The mysterious Femme Fatale has been a mainstay of the on-screen world for as long as I can remember and over the years, we’ve seen many of our cinematic hard-boiled heroes succumb to the alluring powers of these ‘black widow’ types. From Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity to Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, many of the great female performances in film have come when actresses have tackled these cunning masters of seduction. Carrying on the Femme Fatale traditions, Greg Williams dramatic directorial debut Tell-Tale, takes the preconceptions of this character type and uses them to create a visually striking short with an ever-twisting narrative.
Director Greg Williams shot to prominence in the photography world back in the 90’s, when he audaciously smuggled himself into Burma at the age of 19. He later went on to shoot news features in Chechnya and Sierra Leone, as well as tackle serious subjects like Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and brain damage rehabilitation in a series of photo essays. In more recent times though, the British born photographer has become involved in the world of film, documenting the activities on set, taking portraits of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and now with Tell-Tale, narrative directing.
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, the short film is a story of devotion and guilt that is carried out with the visual flair and panache you would anticipate from a photographer of Williams’ calibre. What may surprise you though, is what an assured piece of filmmaking this is, with the director eliciting powerful performances from his cast, whilst simultaneously weaving together an intricate and intriguing narrative.
At the film’s heart is a standout femme fatale performance from Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Snake Eyes), who absolutely smoulders throughout the film’s eight and a half minute duration. Tell-Tale’s success pretty much rests on her slender shoulders and it’s a weight she comfortably bears, lending her character a steely determination, whilst also managing to display the cracks in her ice-cold persona. Although Gugino is undoubtedly the main attraction to Williams’ film (she also managed to help write and produce the film), she is supported by some fine performances from Clifton Collins Jr and Adam Arkin, who as the ‘detective’ and ‘husband’ play an integral part in this perverse noir-esque short.
Additionally, as you would expect from a photographer of Williams’ stature, Tell-Tale is impeccably shot, with the incredibly sharp RED camera footage (shot on the Red One Mysterium X and prototype Epic cameras) lending added depth to the already stunning cinematography. On his website the director credits his aesthetic style to his experience on film sets, describing it as the ultimate photographic education. Much of his lighting-style he says has come from watching the finest cinematographers in the world on set and adapting their techniques, so much so that he has all but abandoned flash-photography for his own photo-shoots. As such, he is in the vanguard of the those image creators who are blurring the line between the realms of photography and video.
Tell-Tale has had a somewhat interesting story regarding its distribution. Williams put it on iTunes originally, at a small cost, stating in a piece for Rotten Tomatoes that, “people have always said you don’t make money out of short films and I wanted to test that theory” . I would assume the fact the film is now available for free on Vimeo and YouTube, is a sign that maybe this test failed, although we can’t be sure. Ultimately, I’m sure this wasn’t primarily an exercise in moneymaking, but instead a coming together of creative talent at a level rarely seen in short films—one that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.