Archive for Ambrose Bierce

Le Clair-Obscur

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2013 by dcairns

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On the subject of put-downs, Ambrose Bierce observed that “for every man, there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it.”

Over at the first fortnightly edition of The Forgotten, we encounter a filmmaker who was memorably re-christened by an opponent in just that fashion. So successfully was he insulted that I encountered the insult long before I saw a single frame he shot.

Thanks to Lenny Borger for telling me about the insult.

Ribbeting

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on January 11, 2012 by dcairns

Robert Enrico is best known, I guess, for his adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, entitled LA RIVIERE DU HIBOU — this was adopted by Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and screened in a truly appalling copy, ruining some of the loveliest b&w cinematography you’ll ever see. It’s also part of a trilogy of adaptations of Bierce’s macabre Civil War stories by Enrico, otherwise comprising versions of The Mockingbird and the horrifying Chickamauga, equally fine.

LA REDEVANCE DU FANTOME is a TV episode by Enrico, based closely on Henry James’ A Ghostly Rental — Enrico evokes the “spiritual blight” hanging over an abandoned house by way of an electronically enhanced frogs’ chorus of ribbets and chirrups. Splendidly eerie. Presumably in an effort to fill a time slot, he drags every scene out to breaking point, alas, giving even the viewer unfamiliar with his source plenty of time to figure out the Scooby Doo twist, but there are splendid moments along the way, and Marie Laforet sings us out — here is your daily allotment of the sublime. Do not exceed the stated dose.

NB — this is, technically, a spoiler, I suppose, since it’s the end of the film. But it’s not a narrative spoiler, imho.

Marie Laforet — if you have enjoyed this, check out her version of Paint It Black on TousTube.

And buy her stuff — 1963-1969

Occurrence

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by dcairns

Untitled from David Cairns on Vimeo.

To be honest, I’m not so much surprised that Ambrose Bierce’s work has inspired so many filmmakers, as I am surprised that it hasn’t inspired more. I guess the fact that he eschewed long form storytelling (as a matter of principle, to hear him tell it) is a factor, but so for the most part did Poe and Lovecraft, who are much more frequently filmed. I can’t account for that.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was most famously adapted by Robert Enrico, and the resulting short became, somehow or other, an episode of The Twilight Zone, exposing it to a much wider audience that Enrico’s other two Bierce films, CHICKAMAUGA and THE MOCKINGBIRD. But for my money, Charles Vidor’s version, entitled THE BRIDGE, is much much better.

It’s available on the extraordinary box set UNSEEN CINEMA, which you should all immediately buy.

The bit that really grabs me, in a film full of fascinating visual ideas, is the superimposition of the drumsticks beating the skin over the hero’s chest. Two images united to create more than one idea and emotion — by showing the drum and the man at the same time, anticipation is heightened, but the beating of the drum comes to stand for the racing of the man’s heartbeat, evoking something a silent film can’t make you hear, or feel. That’s CLEVER.

Some imaginative trope of that kind was surely required when Tony Scott filmed ONE OF THE MISSING, another of Bierce’s Civil War horror stories, but although he pulls off some good angles and generates a fair bit of suspense (you can see this short on the CINEMA 16 collection) he never gets near evoking the striking passage in Bierce’s tale where the soldier, trapped by rubble with his fallen rifle pointing straight at his head, primed and ready to fire, imagines the sensation of the bullet passing slowly through his brain…

Vidor really displays moments of similar zest in GILDA (the giant dice in the opening shot) and I guess in COVER GIRL, also LADIES IN RETIREMENT and BLIND ALLEY. When the project roused his enthusiasm, he was quite an expressionist.

Further reading: The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

Of course, Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionaryis wickedly funny, but less known than either his supernatural tales and his war stories are his grotesque, jet-black tall tales, which are quite incredibly sick and extremely amusing.

Further further reading: more from me at Limerwrecks here, here and here. What rhymes with TINGLER?

Further viewing: Unseen Cinema – Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 An amazing treasure trove of obscure fragments of wonderment.