If Debbie Harry wanted to be a movie star she could be, it’s as simple as that. She was a born performer with such a keen eye for the cusp of society that wherever her whims wished to take her, not only success but the cutting edge of society would follow. While she has turned in countless cameos over her career, from last year’s High Fidelity serial reboot for Hulu to Elegy starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz, her love of cinema has remained a passion more so than a place of work.
In the past, Harry has worked with esteemed director David Cronenberg on Videodrome and the genius John Waters on Hairspray. But her true cinematic favourite is a project that she gladly watched from the sidelines in her younger days. She told Screentrade Magazine, “The cinemas I particularly think of as being among my favourites would have to include the AMC Kips Bay 15 & IMAX megaplex, up on Murray Hill on Manhattan’s Second Avenue.”
Adding that another favourite of hers is, “The original, historic, Ziegfeld Theatre – which, over the years, had operated off-and-on as a Broadway theatre – located on Sixth Avenue & West 54th Street. It closed down by the mid-Sixties before being replaced by the newer Ziegfeld Theatre there, built in its honour.”
And it was while revelling in the beauty of Manhattan’s cinema scene that she experienced one of arts greatest pleasures when you first take in something that changes your life forevermore. “Long ago,” she explains, “I went to see [Federico] Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits. I became so engrossed in the film that, when it ended, I was actually taken by surprise. I really wanted more than anything to have it continue. The film just took me away.”
From that moment on, the joyfully spectral Fellini film became a fixture in her life. “Some films stay with you forever. For me, it’s Juliet of the Spirits,” she told Marie Claire, “I love fantasy films.”
The movie itself, first released in 1965, was the beginning of Fellini’s notion that life is a circus, an ethos of divisively captivated many and alienated others. Harry is clearly in the former, having been enamoured by its kaleidoscopic ways. In a shebang of spinning umbrella’s and dream sequences, a 40-something woman is surrounded by visions, memories and mysticism that provide her with the strength she needs to leave her cheating husband.
Harry also adores the musical stylings of the films and, indeed, all of Fellini’s work. While discussing her favourite music moments in cinema with Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers for his MrDeMilleFM show, she placed ‘La Saraghina’ by Nino Rota from 8½ in her top picks. And she has even been able to collaborate with Rota many years after she fell in love with his musical work while watching Juliet of the Spirits all those years ago.
The film is chocked full of the same charismatic bravura and aesthetic splendour that Debbie Harry has been propagating throughout her career. While the downtown dirt of Manhattan might be a million miles from Fellini’s work, it is easy to see how the film has influenced her in the interim years. In short, the similarities can be summed up by the same shared artistic mantra – always be interesting, never be dull, and give them something to look at.