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A Music Video at Owl Creek Bridge
April 21, 2010 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrance at Owl Creek Bridge" is considered "one of the most widely read, widely anthologized, widely taught, and widely admired short stories in all of American literature." As well as TVTropes' earliest example of [SPOILER] a Dying Dream. An Oscar and Cannes award winning short film was made from the story, "La Rivière du hibou" that was aired on American TV as an episode of "The Twilight Zone" (part one, two, three). Since then, it has been read by 'Front Porch Al' on the CBC's "As It Happens", and been the basis of umpteen other short films. Recently, the original film was 'mashed up' with Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick", and now the story has gotten the full Music Video treatment, for the (not really related) song "Unlovable" by Babybird, directed by Johnny Depp.

For those (I hope few) of you who didn't know, yes, it's the same Ambrose Bierce who wrote "The Devil's Dictionary", the same Twilight Zone that did "To Serve Man" and the same Johnny Depp who says he doesn't watch his own movies.
posted by oneswellfoop (55 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
how could I forget: via MonkeyFilter
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:49 PM on April 21, 2010


The problem with citing all the movies and books that this film directly influenced is that you ruin all of them.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:58 PM on April 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Which I do all the time, then kick myself for it. 'Occurrence' is a fave - thanks for these links!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:00 PM on April 21, 2010


Fuck Bob Newhart.

(Naw, I love him still!)
posted by basicchannel at 6:01 PM on April 21, 2010


the film is amazing because it carries the story along without dialog. This was one of my dad's favorite films because it worked just as well without sound. He always said the way to tell if somebody was making a good movie was to watch it with the sound off.
posted by warbaby at 6:12 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


That French version that aired on The Twilight Zone is a true masterpiece. And, if I recall correctly, almost completely dialogue-free. Just sound effects and a little music. A good example of masterful sound design.
posted by Atom Eyes at 6:13 PM on April 21, 2010


See also: Love Vigilantes. (Warning: military violence)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2010


The french version is incredible - the expressiveness of his face is heartbreaking. IIRC, it misses out on most of the original's criticism of slavery, though, which is kind of the point of the original short story. But otherwise, an amazing piece of art.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2010


I like to think that one of my favourite Alan Moore shorts, The Reversable Man, is a little bit of a nod to it.
posted by Artw at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2010


in 1901 Bierce also penned a short, kind of inflammatory, bit in in The New York Journal that many interpreted as wishing specific harm upon McKinley
The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast Can not be found in all the West; Good reason, it is speeding here To lay McKinley on his bier.
By no means can McKinley's assassination later that year be laid at Bierce's feet, but he was part of the Journal's often violence laden vitriol aimed at the president.
posted by edgeways at 6:50 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


aired on American TV as an episode of "The Twilight Zone"

It wasn't just an episode of the Twilight Zone, but the final episode of the series. Rod Serling had almost completely run out of money for the show by that point.
posted by jonp72 at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


That Depp film is very nice.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:55 PM on April 21, 2010


It wasn't just an episode of the Twilight Zone, but the final episode of the series. Rod Serling had almost completely run out of money for the show by that point.

Wikipedia begs to differ: although "Owl Creek" ran during the show's final season, "The Bewitchin' Pool" was the final episode of the original series.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:58 PM on April 21, 2010


I hadn't read this until after I saw Donnie Darko. I thought it was just some hack on the internet that was cribbing from an awesome movie he saw, but Richard Kelly admitted in an interview that it was pretty much the other way around.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:00 PM on April 21, 2010


(applicable quote for my post is toward the bottom of the first page)
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:02 PM on April 21, 2010


The video is terrifically done, imo. But for the plank remaining on the bridge*, coming in a few frames too early on the third to last shot and a miscast kid, I think it's better than the french film. I love the original, but the music in it is not just bad, it's horrible. Though the video makers have the benefit of having the story (as film) being in the public consciousness for 40 years, to me this story is one that is best told economically--you simply don't need 28 minutes to tell it.

In the video, the watch at the end was a very nice touch and isn't present in the original if I remember correctly. I've also always disliked the 3 or 4 takes of the couple running toward each other in the original. The pacing just seems ludicrous considering the content.

*In one of Truffaut's essays he talks about a dance number in Singin' in the Rain during which Debbie Reynolds grabs her skirt when she jumps over a couch in order to prevent the camera from looking up it. Truffaut says, "she gives herself away" with this gesture, meaning she takes us out of the film. This seems to me what Depp has done by deciding not to let the plank fall as it would do naturally in this situation. I've always hated that Truffaut planted that saying in my head because it seems to me that not only do I notice these things when they happen in film, but my brain always says, "she's giving herself away" when I do spot them, which takes me even further out of the film. Damn you, french new wave!
posted by dobbs at 7:08 PM on April 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Spike Lee's 25th Hour comes immediately to mind. And Brazil.

It's basically the opposite of Deus Ex Machina.

(you know, if the crew of BSG had had a happy landing on Earth... which turned out to be an "Owl Creek Bridge" type fever dream, taking place while they were being killed by wave after wave of Cylons attacks, I would have been OK with it)
posted by Auden at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The original song from the Twilight Zone film, "Livin' Man", is great.
posted by anazgnos at 7:26 PM on April 21, 2010


In the French film, the hanged man looks a lot like Emile Zola.
posted by stbalbach at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2010


Great post about one of my favorite short stories. I had no idea it had been adapted to tv so many times.
posted by joedan at 7:49 PM on April 21, 2010


There's at least one film version that predates the French one: Charles Vidor's The Bridge aka The Spy from 1929. I highly recommend it - it's not available online, but it can be seen on one of the Unseen Cinema DVDs (Disc 4: Inverted Narratives).
posted by Awkward Philip at 8:00 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As well as TVTropes' earliest example of [SPOILER] a Dying Dream.

You know this pretty much doesn't work, right?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:02 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow. The story and film are new to me, but watching the Thick as a Brick mashup was awesome for many reasons. Thanks!

Now imagining The Lottery x A Passion Play.
posted by Casimir at 8:12 PM on April 21, 2010


As well as TVTropes' earliest example of [SPOILER] a Dying Dream.

Seconding Pope Guilty.

I got spoiled just by reading the next two words. Maybe not spoiled like ZOMG, I Know Something Ridonculous About Lost! spoiled, but spoiled like, apparently this is one of the most admired stories in American literature, and now I won't get to read it fresh. A faintly sorrowful kind of spoiled.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:27 PM on April 21, 2010


(you know, if the crew of BSG had had a happy landing on Earth... which turned out to be an "Owl Creek Bridge" type fever dream, taking place while they were being killed by wave after wave of Cylons attacks, I would have been OK with it)

Funny you say that, the one thing that bothered me most about the first season was an enormous plothole in that first, amazing episode: namely, the Cylons had the fleet pinned. Done. It was over. But then they threw away the only means they had of locating the fleet in a pathetically lame failed attempt at doing a little damage. Why? They should have just kept pursuing the humans until they were incapacitated with exhaustion. The end.

I like to think that this is what happened, and that the rest of the show is Baltar's hallucination before being blown to pieces. It would explain how the series gets crazier and more nonsensical with every season and also why Baltar always has an extremely vital, central, role that is never quite defined yet involves him sleeping with dozens of gorgeous women.

I believe Cracked actually mentioned on a list that the bulk of the action taking place in a character's head is an interpretation that improves a lot of movies and stories.
posted by Ndwright at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


There was a great episode of Scrubs called "My Occurrence" that used this device perfectly. It was my first hint that the writers on that show actually knew what they were doing. At least until Tara Reid's character showed up.
posted by snapped at 8:53 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


(you know, if the crew of BSG had had a happy landing on Earth... which turned out to be an "Owl Creek Bridge" type fever dream, taking place while they were being killed by wave after wave of Cylons attacks, I would have been OK with it)

Frankly, I've have accepted nearly anything over the "ending" we got. They're all dead, and it's just a dream? OK. It all took place inside Boxey's snowglobe? Sure. Edward James Olmos wakes up in bed next to Crockett and Tubbs? I could live with that. Fade to a black screen with Dr. Gaius Baltar never returned home on it? If you must. I won't even mind if the Final Five turn out to be Cavil's boyhood sled.

Just please, please don't let the bullshit that happened before happen again!
posted by vorfeed at 9:43 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


My apologies to anyone actually SPOILED by the wording of the FPP. I have a strange psychological disorder in which I LOVE spoilers and HATE unforeshadowed plot twists, and have committed spoilery acts that have pooped parties and damaged friendships. When I noticed that TVTropes had differentiated the "Dying Dream" from "It's All A Dream", I hoped the wording was obtuse enough to keep most people who hadn't read the story/seen the film from knowing too much, unless they had read the page on TVTropes, which itself clearly gave away the ending. I knew it wouldn't be obscure enough for some of you, but frankly didn't care. To me, the recognition that it was the prototype for so many stories and films since was one of the most fascinating things about the story, something I really wanted to share (and hoped would be discussed in the thread... and it was).

For the record, that episode of Twilight Zone broke my heart when I saw it 46 years ago. TZ gave 6-to-9-year-old me nightmares but my parents let me watch it because they were watching it too. But that one, I remember vividly, made me cry. And one thing my dad did not like was seeing his little man cry. Even now, having seen so many versions of the story and knowing exactly what's going to happen and when, seeing the quick cut back to the rope going taut still 'gets me', IF the film was well done. (And actually, the disconnect between the lyrics and the visual story in the "Unlovable" video kinda ruined it for me... "Thick as a Brick" was a better musical match, IMO).
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:44 PM on April 21, 2010


Argh! You posted a link to tvtropes.org?

Sigh, there goes my night's sleep - Already have more tabs open than fit. :)
posted by pla at 9:53 PM on April 21, 2010


I dunno if "dying dream" is actually all that obtuse. Seems pretty self-explanatory to me.

But I was aware of the story already because it got a look-in on a 2nd-season Lost episode (there's a copy of it in the Swan).
posted by harriet vane at 10:11 PM on April 21, 2010


I also saw this version in the late 60's when I was a kid (I thought it was on the local PBS channel). I've always remembered it.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by jabo at 10:32 PM on April 21, 2010


There was a great episode of Scrubs called "My Occurrence" that used this device perfectly. It was my first hint that the writers on that show actually knew what they were doing.

There's two episodes of TV that break me down crying every goddamn time, and it's the sequel to "My Occurrence"- "My Screw Up"- and "The Body" from Buffy. Every time.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:21 PM on April 21, 2010


I don't think spoilers for Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge can really be a thing. It's like students in film class in the year 2102 yelling at each other for ruining the ending of the Sixth Sense.
posted by mek at 11:35 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a cookbook!
posted by Artw at 11:41 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a box!
posted by Evilspork at 4:54 AM on April 22, 2010


I haven't read that since Jr. high school -- it occurs to me now that Terry Gilliam did this thing at the end of Brazil.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:11 AM on April 22, 2010


My favorite Bierce story is Chickamauga. Horror on so many levels.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:36 AM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hadn't read this until after I saw Donnie Darko. I thought it was just some hack on the internet that was cribbing from an awesome movie he saw, but Richard Kelly admitted in an interview that it was pretty much the other way around.

Man, I knew Richard Kelly was a hack, but I had no idea that he was hacky enough to think The Twilight Zone came up with the twist in 'Occurrence.'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:24 AM on April 22, 2010


Reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Jacob's Ladder, where the protagonist dreams the entire story as he's dying on the operating table.
posted by cedar key at 8:51 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meta.
posted by norm at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2010


Damn you, french new wave!

No -- bless you, French New Wave!
posted by blucevalo at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2010


And, just had to add ..... any post that references Bierce as marvelously as this one does gets a multitude of thumbs-ups from me, whether Bierce wished McKinley dead or not.
posted by blucevalo at 10:28 AM on April 22, 2010


I used to work at Chickamauga National Militarty Park and one of the books we carried was a collection of short stories by Bierce. Parents would pick it up and say "Hey, little Johnny, these short stories look perfect for you"!

I would try to explain graciously that it wasn't a children's book, "What do you mean? These are real short little stories, right?"

"Yes, they are fairly short in length.... whatever, you know, I bet your kid is going to love them and well never ever have nightwares about wandering around in the woods, deaf and bloody, tripping over the amputated limbs of others."

"Great! I'll take it!"
posted by stormygrey at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've got this awesome book off Amazon, Daniel Harms' The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, yes ANOTHER Lovecraft thing, and four Bierce stories are referred in it, even though Bierce died before Lovecraft produced most of his work. Bierce is credited as being the creator of both Carcosa and Hastur*, even before Robert Chambers, although it notes that his Hastur is actually a benevolent god of shepherds.

I can say this so certainly because I spent two entire days collating every article in the book into a huge chart showing clearly which aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos were created by which author. Why can't I devote that kind of energy to useful things?
posted by JHarris at 11:55 AM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah - Carcosa and Hastur arn't really Carcosa and Hastur till they've been through the filter of several writers... his names though.

(Good book. Bit too heavy on the RPG stuff.)
posted by Artw at 12:43 PM on April 22, 2010


Also I would buy your chart.
posted by Artw at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Also I would buy your chart."

Second that. Or at least download it and print it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:53 PM on April 22, 2010


I keep telling him to talk to Chaosium about it when he's done.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:50 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Alternately talk to these guys.
posted by Artw at 2:14 PM on April 22, 2010


Three things about the chart: first, I'm still trying to come up with the best way to present it; second, there are a number of cases, like the stuff about Hastur, where simply the first use of the term isn't the whole story, that is difficult to express cleanly; and third, there are collaborations, both ordinary and "posthumous collaborations" where a later writer took notes or letters by Lovecraft and turned them into a story with a joint byline, that are tough to classify.

(The RPG stuff has its own special category on the chart, split up between Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green.)
posted by JHarris at 2:17 PM on April 22, 2010


You know, though I say the Harms book has too much RPG stuff, Delta Green Hastur is pretty much THE Hastur for me.
posted by Artw at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2010


Thanks for this, although IMHO you might have done better to avoid the spoiler.

You know, I've seen a similar B&W film of this story, I'm sure it was not this film. ISTR it had occasional brief narration straight from the text. It was shown on PBS as part of a series of cheaply produced 30 minute adaptations of famous American short stories, targeted at high school audiences. I remember it vividly even though I must have seen it 20 years ago or more.

One other notable film in this series was Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," which I think is the greatest short story in American Literature.. followed closely by Bierce's story at #2.

Anyway, if anyone remembers that PBS series or how to track it down, let me know. Even though it was a much cheaper production than the French film, the story is so damn good, it was still a compelling film.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:59 PM on April 22, 2010


Ambrose Bierce was a fascinating character. Fiercely intelligent, hilariously funny, and borderline psychopath in the sense that he was detached from conventional displays of human emotion. It is theorized that he suffered from post-traumatic stress from his experiences in the army in the Civil War, including one of the most botched disasters in Military History, The Battle of The Crater.

I started to get more interested in him after seeing the odd Jane Fonda movie based on a novel by Carlos Fuentes, Old Gringo, which speculates about his mysterious disappearance.

Tarnation! I cannot recall the author of an interesting biography which I read a few years ago.

The Devil's Dictionary is a piece of work.
posted by ovvl at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyway, if anyone remembers that PBS series or how to track it down, let me know.

Are you perhaps referring to The American Short Story Collection?

I don't know if this is available any other way. I poked around a bit and didn't "find" it anywhere else. You might try your local library system, or university library if you have access. It's the kind of thing which would be found in places like that.
posted by hippybear at 1:01 PM on April 23, 2010


I can say this so certainly because I spent two entire days collating every article in the book into a huge chart showing clearly which aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos were created by which author. Why can't I devote that kind of energy to useful things?

Which you're going to put on the web and then let me know about so we can all see it without the powers that be banning you, right?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:21 AM on April 24, 2010


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