In Dante’s Inferno, the poet Virgil guides Dante through the Underworld – a fellow witness to the despair and discipline of Hell. He is a most fitting escort having taken readers there in both the Georgics and the Aeneid. And perhaps seeing such horrors through the eyes of a poet is more bearable than going it alone.
Without Virgil, one could easily imagine Dante becoming overwhelmed by each circle of sin, unable to move on to the next. After all, he faints while crossing Acheron even before getting to Hell. So Virgil, to me, is the reason Dante’s journey happens at all.
At times we all need a guide on our journey, especially if the sign above the door says “Beware, all ye who enter here.” Therefore when I set out to make HELL, I knew I had to have my own “Virgil”. I didn’t necessarily want a narrator, but someone who would give viewers a break in between the short films, and at the same bridge the emotional arc of each.
I was showing a friend of mine the famous map of the Inferno, tapering down toward Satan, and he said “it looks like a woman’s skirt.” The image of an inverted woman popped into my head, and thus The Lady Dis was born. (Named after the City of Dis in Dante’s 6th circle)
She is the embodiment of Hell. She is alive, she hears, sees, senses and reacts to each vignette. This is a mock up of her:
Each sin is assigned to a different place of her body, and here is where I focus my camera as we work our way UP from the Underworld. Treachery across the eyes, Fraud across the mouth, Violence across the neck and so on. It works out perfectly using the human body as a map for sin. Ha!
I worked with actress Shellie Schmals (who portrays the Lady) and make-up artist Kellyn Willey (Pin-up Girl Cosmetics) to design her look. Since the film begins in the cold depths of Treachery we decided to make her hair and face look frosted. We wanted her to be part of the earth, her body writhing up from the soil at times to exhale or flinch. She is wrapped in sheer nylon and bruised with vibrant veins. And covered in dirt, lots of dirt.
Shellie was a tremendous trooper. It poured down rain for a good part of the day we were filming the Lady Dis, and she lay on the damp, muddy ground, at times being rained on, and having heaps of dirt piled on her for a few hours. Have I mentioned how much I love my actors for this project?
I decided to film her upside down, it does make a difference than filming her right side up and then turning the image over in post. It gives it a more disorienting perspective, something I imagine we’d all feel in the Underworld. I also did a lot of close-ups so the curve her body looks like like the landscape of Hell, she is one of the giants at the ledge of the 9th circle, but instead of lowering us into the icy depths, she lifts us out – toward Limbo. And leaves us with an exhale of hope.
To view a 20 second preview of the Lady Dis click HERE
To read more about the Circles of HELL and my film, Click HERE