Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Sneak vs. the St. Louis International Film Festival, Round Two (Friday)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge thesneaknew.JPG
Shows: Ligeia, a locally filmed, very (very) loose adaptation of the short story by Edgar Allen Poe reimagined as a Gothic thriller; Albino Farm, a slasher film that might as well be about my fears of driving to the Lake of the Ozarks.

Food: The Edgar Allen Pom, a cocktail I concocted, recipe to follow.

Difficulty: Easy. The St. Louis International Film Festival opened soft on Thursday with a single showing of An Education so the true opening night at the Tivoli was packed. I was also able to employ the special thermos my mother got me from the Missouri History Museum -- expressly because she thought it would be good for sneaking. It runs in families, people.

click to enlarge SCREENSHOT: WWW.CINEMASTLOUIS.ORG
  • Screenshot: www.cinemastlouis.org
I had the highest hopes for Ligeia going in. St. Louis is filled with great Gothic buildings and fantastic locations. I often find myself mentally framing shots when I'm out and about, but then again, I'm also constantly making plans for the biopic of my life. Don't act like you don't, too. I see the dark desires in your heart because my own is its mirror, fogged with my own identity but still showing true to the forms. In any case, St. Louis looks fantastic, the costumes look fantastic, the makeup looks fantastic, cinematography very impressive -- and it still all falls into the bog of a poor script, which is a heinous crime with a story as subtle as Poe's. Here's the elements of the original:

Man falls in love with and marries an exotic brunette so captivating and intelligent that he only ever knows her first name, Ligeia. She dies early and tragically of an illness that seems to be connected with her metaphysical research, though she vows to live again. Man remarries Rowena, a blonde, whom he never fully accepts because his love of his first wife (and opium) is consuming. New wife also dies tragically early of an illness very similar to the one that took the first wife. While sitting up with the body, distraught and high, the man sees it rise, remove its burial shroud, and shake out lustrous dark hair.

This is basically Vertigo with more drug abuse.

Ligeia is no Vertigo. It surgically excises all the subtle uncertainty of the original story and transplants the organs of a basic Hollywood occult thriller. You know those reenactment shows where they say everything's true except that the names have been changed to protect the innocent? This is the exact opposite. All they kept was the two ladies' names and respective hair colors. That's no great sin, especially in stretching an atmospheric short story out into feature length. To maintain suspense, however, about halfway through the movie everyone seems to forget that they all believe and have clear evidence that the title character is a mind-controlling witch who is actively stealing souls to try to cheat death. The movie's also been infected with a near-terminal case of excessive montage, which is fitting since Poe heavily implies that's what killed Ligeia in the short story.

In conclusion, this film is not a waste of your time but it definitely makes more sense if you've brought one of these with you:

click to enlarge poe111609.jpg
The Edgar Allen Pom
1 1/2 oz. cognac
1 1/2 oz. pomegranate schnapps
12 oz soda water
Pour it all into a sneaky receptacle and enjoy. My favorite sneaky receptacle for film festivals and arthouses is the reusable water bottle since it's such a common and versatile accessory. As long as your drink isn't opaque, it's nearly impossible to tell that it's not water once the move starts. The aluminum ones are my favorite because you can sneak anything you want in and people will just think you are eco-conscious and well-hydrated, not a comestible-smuggling malcontent.

The cognac is for the cognac placed at Poe's grave every year by the mysterious Poe Toaster (when I first saw that term in print I thought/hoped it was an appliance), and the pomegranate schnapps is for the food of cheating death. You can adjust it to taste, obviously, but do not skimp on the soda water -- drinking cognac and schnapps all through a double feature is a good way to wind up dead in the street wearing someone else's clothes.

Speaking of winding up dead in the middle of the road, Albino Farm made me and the poor friend sitting next to me very glad there was a tight-fitting lid on my drink. Jesus H. Christ, that was a well-made and terrifying movie, and I jumped off the seat on numerous occasions. Albino Farm is a great example of what makes a good Stephen King story scary: It takes something relatively normal and expected and slowly spins it out to monstrous proportions.

In this case, four mismatched college students are sent out to document rural life and end up making fun of the yokels while tracking down a whispered local legend that's never fully explained. It becomes increasingly clear that the in the small town where the students end up, everyone is a) weirdly but harmlessly religious and b) has some sort of physical irregularity or disability. These are the things we are taught as children to never mention in conversation, to try not to think about at all so that people aren't excluded because of some surface difference.

Albino Farm
was so suspenseful and terrifying because it was restrained. Sure, there are plenty of gruesome scenes through which even I wouldn't keep munching a chimichanga, but far more is accomplished with sound, disorientation, and the basic human fear of being in the dark than with the excellent makeup effects. One of the more interesting choices the director made was using a mix of actors who were obviously wearing prostheses with those who have what appear to be actual physical differences à la Tod Browning's Freaks.

Check back Thursday for part two of the Sneak's weekend at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Dara Strickland is a leading expert on sneaking food and drink into the movies. She reports on her exploits (from an undisclosed location) every Monday or sometimes Tuesday. Sneaks are sneaky that way.

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