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Poe Nouveau

Schenectady filmmaker Heidi Philipsen-Meissner uses local landmarks and talent for her retelling of The Tell-Tale Heart

By Ann Morrow

“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” These words come from the narrator of Edgar Allen Poe’s short-story horror classic The Tell-Tale Heart. They can also be paraphrased to describe the makings of filmmaker Heidi Philipsen-Meissner’s short-film adaptation, Her Telling Heart. Filmed locally, this feminist interpretation uses a female narrator (like many details in Poe’s story, the narrator’s gender is ambiguous), and adds flashbacks to create a background for the unspecified source of the narrator’s murderous madness. Directing under the name Eli Meissner, the Schenectady resident (who also stars in the film, as Heidi Philipsen) says some of her inspiration came from her own childhood, and more recently from a Poe project with Upstate Independents, of which she’s a member. In the adaptation, Meissner’s five-year-old daughter, Sophie, plays the narrator as a child. “It’s a psychoanalytic deconstruction,” says Meissner. “In the story, there’s just the madness, she’s obsessed with the old man’s ‘vulture-like eye,’ but what’s the history of violence behind it? The flashbacks illustrate why she’s mad, but also leave questions, like in the [Poe] story.”

Despite her dedication to a feminist back story, Meissner promises Her Telling Heart is plenty creepy—”I kept the narrator’s voice”—and, funds permitting, the trailer will be posted on the film’s website (hertelling heart.com) on Halloween. She credits the Knickerbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke, one of the film’s two locations, for providing the crucial creepy atmosphere. The partly renovated 1800s-era building still has rooms untouched from its past as a haunted house. “There’s a shot in a chamber that’s falling apart, with exposed walls,” says Meissner in a shivery voice, “and a shot with Sophie in a doorway. When I saw that shot, I thought, that’s exactly what I saw in my head. It’s very exciting, because when you’re writing, you have this image, but it’s the dream, the dream without budgets and time constraints, but I got what I wanted, ‘the lane between memory and eternity.’ ” She also credits director of photography Patrick Elliot. “He’s enormously artistic and he’s not afraid to take risks,” she says. “He spent a lot of time on his back with a heavy camera on his chest to get the angle.” Originally from Michigan, Meissner says the Knickerbocker was suggested to her by mansion board member Stephen O’Connor, who is an actor.

Meissner says she’s always wanted to make a period film and a thriller, and she began the adaptation as a post graduation project while she was a student at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. “But making a period film is a big big deal,” she explains. “No matter how much you prepare, it’s easy to get the details wrong, and if you get the period details wrong, people don’t believe it.” Her undergrad film, A Fork In the Road, won the student award for Best Film. But after moving to Schenectady in 2007 (her husband, Niko, works for General Electric), Meissner realized she was in the right place for historical settings. Her Telling Heart is set in both the past, in 1843, the year Poe’s story was published, and in “the present time,” a few years later. Present-time footage was shot at Eastfield Village, in rural Rensselaer County. The reconstructed village of 18th- and 19th-century buildings is owned by Don Carpentier, an art director for early Merchant-Ivory films and a former props master (Master and Commander). “Don really came onboard,” says Meissner gratefully. “The kitchen is so accurate.”

“Technically, it’s got a hell of a look,” says Carpentier of the footage he’s seen. “The camera man and the lighting guy were amazing.” Carpentier is also pleased with the use of his village, which was previously used for a 13-part series on the History Channel. “There’s really good contrast with these nice buildings in a beautiful setting and all the terror that’s going on,” he says. Stunt coordinator Curtis Lyons (Men in Black III) also contributed to the terror in Her Telling Heart. Like many of the people who contributed, Meissner met Carpentier through a friend of a friend in the industry. “I’m honored these people came to my little film and blessed it with their talent and dedication,” she says. A local premiere is planned for January 2011. Funding includes tax-deductible donations from the public.

The film’s professionally hellish “look” was captured by a Red One digital camera. “It’s the Rolls Royce of digital cameras,” says Meissner, adding that her biggest unexpected expense was buying hard drives for it. Production was completed in a whirlwind three days. Meissner had planned on hiring an actress for the role of Angeline, the narrator, but took on the role herself to save time. “It’s crazy to be the writer, director, producer, and star, but I’m glad I did,” she says. “I already had the character in my head, and I didn’t have to spend time explaining her to anyone. And I had a great stand-in,” she adds. Meissner also feels validated by her first review: “My friend who saw it said, ‘I don’t think I can ever look at you again without being creeped out.’ ”

 

They came for one thing: brains. Undead revellers filled the streets for a zombie walk to the Linda, where WAMC held its third annual Zombie Film Feast, complete with a prom, “Thriller” dance off and brain-eating contest.

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Of Teabaggers and Zombies

A Metroland guide to protecting yourself from the brain-dead Tea Party zombie apocalypse

By David King

“Mmm, blaargh, gaaark, no brains!” That is the cry of those infected by the nasty Tea Party virus, thought to be caused by the election of a “progressive” black president. Their absence during the rampant expansion of big government and deficit spending during the Bush years has confirmed this theory for most scientists. Those afflicted by the virus lurch forward toward Election Day, stomping their feet. “Gaargh, no immigrants!” they chant in a blood frenzy, unaware that the country was founded by and for immigrants. They hate minorities and those who live “alternative lifestyles,” but they will eat and convert just about anyone. Any minorities they get, though, suffer a horrific fate: They end up stuck as Tea Party talking heads on Fox News.

But don’t fear, kind citizen! Metroland is ready to help you defend yourself from the walking brain-dead. There are many strains of the Tea Party virus, and you need to know your zombie!

1. Carl Paladino—Republican Candidate for governor of New York state. Mr. Paladino has clearly been infected by the “Rage” virus a la 28 Days Later. Zombies of this type are initially fast and vicious, but their anger burns out after a while. If they find their prey, they will simply eat themselves to death in a rage-fueled gorgefest. They are also known for their hate speech. Zombie defenders will tell you that zombies are just politically correct. But their obsession with bestiality videos, racial jokes and porn in general is well-documented. Zombies of this strain also have a particular hatred for the media. “Me take you out!” they scream at journalists. Don’t identify yourself as a member of the press or you will quickly be dismembered. But there is a very easy way to pacify these poor wretches: Rage zombies are revolted and frightened to death by alternative lifestyles. Gay-pride parades will always be safe from this sort of zombie.

2. Sarah Palin—Tea Party cheerleader, former Republican nominee for vice president. Palin is the typical Dawn of the Dead-style zombie, brain-dead and headed to the mall. These zombies are easy to outwit, outclass and outrun. Sure, she might not know what the Supreme Court does, but she wants to “change America.” Sure, she is wealthy and does her hunting in a fur coat from a helicopter while trying to convince zombies whose flesh- procurement skills are meager that she is “one of them.” But what she lacks in intelligence she makes up for in pep! The best way to defend against this sort is to push her into a Saks Fith Avenue, Nieman Marcus or Barneys, where she will gorge herself into a stupor on fashionistas.

3. Christine O’Donnell—Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware. O’Donnell has been transformed by the nasty chemicals that produce “Braiiins!”-demanding zombies in Return of the Living Dead. The movie is a cheesy ’80s caricature of a zombie film, and O’Donnell is a cheesy caricature of a Tea Party member. “Blaaargh, what is separation of church and state? I not witch! BRAAAAAAAINS!” These zombie sorts are terribly easy to trick. In Return of the Living Dead 2, a 10-year-old pulls the old bait-and-switch on a terribly stupid zombie hiding behind a wall and then pushes it over a ravine. All you have to do to defend yourself against this type is chuck a copy of the Constitution their way. They may initially claim, “I reaaaaad this, really! BRAAAINS!” But just mention any bit of its contents and the brainless corpses will quickly realize they haven’t, and then will do their best to stuff the document directly into their skulls.

4. Rand Paul—Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky. Paul is the kind of zombie possessed by evil, the evil contained in one book—not by the Evil Dead’s Necronomicon, but Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. ’Course, it isn’t the book’s fault; a lot of us spent a little bit too much time with Rand in high school or college, but we didn’t let it posses us totally, leaving us lusting to discriminate, declaring, “GAARKK CIVIL RIGHTS ACT IMPOSITION ON PRIVATE BUSINESS, BLAAARGH!” But Paul is sure that the dollar will soon be replaced by the “Amero” and America will become part of the “North American Union.” Paul is certainly a well-read zombie. The book’s evil will not let him understand that America was founded by immigrants for immigrants. The scary thought that nonwhites are moving into America just drives him bonkers—the flesh-eating kind of bonkers. The best way to defend against this kind of zombie is to ask him if he believes more in the founding principles of this country or the philosophy of a Russian immigrant who went from living a modest repressed life to glamming it up in Hollywood—drunk on capitalism. I mean, how can this kind of zombie explain being a slave to the writings of an immigrant? Of course, the answer is likely that said immigrant was white, but they won’t be able to grunt that out loud, so their heads will almost certainly explode.


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