WEEK 7: Cinema Language – An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

tommy o

Often I am surprised by what elements remain in a film adapted from prose. With Bierce’s “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” I found that the central point of the story persisted without discernible dialog, and without exposition of the main character’s motivation for any crime because the deeper motivation was more important to the tale. I enjoyed this illustration in film because it speaks to what can be left out of a story with visual components. For instance, a viewer from the United States knows at least a little about the American Civil War so showing soldiers in Union Uniforms and the main character at a plantation gives that viewer what they need in order to imagine the setting as placed in that time.

As for pacing, the longer opening shots of the film with wide views along with the almost procedural introduction of a rope for hanging was used to slowly build tension toward an expected execution. When the rope breaks the film relies on disorienting angled shots and the pace of shots increases to support the feelings of panic. In the short story this part of the work where Peyton Farquhar falls from the bridge uses a lot of action language to build that panic. It begins with an almost deceptive slowness but with a staccato-like punctuation, “From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him–by the pain of sharp pressure upon his throat,”  and transitions to action language, “…Keen, poignant agonies… shoot through his neck… streams of pulsating fire…” Both of these approaches, in film and writing, yield the same basic story for the viewer/reader.

As the story moves on with Peyton’s journey home what remains left in the film at the end is intriguing. Peyton rushes toward his welcoming wife only to be pulled back to the moment of his death. This is important to me because the essential elements of the story in a basic form are: the main character faces death; he escapes death through a trick of fate; he runs toward the only thing of importance in his mind, those he loves; only to find that he has inescapably lost it all in one final moment. Though the film leaves out Peyton’s folly the point of loss strongly remains. Visually, Payton’s pulling back choking and the cuts to an ordered and almost serene view of him hanging as the soldiers disperse reinforces the feeling of suddenness of violence that the text gives, as well as the quiet finality as it was originally written, “He springs forward with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like a shock of a cannon–then all is darkness and silence!
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge.” This inclusion seems at least as important as what was left out of the film. It’s the crux of the story. I’m interested to read what you all find most important.

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