Poe, with teeth
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A disturbed young man becomes so obsessed with a young woman’s teeth that he eventually rips them out and stores the blood-stained trophies in a little wooden box.
Crazy idea for a creepy student film?
Actually, not too crazy an idea for Edgar Allan Poe, who published the gothic short story Berenice in 1835. His narrator describes how he became so obsessed with the teeth of his gregarious but doomed cousin/fiancée that after her burial, in a blackout, he exhumed the body and ripped out her teeth, only to discover that she had actually been buried alive.
Readers found the story—in which the violent actions happen off-stage—so horrifying that their complaints led to the release of a censored version.
Jesse Walker, a UI undergraduate from Ottumwa, Iowa, aiming at a career in special effects, chose the Poe story as the basis of his spring project in the Media Production Workshop (MPW) in the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature. Berenice will be one of the MPW films screened at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 10, in Room 105 of the Adler Journalism and Mass Communications Building. Walker hopes to enter the finished product in student cinema competitions at upcoming festivals.
Walker invited actors through the theatre department’s email list, involved other cinema students in various technical and assisting responsibilities, obtained fake teeth from the dental school, and recruited MFA students Avi Michael as cinematographer and Zhao Liu (everyone calls him "Lewis") as co-director.
Lewis, a graduate of the Communication University of China, set the tone in a production meeting when he announced that Walker was shy, but he was not. Walker wrote the script, drew the storyboards, conceived of the production, and did the editing; Lewis took the lead in a grueling four-day schedule of rehearsal and shooting in the UI Main Library, UI Hospitals and Clinics, and outdoors on the campus.
Michael worked on an array of media projects in his native Australia before coming to the UI, but Berenice challenged him with the most complex cinematic set-up he had ever attempted. “In this shot, a man jumps over the table and grabs a box as a security guard leaning toward the box recoils. The difficulty was achieving a realistic lighting environment because the action must appear as though it occurs at night, even though it's right next to a window (which can't be totally blacked out) and it's daytime at the point of shooting.”
When you see Berenice, you will understand.