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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

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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.

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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.

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