TELL-TALE HEARTBEATS

In all this time writing about my first short film musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” I have kept one crucial secret: how are the famous tell-tale heartbeats rendered in this version? It must be musical, right? The film is called a musicabre, after all.

Well, today I will reveal that secret. So don’t continue if you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t wish to be spoiled…

Actually, I kind of already revealed that secret without putting it in so many words when I posted the Tell-Tale Murder in Russian piece. That selection of photos showing a section of the film with Russian subtitles revealed circular inserts of hands playing cellos within the screenshots. As the translation of the Russian subtitles made it clear this was the part of the story where the victim’s heartbeats drives the murderer to attack and kill. It didn’t take too much power of deduction to see what those inserted circular images of hands plucking cellos might represent.

The cellos become the beating of the old man’s heart, both musically and visually…

This happens twice in the story and in the film. The first time is when the old man is still very much alive, and frightened, sitting up in the dark, aware that there may be an intruder in the room…

Black and white flashbacks show us the events as they are remembered by the narrator, whom we see in color, visually accompanied by the cello circles as much as he is musically accompanied by them.

First one cello plucks just one string to represent the heart beating, but then another cello joins in…

As tension mounts, additional strings are plucked for a more discordant sound, first in one cello, then the other. Finally the third cello joins in. As the narrator exclaims: “I thought the heart must burst!”

I won’t be sharing all the audio with you, just enough to illustrate in quick strokes how the famous tell-tale heartbeats are heard – and seen – in “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”. The previous Tell-Tale blog post illustrates how the narrator, alarmed by the loudness of the heartbeats, announces that “the old man’s hour had come”, and an even older blog post illustrates not only what the ensuing murder looks like but what it took to film it.

The cellos play some very dramatic murder music at that point.

You’ll have to watch the movie to hear it though. Not sharing that now.

Eventually the cellos take up the victim’s heartbeats again, muffled under a suffocating mattress…

… slowing down …. and fading …. and finally stopping.

But even those who haven’t read Poe’s short story probably know or can guess that this is not the last we have heard of those tell-tale heartbeats.

In the end of the story the sound of the heart returns, not only because the narrator recounts how he heard the cut out heart beating louder and louder under the floor boards where he had deposited it, but also, the narrator later confesses in horror, because the heartbeats are sounding even now, again, while he is telling us about them.

This time the cellos don’t pluck the heartstrings – I mean cello strings. They bow them. First one cello…

Then two…

Eventually all three cellos unite to become the ever more insistent tell-tale heartbeats…

I’m providing only snapshots – audio and visual – of this climactic scene. The whole thing escalates rather dramatically. And there are quite a few more musical and visual surprises that I will not spoil.

Still I will share one snippet where the narrator echoes words that in the original short story are part of his opening lines, only this time he utters them under far greater strain…

Obviously this will not end well…

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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