stories Stamp told involved his working relationship with director Fredrico Fellini. He described his career as, “before and after Fellini” because the director had such a profound impact on his life. Fellini became a sort of father figure to Stamp who referred to him as ‘Terencino’ (little Terence) and the director’s unconditional love and deep appreciation of Stamp’s performing skills helped the actor gain newfound confidence in himself and his abilities. Stamp’s memories of working with Fellini were obviously still vivid. While discussing the filming of Toby Dammit he said, “What happened during the shoot was I used to wake up laughing. And I suddenly realized to myself that this guy, who is one of the greatest living directors, really likes me. He doesn’t only like what I do, he likes what I am. And this gave me a kind of amazing confidence.”

Top: Billy Bud (1962)
Middle:  The Collector (1965) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
Bottom: Toby Dammit (1968)

The Q & A session was followed by a screening of Fellini’s Toby Dammit or what Elvis Mitchell called, “The best film you’ve never seen.” As a longtime fan of both Stamp and Fellini, I had seen Toby Dammit many times on video and DVD but this was my first theatrical screening and it was an absolute treat. This macabre short film is actually part of a longer anthology called Spirits of the Dead or Histoires extraordinaires, which is based on a trio of Edgar Allen Poe stories. I was a little disappointed that we weren’t able to see the entire movie because I’m also very fond of the other two films in the anthology but Toby Dammit is an exceptional piece of work and is often referred to as Fellini’s “forgotten masterpiece” but it hasn’t been forgotten. It was merely neglected by many established critics but on the fringes of film fandom, Fellini’s Toby Dammit is revered and for good reason. It’s a flawless work from one of Italy’s greatest filmmakers and it had a profound influence on the country’s celebrated horror directors such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci who have all made direct references to it in their own work. Seeing it on a big screen with Stamp in attendance made me appreciate the movie even more so I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.

The print was a bit worse for wear but it contained the original audio track with Terence Stamp providing his own lines and his performance in Toby Dammit is absolutely mesmerizing. As Stamp explained before the screening, Fellini had originally written the script with Peter O’Toole in mind. Apparently, after an encounter with a very drunk O’Toole in an Italian restaurant, Fellini was inspired to create a film based around a brilliant Shakespearian actor who had succumbed to the decadent temptations of 1960s Hollywood, which included lots of drugs, booze and sex. Toby Dammit begins with the actor flying to Italy where he’s forced to take a second-rate role in a Catholic western in order to get a new Ferrari that he’s been promised. While watching the movie it was fun to spot Stamp’s direct references to O’Toole, which are obvious in particular gestures and expressions he makes. During filming, Stamp was at the height of his beauty and his androgynous good looks combined with his audacious performance really take your breath away.

I like to think of Terence Stamp as one of Britain’s original bad boys and he brought some of the rebellious spirit of the swinging sixties with him to San Francisco last week. I’m happy to report that at age 71 the actor is still incredibly handsome, uproariously funny and the wisdom of age has only made him more mesmerizing. My evening with Terence Stamp was truly a night to remember!

For more information about the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival I recommend visiting the following sites:
– The San Francisco Film Society: Official site for the San Francisco International Film Festival.
– Hell On Frisco Bay: A terrific local film blog covering Bay Area film events in & around San Francisco.
– The Evening Class: Another local blog with great coverage of Bay Area film events.

by Kimberly Lindbergs and originally written for Turner Classic Movies and published at tcm.com on May 5, 2011