Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gael force Edgar Allan Poe

I'm one-sixteenth Scottish, which I suspect would make people willing to lift a mug with me at the Scottish Games but means I have zero knowledge of Gaelic. Yet I enjoyed "An Cridhe Cabaireach," a re-telling of E.A. Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" in that language.

Technically, it's three re-tellings, all by Gardner-Webb University's Jim Lawrence, who now lives in Asheville. He'd been studying that language online with Canadian actor Angus MacLeod, who plays a madman who murders his master and then confesses to the police in the 24-minute film.

Professor Lawrence told the story through 600 video stills and a green screen, editing the action into a kind of surreal animation. He presents it in Gaelic only, Gaelic with English subtitles, and an English narration with Gaelic subtitles. (The last relies on the reedy speaking voice of GWU prof Joseph Webb, who plays the silent old man in the film and isn't a sufficiently disturbing narrator.)

Lawrence directed this short to find a use for the new language he'd learned. Yet because he's a filmmaker, the movie (available on makes us re-think a classic. We're used to hearing Poe's narrator say creepy things in our own tongue, but the mellifluously exotic Gaelic forces us to re-absorb the story visually.

The film, which begins and ends in an asylum, has a picture-book quality (if anyone makes picture books about a butler who stabs someone, cuts him up and buries him beneath the parlor floor). The police are empty uniforms that stroll in and sip tea, suggesting they're figments of the narrator's imagination. Maybe the crime was never detected; maybe, if he's mad, he never committed it at all. The impressionistic quality of the movie opens it up to multiple interpretations.

Reading the Gaelic subtitles, I found almost no point of contact with Poe's English text. (Most of us probably know this story and don't need narration at all, of course.). But it was a pleasure to re-evaluate a story that has scared me since elementary school.


Augustus Gump said...

Aha! I knew you were at least one sixteenth brilliant!