Ed & Edgar

my adventures in the cult of Poe

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Monday
Oct242011

Philly Poe Book Coming in 2012

Earlier this month, while I was in Roswell, New Mexico lecturing about Edgar Allan Poe, I received a call from a publisher, The History Press, asking if I'd like to write a book about Poe and the time he spent in Philadelphia.  So I submitted a proposal and, yes there will be a book.  A preview:

Edgar Allan Poe lived in Philadelphia from 1838-44.  While there, he wrote the stories that still chill us: The Tell-Tale Heart.  The Fall of the House of Usher.  The Black Cat.  The Pit and the Pendulum.  The Gold Bug.  The Murders in the Rue Morgue.  While there are many biographies of Poe, none go into any detail about how 19th century Philadelphia influenced these works.  Poe’s Philadelphia wasn’t the charming cobblestoned city of  patriots ringing in a new age of democracy on the Liberty Bell.  It was a city of disease and crime.  Cholera rampaged.  Race riots broke out regularly.  Striking workers battled in the streets.  There was no real police force and firemen were more likely to start fires than put them out.  Edgar Allan Poe witnessed all of this and, in turn, produced stories of chaos, destruction and death.  Traces of his Philadelphia run rampant throughout his works. Philadelphia Gothic was the crucible for Poe’s imaginative genius. This biography of Edgar Allan Poe’s in Philadelphia will document Poe’s involvement in the events of the time—the real crime stories he saw in the streets and read in the penny newspapers—and use his mystery and horror stories as a lens to view this history.  This will be a book just as much about Poe as it is about a tumultuous 19th century urban environment. 

Release is scheduled for September 2012, just in time for all the Poe events of the Halloween season.  The Philly Poe Gospel finally comes to print.  Now, to write!

Sunday
Oct232011

Emmerich's new disaster pic, Anonymous

Imagine the director of the movies Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 made athe very offensive poster movie about Shakespeare. Yeah, that was exactly what Anonymous was like.  Anonymous is a terrible film as a drama, as a historical film and as a Shakespearean film.  Emmerich hasn't made a disaster movie, but rather a disastrous one. 

I went into the screening at the Philadelphia Film Festival (opens widely, or not so widely, on October 28) with the preconception that I would probably enjoy the film because I love historical dramas, as well as this particular time period.  Hey, I might be pissed about the whole “Shakespeare was a fraud” thing, but I want to see a political conspiracy movie set in the Elizabethan Age.  Oh how wrong I was.  Turns out I did not want to see a historical conspiracy thriller if it was made by Roland Emmerich.  

Over the next few days, I’ll post about how Anonymous fails in three big ways.  Today, why Anonymous is a terrible drama.  

A film with a script this poorly written would be difficult to redeem (the silly, needlessly convoluted plot with spoilers).  The dialogue was ham-handed, the performances over the top.  Way over.  Even Vanessa Redgraveas Queen Elizabeth plays her part as if a graduate of the Nicholas Cage School of Acting.  Oddly enough, Rhys Ifans as the older Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower gets to play the hammy, yet sexy version of the younger Oxford), gives an understated performance, very interior, although he stillcan’t redeem a script that has him givePassionate (with a capital P) dialogue about “Words” (yes, Words with a capital W) and “voices in my head” that he must write or else go mad.  Mad, I tell you!  

I wasn’t the only one in the audience to see the silliness in this movie.  Several times the audience laughed at the ridiculous situations and dialogue.  In one scene, Oxford’s wife angrily confronts the Earl after discovering he has been acting upon his most secret desires: “Edward, you’ve been writing again?!”  The audience erupted into laughter.  Yes, that's the big shameful vice of Oxford.  He's a (make the scrunched up face of distaste) writer.  Emmerich beats the audience over the head with this theme throughout the movie.  And it's this kind of hyperbole that makes the proceedings so silly.  Emmerichalso comes off as a real novice filmmaker when he begins the film with amateurish expository introductions when characters at an Elizabethan theatre have this kind of exchange: “Oh, look, Thomas Dekker, isn’t that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford?” “Why yes, Christopher Marlowe, and that’s the Earl of Southampton with him?”  Really?  Why didn't you just freeze frame and superimpose each character's name as a subtitle? 

And oh, the sneering villains.  Had Snidely Whiplash showed up, no one would have blinked.  Edward Hogg, as the hunchbacked Robert Cecil, seems to be channelling Christopher Guest’s evil, six-fingered Count Rugen from The Princess Bride.  Christopher Marlowe is played as a villain, perpetually envious and sneering at every line uttered by the actors in the playhouse.  Several times, I honestly thought maybe Emmerich was having us on, that he understood this material was silly and was covertly making a film that undermined the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories.  Then I remembered his other films and realized Emmerich can only paint in broad, overly simplistic strokes. 

Anonymous is Godzilla set in the 16th Century (actually, I'd love to see that literally with an actual monster destroying an Elizabethan city).  We even get explosions in the first ten minutes of the film when a theatre is deliberately burned down, setting off fireworks stowed under the stage.  Later, we get canons firing into a crowd, as well as lots of musketry fire.  The bodies pile up.  Normally, I’d enjoy that kind of mayhem in a film.  And it could be refreshing in an historical film.  But not in a movie that takes itself so seriously.  The only light moments in this film are scenes showing Shakespeare as a goofy bumpkin.  Otherwise, we get characters imploring, growling, weeping, shouting, sneering, bellowing, pleading.  The only thing Anonymous was missing was Nic Cage.  That would at least have made it enjoyable. 

Part 2 Anonymous as a terrible historical film

Part 3 Anonymous as a terrible Shakespearean film. 

Sunday
Oct092011

Philly Poe Guy on the road

Last week, I spent a few days at Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell, NM talking about Edgar Allan Poe.  Taught two classes and then gave a lecture open to any and all.  The students were very responsive in both classes and 25-30 people turned out for the talk, always an encouraging sign.  I never get tired of learning how many people out there still read and enjoy Poe’s works.  Even the professors at ENMU were a little surprised by the Poethusiasm.  

Thanks so much to Professor Daniel Wolkow who invited me and the students and teachers who attended. 

 Even Roswell, NM has a Poe Street

Thursday
Sep012011

Poe Knows Dickens

2012 marks the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth.  There will be celebrations and events all around the world.  And the Philly Poe Guy is turning to Dickens, as well.  I will attempt to read all of Charles Dickens’ works over the next year.  Starting on September 15, I will read all the novels, all the published stories, all the journalism (at least, all that’s been identified as written by Dickens) and a good chunk of the letters (approximately 15,000 letters survive).  I will also read biographies, adaptations, literary criticism and history.  I’ll watch at least one film/TV adaptation for every novel.  I’ll even listen to radio dramatizations of the novels.  For the next 365 days, I will eat, work, sleep and dream Charles Dickens

My set looks like thisI’ll be reading Dickens in more than one format, too.  Most of it will be my 21 volume Oxford Illustrated Dickens set, but I’ll also read one novel on an eBook device (probably Kindle) and most fun of all, I’ll be reading one novel in it’s original serial papers.  The Free Library of Philadelphia is allowing me to read their first serial edition of Little Dorrit, so for a couple weeks, I’ll be visiting their Rare Book room every day to do my reading.  First serial edition of Little Dorrit

And of course, I’ll be writing about this reading experience.  I’ve only read a few of Dickens’ novels (but watched many TV and film adaptations) and have always wanted to just take a summer and read several of his books.  Now along comes the Dickens Bicentenary and I thought, why not just read them all.  And pack it all into one giant year of nothing but Dickens.  

I’m still working on the website (there’s just a teaser page here) and hope to have it up and running on September 15, when I begin my Dickens Odyssey.  I’ll also post updates on the Reading Dickens Facebook (Like me!) and Twitter (Follow me! ) accounts. 

This won’t be so hard, right?  If I read 100-200 pages a day, I should be able to finish the entire canon in no time.  Well, that would be okay if I didn’t still have a life to live (and money to make).  I’m still teaching a college lit course this semester, not to mention I have several Poe and Shakespeare events lined up. (And children to care for and dinner to cook, etc.)  On top of it all, I’ll be writing about my reading experience almost every day for not only my own website, but also for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s site.  

The Free Library of Philadelphia will be mounting two exhibitions of their Charles Dickens collection inWhat I'll look like for the next year. 2012 and all summer long I’ve been working with their Rare Book Department developing a program of events for their celebration of the Dickens Bicentenary.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about what we’re cooking up.  

I can’t wait to start reading Dickens. 

Friday
Feb112011

Save the Baltimore Poe House

Recently, the Baltimore Poe House and Museum revealed that the City of Baltimore cut all of their funding in July 2010.  They have some dollars to keep running a bit longer, maybe until June 2012, but nothing is certain except the city has no plans to continue funding the site.  The city has told the Poe House they must develop a plan for becoming a self-sufficient institution.  Those of you familiar with my longstanding battle with Baltimore over the literary legacy of Edgar Allan Poe may think that this is the moment when I raise my arms and shout “I win!”  But I’m not.  The Baltimore Poe House needs to remain open and the way in which it is funded needs to continue.  

Sign the petition, but just as importantly, pass the word about it.  Email your friends.  Post it on Facebook.  Post it on Twitter.  The budget for Baltimore has not yet passed, so if we raise enough ruckus, perhaps they will change their minds and keep funding the House.  

Of course, it would be good for Baltimore Poe House to develop alternate sources of funding.  But what do you think they’ve been doing for the past thirty years.  All those birthday events and “Cask of Amontillado” wine tasting events and October shindigs have helped keep the Baltimore Poe House afloat.  The bare bones budget for the House, currently funded by the City of Baltimore, just to pay one person and keep the doors open is $85,000.  In a city budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, $85K is a drop in the bucket.  That kind of outlay has zero effect on any other city services.  Not to mention the work that has been accomplished by Jeff Jerome over the years that have brought tourist dollars into Maryland and Baltimore.   Last year, according to Jerome, “The Poe House and Visit Baltimore received an award from the State of Maryland for bringing in print media advertising the equivalent of $1.9 million through the highly successful Nevermore 2009 publicity campaign.”  Hmm, $1.9 mil.  $85K  budget.  I think the $85K was pretty well spent.  If the City of Baltimore was spending millions of dollars on operating their Poe House, I could understand them wanting to make some budget cuts.  But when they’re only giving them enough to just survive AND they say they’re going to just cut all of it, I am flabbergasted.  In what economic world does any of this make sense?  

Sign the petition 

Now, Jeff Jerome and I have had our little battles over the years about literary history, but that doesn’t prevent me from seeing the kind of work he does is valuable to Poe’s continuing public reception.  Jeff Jerome, misguided though he may be about the literary legacy of Poe (Hey Jeff, Poe’s a Philadelphia writer!), has nonetheless done an outstanding job for the past thirty years as caretaker of Poe’s Legacy in Baltimore.  My fear would be that any NEW system of funding the Poe House would leave Jerome out in the cold.  The Poe House in Baltimore needs to stay open and it needs to have Jeff Jerome continue in his position.  If only because for thirty years this way has worked.  

So why can’t the Poe House just find ways of making up that $85K?  They are in a unique position.  Plans that have allowed other sites, such as the Mark Twain House in Connecticut, would be extraordinarily difficult (read: impossible) in Baltimore.  The Poe House is tiny, cramped and surrounded by a neglected neighborhood.  It doesn’t get tens of thousands of visitors through its doors every year.  It doesn’t have enough space for an adequate gift shop.  It can’t host programs and events.  It has survived because many years ago, the City of Baltimore decided it was worth spending a very small amount of money to keep it afloat.  It’s worth even more now.  Hopefully, some fat cats might be made aware of this situation and start some kind of endowment (don’t bet on it).  But even then, that money needs to be replenished year after year.  That’s why it makes sense for the city to cover the bare bones budget and then let the House do all it can to raise more money.  If the House has to raise their own operating costs, they’ll be closing their doors in no time.  For the Poe House to even think about making enough to cover their own costs, they’d have to double their size and hire more staff.  They can’t do anything about their space and more staff just costs more and more money.  We’re not talking about a business here.  We’re talking about a literary historical landmark.  How many readers do you think are left in this country who actually give a shit about our literary history?  Answer: not enough to support a literary house in a bad neighborhood. 

Sign the petition 

Shutter the Poe House now and in a few years, the talk will be, “Why even have it at all?  Just tear the building down.  We already have the grave at Westminster.  Why do we need the house?”  I can talk and write about literary history all I want.  I can give talks to halls packed to the doors.  But that’s all just talk.  I grew up in a city, Philadelphia, where we have been nurtured by the idea that the actual, physical places of history matter.  Why do we need Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell?  As long as we have the ideas they represent, why do we need their physical presence?  Because if you can walk on the same streets and the same floors that our founders did, if you can touch a bell that represents our struggle, then you are in some way better connected to the legacy of your past.  I feel the same way about our literary legacy.  The Poe Houses in Philadelphia and Baltimore and NewYork and Richmond need to be preserved, so we can walk the same floors of a great American author, so maybe the blood, sweat and tears of his creative labors may be transferred to us. 

 So, it seems to me that the best scenario would be for Baltimore to continue giving the Poe House the pittance it already does.  That’s why there is a petition.  To convince the mayor that enough people care about the Poe House that it would create too much ill will to stop funding it.  The more people who are outraged over this, the better chance the city of Baltimore will change their mind, continue funding and hope no notices it was a stupid idea to stop funding in the first place.  

Sign the petition 

Of course, if Baltimore’s willing to concede, we can always dismantle the house and move it to Philly.  Throw in the body and we definitely have a deal.  But if you’re not willing to give up Poe, then keep the House open.  I need Jeff Jerome.  Who else can I fight without Jeff running the Poe House?

For updates check here, but also check out the Poe Bicentennial site.  And here's what the Poe Society of Baltimore thinks about the issue, as well.

Monday
Jan242011

The Phila Daily News reporter Molly Eichel also shot this little video piece on Goodis and included a lot of my comments.  (And yes, I know it's romans noir, not roman noirs.  Cut me a break; I had already been drinking for hours):

Sunday
Jan232011

2011 Goodis tribute

Molly Eichel has a piece in the Philadephia Daily News about our David Goodis commemoration.  We met at the gravesite this year, but it was so cold, we moved inside the mausoleum to do our readings.  Then we caravaned through Goodis sites in the city (birth hospital, school, homes).  Then we all met up at Greg Gillespie's great Port Richmond bookstore and capped off the day at Atlantis The Lost Bar (featuring Philadelphia Brewing Co on tap). 

It was great having new people join us on this excursion, like Andy Junkin, Newby Ely and especially the New York contingent (Jeff Wong, Margery Budoff, Cullen Gallagher, Eric Rice) Check out photos by the fantastic Elizabeth Amber-Love Delaney on facebook.  And Lou Boxer, our Goodis guru, has posted a bunch at the Noircon blog

Here's Duane Swierczynski and I toasting the Philadelphia Prince of Noir at the location of his boyhood home (Jameson in my flask and Johnny Walker Black in Swierczy's).  Until next year!

 

Sunday
Jan232011

Silent Usher

Last Friday's Edgar Poe/Ben Franklin birthday celebration was an outstanding event.  Edgar and Ben greeted the crowd as we arrived in the Underground Franklin Museum, then we all headed into the auditorium for a real treat, a screening of a 1928 silent film version of "The Fall of the House of Usher", accompanied by Carolinn Skyler on the glass armonica, an instrument invented by Franklin. 

I thought I had already seen "La chute de la maison Usher," but as it unfolded, I realized I had only seen stills of it.  The title cards in the film were in French, so Edgar translated them to the crowd as they appeared.  Directed by Jean Epstein (with Luis Buñuel as an assistant), the film is gorgeously haunting, grim and surreal.  The plot is a combination of "Usher" and "The Oval Portrait." 

Madeleine is Roderick's wife and as he paints her portrait, she wastes away.  I wonder if Orson Welles had seen this movie, as the cavernous, sparsely furnished halls of the house look a lot like Kane's haunted Xanadu.  Roderick and Madeleine wander the halls in their lonely desolation, until finally Madeleine collapses (beautifully rendered in slow motion) and is buried (alive, of course) by Roderick.  There are lots of little touches that reference other Poe stories: "The Black Cat," "Valdemar," "Pit and the Pendulum."  You could probably make a case for several of the poems, as well. 

Skyler's accompanying armonica was the perfect instrument for this strange, beautiful film.  The  armonica makes a kind of ghostly wailing tone.  Here's Thomas Bloch playing some Mozart on one and here's Skyler (in colonial costume) performing.

You can download or watch the film at the Internet Archive, although that copy is a bit blurry and the musical score is dreadful (just mute it). 

Combining Philadelphia's two greatest writers was enlightening.  Franklin's life and works represent the American Dream come true and Poe's, the Nightmare.  Inventors both, they also represent the hard-working genius of the American artist.  And the silent film masterpiece was a unique touch to the evening.  All in all, this was a great Philly Poe event and I look forward to many more. 

The event was so great that even Baltimore Poe Czar Jeff Jerome cam to see it.

(All photographs by Herb Moscovitz.)

Saturday
Jan082011

Poe birthday celebrations 2011

Yes, you could celebrate Poe's birthday in the city where he really belongs, but if you are inclined to visit the other Poe cities, there are no end of great Poe events this month:

Baltimore

My good friend Grover Silcox (emcee of the first Great Poe Debate), will perform his show, Edgar Allan Poe and the Flip Side of Comedy on Sat-Sun, Jan 22-23.  Also, the Baltimore Men's Chorus will perform a Tribute to Vincent Price.  That's a great event.  I usually make it down to Baltimore for the birthday event, but it looks like I'm not going this year.  Bummed to miss Grover, as well as the Price tribute.  More info here.  If you go, tell that cranky Jeff Jerome that the Philly Poe Guy sent you.

Boston

If you are in Boston, you get to see the great Rob Velella play Poe and listen to Paul Lewis (the Boston rep in both Great Poe Debates):

The Boston College American Studies Program and the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston, Inc. present 

 A Celebration of the 202nd Birthday of Edgar Allan Poe Born in Boston on January 19, 1809

When: Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 7p.m.
Where: Boston Public Library, Copley Square, Johnson Building, Boston Room (Boylston Street entrance) 
Stop saying "Nevermore," pack up your raven, and come along to this celebration of Edgar Allan Poe's 202nd birthday. The program will include BC Americanist Paul Lewis speaking on Poe's connections to Boston; Actor and Poe impersonator Rob Velella bringing the Master of Mystery back to the city of his birth; Dan Currie of the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston issuing a call to artists to submit designs for the creation of public art in E. A. Poe Square; and a rarely seen staging of mortal combat between the Poe and Incredible Hulk action figures (not for the faint of heart). Audience members are encouraged to come prepared to read a favorite short Poe passage and sing "Happy Birthday" to you-know-who! Some Poe-Boston t-shirts will be given away during the event.
 
And definitely check out the online version of the Poe in Boston exhibit from last year, The Raven in the Frog Pond.  It was a really beautiful exhibit and I'm so glad it's now online.
Richmond
At the Poe Museum in Richmond on Sat, Jan 15 there's a full slate of events for Poe's Birthday Bash to coincide with their new Poe Revealed exhibition:
10am – Museum opens
11am - Poeformance featuring Keith Kaufelt as Edgar Allan Poe
12:30pm – Pipsqueak Poe – the world’s smallest Poe played by Master Bennett Splittof (age 4)
1pm – Cynthia Cirile discusses her theories in conjunction with the opening of the “Poe Revealed” exhibit
2pm – “Edgar Allan Poe Comes Alive!” (Part 1) starring Scott Craig Jones
2:30pm – Birthday cake (and punch)
3pm – “Edgar Allan Poe Comes Alive!” (Part 2) starring Scott Craig Jones
4pm- 4:45pm – Performance by Flute and Classical Guitar duo in the Memorial Building
Online
And The Macabre Edgar Allan Poe on facebook is organizing a video of a Worldwide Reading of Cask of Amontillado.  More info here.
So get out and get your Poe on!  Celebrate Poe's 202nd birthday in 2011!
Friday
Jan072011

Goodistown

On Sunday, we'll gather once again at the grave of Philly Noir great David Goodis.  Lou Boxer has organized this event (as well as NoirCon) for the past few years.  Last year, we went on a very detailed tour of sites from Goodis' life.  This year, we're also doing a tour (although I think a bit shorter), then heading out to the Port Richmond Bookstore for beer and books.  If you are at all interested in Philadelphia Noir, this is a great event.  Then more drinking and food at Atlantis The Lost Bar in Frankford.  Graves, drinking, books, run-down Philly neighborhoods.  What more could you ask for? 

Duane Swierczynski has a post about it on his blog and here are his photos from last year.  I posted about our 2009 visit

For more on David Goodis, Brian McManus has written an excellent piece in this week's Philadelphia Weekly on Goodis' Philly Noir legacy (and even I get a shout-out as one of the local Goodis-heads).