Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story opens with the following Latin inscription and parenthetical annotation:
Impia tortorum longos hic turba furors
Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit.
Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris antro,
Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.
[Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the Jacobin Club House at Paris.]
Curiously enough, Poe never offers any translation for this Latin quatrain. I had to look it up:
“Here an unholy mob of torturers
with an insatiable thirst for innocent blood,
once fed their long frenzy.
Now our homeland is safe, the funereal cave destroyed,
and life and health appear where dreadful death once was.”
Although the reference to the Jacobin Club House of Paris implies that this inscription refers to the worst terrors of the French Revolution, Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” actually imagines the deadly traps and tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. No exact time is given, but Toledo is mentioned as the setting, not Paris.
For my musical short film adaptation “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” the scene is set with an opening shot of a plaque on a wall, bearing this Latin inscription, translated by subtitles for the viewer (a courtesy not given Poe’s reader), while three cellos intone a mournful version of the main theme. I figured it would help set the mood and foreshadow “unholy tortures” as well as prepare the audience for more Latin to come (albeit sung, not inscribed).
Gaffer Ja’rel Ivory, D.P. Jason Chua and Key Grip Keisuke Nojima
Production Designer Mariana Soares da Silva made the plaque and we affixed it to a wall in the hallway behind the studio space at the Theater for the New City where we had built our main sets. At the end of our sixth day of shooting we took an hour to get some shots of the plaque. We shot in slow motion, experimenting with haze and smoke and lighting.
(The bulk of our Day 6 and 7 were spent on a much more complicated set-up, which I will talk about in the next On Set Diary post.)
2nd Assistant Camera Han Jang Houston can also be seen in this video clip.
The lighting effect employed here is very like what ended up in the finished film – possibly this is even the moment we filmed the take that made the final cut, but not necessarily (we wound up with lots of options…).
Screenshot from the film: