Ed & Edgar

my adventures in the cult of Poe

and other literary endeavours



Back from Baltimore

Well, once again I've returned in one piece from the city that holds hostage the remains of Edgar Allan Poe.  I wasn't tarred or feathered or harmed in any way (maybe they're afraid of my glowering stare). 

I taped a segment for WYPR 88.1 FM, the public radio station that will run on Oct 7, Poe's death day, on the Maryland Morning show hosted by Sheilah Kast.  Their Culture editor, Tom Hall, interviewed both Jeff Jerome (that cranky Poe House curator) and me in a kind of mock debate.  I'll post a link when it runs.  At 5PM I was live on the Marc Steiner show on WEAA 88.9 FM, again with Jerome (I couldn't shake the guy), debating and taking callers.  You can listen to the podcast of the Steiner show here.

Look for more Baltimore press coverage when I return to their city for Bouchercon, a mystery writer's convention, where I'll be on an Edgar Allan Poe panel with Louis Bayard, Daniel Stashower and Shelley Costa Bloomfield.


Poe Down Under

Baltimore that is (down under Philadelphia).  Well, I'm off to the city that holds Poe's body.  I have a couple radio interviews/debates/confrontations scheduled.  Hopefully I shall return un-tarred and un-feathered. 

 Better not forget my shovel.

Poe Belongs to Philly!


Poe War Rages On

The ABC News affiliate in Baltimore, WMAR, chimes in on my proposal to appropriate Edgar Allan Poe from their cemetery.

First, I'm going to get a punch in the eye.  Then my nose.  Now, I'm going be hung" from the nearest lampost" in Baltimore.  Look at me here from the Times.  Do I look scared?



Get your shovels ready

The Poe War is back  in the news.  The New York Times ran a piece today by Ian Urbina:

Baltimore Has Poe; Philadelphia Wants Him

Let the debate begin again.  Can't you see, Baltimore?  I'm not going away.  We appreciate your stewardship of the Poe grave for the past few years, but it's time to recognize that Poe should be where he belongs, in the city that helped Poe become the great artistic genius he was, Philadelphia. 

And check out the caption under the photo of the grave in the Times.  It reads, "Edgar Allan Poe’s grave, now in Baltimore."  Now in Baltimore, as if it may not be there for long.


Creature Feature

Creature Feature, a Los Angeles rock band, recorded a song called, "Buried Alive," a homage to Edgar Allan Poe.  The lyrics are comprised almost entirely of titles of Poe's stories and poems.  A sample:

I Forever Dream Within A Dream
Of A Certain City In The Sea
As I Walk The Valley Of Unrest
Behind This Mask Of Crimson Death

I Long For A Loss Of Breath
And A Most Dire Predicament
Murders In The Rue Morgue
Silence And Shadow's What I Adore

Here's their video for "Buried Alive."  I like it.  You can listen to more here.


Poe on film

I'll be spending the next month or so rewatching all those Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations I love (and the ones I hate, as well) in preparation for a Poe film forum I'll be giving at some local theatres. I've convinced the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to host some Poe flicks and to have me talk about them. The Autumn Cinematheque Series features showings of Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror. Film preservationist Lou DiCrescenzo will introduce the screenings and I'll be doing the forum. If you live near the Philly area, come on out for my talks or for some of the movie showings (why not both?). I'm really hoping good crowds will help fuel a BIG Poe film festival for the Bicentenial next year with special guests and lots of screenings.

Here's the info for my forum

I'll be at the County Theater in Doylestown on Mon October 20, 7PM and the Ambler Theater on Thurs Oct 23, 7PM

A Film Forum with Ed Pettit

County: Oct 20 Mon 7:00
Ambler: Oct 23 Thu 7:00

Edgar Allan Poe has an enduring literary legacy, but he’s also had a profound impact on classic horror film. Starting with early silent films, nearly 200 film and television adaptations have been made over the years. Join freelance writer and Poe literary expert Ed Pettit for an engaging evening of discussion and film clips from some of the best—and scariest—Poe films. Program runs approximately 2 hours.

and here's the info for the movie showings

1961 – USA – 1 hr 20 min – color – 35 mm
d: Roger Corman

County: Oct 27 Mon 7:00
Bryn Mawr: Oct 29 Wed 7:30

1962 – USA – 1 hr 29 min – color – 35mm
d: Roger Corman

Ambler: Oct 30 Thu 7:00

My description of the talk was thankfully shortened for the program copy. I had written:

“And Horror the soul of the plot”: Film Adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe Poe, the most influential of all American writers, was a pioneer of the mystery, horror and science fiction literary genres. Poe has also had a major impact on film. Only Shakespeare and Dickens have had more film and television adaptations of their works. Yet Poe Cinema remains largely unexplored by academics and critics. How filmmakers have adapted Poe’s stories and poems reflect their own preconceptions of what Poe’s works mean. But one constant in their representations has been the focus on Horror and its effect on the viewer.

Ravenous Music

How could I have blogged a week of Ravenous posts without mentioning the Glass Prism's version.  Glass Prism was a psychedelic rock band from the late 60s who had a hit with a musical version of Edgar Allan Poe's poem on their album, Poe Through the Glass Prism.  They recently reunited and I saw them perform when the Philadelphia Poe House hosted them last year for their first performance in 25 or 30 years.  I've posted about them before, but you can read all about them on their website (and see a trailer featuring footage of the show I saw) and listen to their music on myspace.  Or just play this clip of their version of "The Raven":

Now I learn that there was another 1960s version of "The Raven" by a group called The Yo Yo's which you can listen to here (scroll down).   I wonder if there are any other Raven songs out there.  I know that Lou Reed did an album of Poe stuff, but the Raven on that album is merely Willem Dafoe reciting the poem and some eerie background music.  I think I really like the Yo Yo's version best.  So what's your favorite?  Glass Prism or The Yo Yo's? 


Where's Rocky when you need him

An article in the Globe and Mail on the new Poe biopic by Brent Fidler, Poe the Last Days of the Raven, leaves me a bit underwhelmed about the movie's success:

The unconventional and highly theatrical biopic takes place during the final days of Poe's troubled life. As he lay dying in a Baltimore hospital bed, Poe (Fidler) flashes back to his many personal tragedies. Interspersed among his memories are performances of some of the writer's most celebrated works - including The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven.

Describing it as "unconventional and highly theatrical" sounds like a polite way of saying "it sucks" while still praising a small-time director for the moxie to get his film completed.  Then the article goes on to mention several times that this is a low-budget film, ending with a final defense from the director about how money doesn't make a good picture:

 He says small budget or not, the film is worthwhile.

"Money doesn't necessarily mean anything. ... As far as I'm concerned, it's about the intent and the acting and it's really in telling a good story. And if you can do that, I think it holds."

I agree.  But.  It sounds like he's really saying, "Try not to notice how crappy my film looks, just focus on the performances."  And the whole "I'm competing with Stallone" angle in the piece seems like a stretch:

Fidler heard that Stallone had received the green light for a Poe biopic as well, and he decided it was time to change his plans.

"We had a competition going on: me, the underdog, challenging Rocky for the title," Fidler laughs.

Yeah, I know, the director's not being entirely serious.  And mentioning Stallone gets you more publicity (and more hits on internet searches).  But the author of the article should know that Stallone's pic is only at the "pre-production" stages, meaning, there is no Stallone Poe biopic.  Stallone wants to make one.  Has always wanted to make one.  But the rumors about it are just that, rumors.  No one has been cast (those Viggo rumors were untrue, which leads me to hope for my perfect Poe actor, Gary Sinise).  The Globe and Mail piece even says Stallone's movie is "slated for a 2009 release."  Yeah.  I have a novel that is slated for a 2009 release, as well.  But I haven't written it yet, nor has a publisher agreed to publish it. 

And another thing.  This quote from the author doesn't inspire much confidence, either:

"And then one day, I picked up a rusty old copy of Poe's Poems and Tales and [read] in the biography at the beginning that he had gone through so much death: his mother, his father, his foster mother, his foster father, his brother, his wife. I don't know anybody in history who ever suffered that much. And yet he was able to take that suffering and use it through his art as a catharsis to heal himself. And so I paralleled Poe and I wrote my first play."

Rusty?  Perhaps it's just a typo for dusty, or maybe Fidler has one of those books bound in metal, like Madonna's Sex book.  But what really gets me is this: "I don't know anybody in history who ever suffered that much."  Wow.  No one else in history?  You know, Poe didn't have an easy life, but I don't think he's near the top of the suffering list, especially not the greatest sufferer in history.  And what does Fidler mean by, "I paralleled Poe."  That he lead a similar life as the greatest sufferer in history?  Perhaps he meant "channelled." 

Do I sound a little cranky?  I'm just tired of crappy Poe flicks.  I'm not sure there's been a good film adaptation since the mid-1960s.  And I don't think there's ever been a good biopic.  Come on, people.  Somebody make a good Poe flick (and one in which Poe isn't a homicidal maniac). 

Here's the website for Fidler's Poe the Last Days of the Raven and here's the trailer.  Meh.  I have more hopes for the claymation short of The Pit and the Pendulum made by the guy who used to direct MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch


Celluloid Ravens

There have been several short films of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (you can find several with a quick YouTube search, but I haven't yet found any that I like).  Recently, a teaser trailer for an animated version has been making the internet rounds.  There have also been three feature length films that use the title The Raven.  All incorporate Poe and his works in some way. 

In 1915, a silent biopic about Poe was filmed by Charles Brabin and starring Henry Walthall as Poe.  The biographical facts are almost all wrong, but the film does contain a very interesting sequence dramatizing the poem as a drink-inspired hallucination by Poe.  I've posted about the movie here.  It's worth seeing if you are a Poe lover or a silent film fan.  There's also a lost 1912 film entitled The Raven about Poe's life starring Guy Oliver that features the same kind of dream conceit about the poem.

The 1935 film The Raven features Bela Lugosi as a brilliant doctor who is also obsessed with the works of Poe.  Boris Karloff is an escaped killer who wants Lugosi to alter his appearance with plastic surgery.  Mayhem and torture ensue.  Lots of references to Poe's macabre tales throughout the movie.  Some clips are available here.  The pressbook for the picture included some tie-in tips for the theatre's showing the film:

Exploit the greatest writer of shocker stories that ever lived.  Edgar Allan Poe is famous for his thrilling fiction, and his stories are considered classics in American schools.

This enables you to make tie-ups with local educational institutions and it should be possible to make contacts with teachers, offering passes to the pupils as prizes for the best essay submitted on the following topic: "Why I consider 'THE RAVEN' One of Poe's Greatest Works." Or you can have a poetry contest, offering similar inducements for the best poem about the picture submitted in "The Raven" style.

The 1935 Raven isn't quite Grand Guignol, but I can't imagine many people at the time thinking it was very appropriate as an educational aid.  You can find a detailed review of the movie at El Santo's 1000 Misspent Hours website.

Roger Corman, the best of all adaptors of Poe's works made a horror comedy in 1963 called The Raven with a major league horror cast including Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and a young Jack Nicholson.  The emphasis is on the comedy, not the horror, as three sorcerers battle it out.  The movie opens with Price narrating the opening stanzas to the poem and then we are treated to a talking raven with the voice of Peter Lorre.  El Santo provides a detailed review.  All in all the movie is good campy fun as you can see in several clips on YouTube and in the trailer below:


Th Ravn

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is such a distinctive poem (especially its artificial meter, trochaic octameter) that it almost immediately spawned parodies:  "The Craven" by Poh!, "The Whippoorwill," "The Mammoth Squash."  "The Owl" by "Sarles" was a temperance parody (there was lots of anti-drinking lit in the 19th Century; even Walt Whitman wrote a temperance novel) and contains these lines:

O invited him to drink of, saying there was plenty more--

But the owl he shook his head, he threw the whiskey on the floor,

                                                             Plainly saying, "nevermore!"

But I think the most interesting paraody is by Georges Perec.  Perec's novel, La Disparition, is an extended lipogram, in that it does not contain the letter E.  No E's at all.  (Perec later wrote another novel, Les Revenentes, in which E is the only vowel used.)  In Disparition, Perec translates some famous poems without using the letter E, including a full translation of Poe's "Raven" (he also does Shelley's Ozymandias and Shakspar's "Living, or not living" soliloquy). 

I've never read Perec's French version (and I couldn't find an online link), but I do have Gilbert Adair's English translation, which strikes me as an even harder lipogrammatic exercise: to translate a novel without E's and also not use the letter E.  Adair's translation of Perec's "Raven" is called "Black Bird" and is credited to "Arthur Gordon Pym." Here are some excerpts:

'Twas upon a midnight tristful I sat poring, wan and wistful,

Through many a quaint and curious list full of my consorts slain--

I sat nodding, almost napping, till I caught a sound of tapping,

As of spirits softly rapping, rapping at my door in vain.

" 'Tis a visitor," I murmur'd, "tapping at my door in vain--

                                                   Tapping soft as falling rain."

Ah, I know, I know that this was on a holy night of Christmas;

But that quaint and curious list was forming phantoms all in train.

How I wish'd it was tomorrow; vainly had I sought to borrow

From my books a stay of sorrow--sorrow for my unjoin'd chain--

For that pictographic symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain--

                                                    And that would not join again.


"Sybil!" said I, "Thing of loathing--sybil, fury in bird's clothing!

By God's radiant kingdom soothing all man's purgatorial pain,

Inform this soul laid low with sorrow if upon a distant morrow

It shall find that symbol for--oh, for its too long unjoin'd chain--

Find that pictographic symbol missing from its unjoin'd chain."

                                                   Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."


And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still is sitting 

On that pallid bust--still flitting through my dolorous domain;

But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing

That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain--

Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain--

                                                 Though I shan't try it again!

That's hilarious and clever.