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Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Photo by Liane Brandon

As executive producer and founder of Spy Pond Productions, Eric Stange has produced, directed and written a dizzying array of work, mostly telling unique, often lost stories of American history. His work, which also covers science, has been broadcast on PBS, The Discovery Channel, and the BBC. Before becoming a filmmaker he wrote about art and culture for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic Monthly, and other publications. Eric has been the recipient of a Harvard University Charles Warren Fellowship in American History. He’s on the board of Common-Place, a website devoted to early American history, and writes a column about media and history for American Heritage magazine. “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” stars Denis O’Hare as Poe, and was shot on location in Boston. A screening will be held on Saturday, April 29, 1:30 p.m., at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square as part of the Independent Film Festival of Boston (http://iffboston.org), and will be broadcast nationally next fall on the PBS series American Masters.

 What was it like working with Denis O’Hare?

Denis is one of the most talented actors in the business. Virtually everyone has seen him in his many TV or movie roles (“American Horror Story,” “The Good Wife,” “True Blood, Dallas Buyer’s Club”), but like a lot of great character actors he isn’t a household name. He should be.

What sold us on casting Denis was that he spent a whole season of “American Horror Story” playing a leading character who’s mute. Our film doesn’t have a lot of dialogue—Poe is often alone and silent, though very expressive. When we saw that Denis did an entire season of episodic TV without saying a word —we knew he could be our Poe.

In addition, it turns out Denis had studied a lot of poetry in college, so he did a wonderful job reciting Poe’s poems. And we didn’t even realize until we started with hair and make-up how much he actually looks like Poe!

Left: Actor Denis O’Hare Photo by Liane Brandon

 Edgar Allan Poe is already a well-known figure, is there new information about Poe revealed in the film?

One of the reasons I made the film is because I came to realize Poe is a hugely misunderstood figure. Most people think of him in a one-dimensional way —as a brooding, mad, perhaps opium-addled denizen of the dark. Until I started researching this project I didn’t know that Poe was an important literary critic, and an influential magazine editor. He was a powerful player in the literary scene of the 1830s and ’40s—a tastemaker—one of the glitterati of his time. He helped define what American literature would be in the early decades of our nation.

I knew Poe had written detective stories. What I didn’t realize is that Poe invented the detective story as we know it today, with all the conventions we’re used to. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, said he had modeled his stories on Poe. And virtually every detective writer since has followed suit.

 Poe is one of those iconic figures who appears in popular culture decade after decade. Even people who haven’t read his works know his face. Why?

Yes it’s amazing how often Poe pops up. He’s in “The Simpsons,” on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and on and on.

Poe himself is partly responsible for his enduring image in pop culture. He knew that to sell his stories in a competitive marketplace he needed more than just good writing—he needed a public persona that would give him an edge. He was a fan of the English bad-boy poet Lord Byron, and he saw how a reputation—even a dark one —could help sell literature.

So he had daguerreotypes made that portrayed him a certain way, and he wrote falsified biographical materials that made him seem a more adventurous and romantic figure than he really was.

But what really cemented his reputation—and in a bad way—was the first obituary after Poe’s untimely death at age 40 in 1849. His literary enemy, Rufus Griswold, wrote the obit, and he described Poe in all the negative ways people still think of him today. So Griswold’s negative portrayal, along with Poe’s own self-mythologizing, have played a big role in keeping Poe famous —or rather infamous.

Daguerrotype of Edgar Allan Poe

What’s the real story? Was Poe just a regular guy who was terribly misunderstood or is there some truth to the dark, Halloween-figure side of Poe?

Well, like any complicated person, it’s a bit of both. If Poe were my buddy, I’d think twice when I saw him come up on caller ID. He could be a terrible friend, and a worse enemy. He was dead broke and in debt most of his life. He had a terrible time with alcohol, though he could be sober for long periods. At the same time, he was brilliant, witty, had lots of friends and was a loving husband, most of the time. Though he married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 26!

One thing I discovered is that practically anything you say about Poe, the opposite is also true. That’s part of what made the film challenging, and fun!

Why the title: “Buried Alive”?

Poe was fascinated —maybe even obsessed—with stories of people who were buried alive by mistake, which happened fairly frequently in the early 19th century. Medicine hadn’t figured out how to determine death with certainty, and particularly during epidemics there was a lot of pressure to get corpses underground quickly. One of his most famous stories is “The Premature Burial.”

I also love the metaphorical meanings. Poe lived his life under a constant cloud of grief —virtually all the women he loved died young. He struggled with a mountain of debt, and even before he died his bad reputation had begun to overshadow the reality of his life. And then, of course, there’s the never-ending mystery of his death. For all those reasons, it feels like an appropriate title.


Mystery of his death?

You have to see the movie.

 

50-shades-of-bad-boysThis week I bit the proverbial bullet and went to see 50 Shades of Grey.  I have been very vocal in my seething hatred of the books, and I figured the movie would be just as bad.  Why did I hate the book? Because it was written by someone whose grasp of the English language is that of a high schooler.  It was embarrassing to read.  Not because I was openly reading smut in public, but because the writing was so bad it made me feel dumber.  I got through half the book and threw it across the room as I could not hear our heroine say “oh my” one more fucking time.  That said, a screenwriter got a hold of the script so there was hope.

I attended my screening at the SuperLuxe in Chestnut Hill.  If I’m going to sit in a dark room watching soft core porn, I want Davio’s to cater it.  I took my assigned seat in the back and waited.  The theater slowly filled with maybe 25 people.  There were those, like me, the single women.  We were in the majority.  We were strong in number, we the sad ones.  There was one mother/daughter pairing, which was just plain odd and one real full-fledged couple. That poor bastard.  The lone man.  NO WAIT!  A guy just came in alone.  Clearly there is something very wrong with him.  Women are the only ones allowed to watch this kind of movie solo.  Right?  That sounds sexist but I’m standing by it.

I overhear the waitress talking to the mother/daughter.  It’s clear they know each other.  Waitress is overheard saying “It’s no love story!  He had her hanging from the racks grrrrrlllll!”  I.  Was.  Dying.

The woman next to me was in full recline sending out huge deep exhalations for no apparent reason.  I’m worried about her making it through the rough stuff.

The story is as old as time.  Boy meets girl.  Boy likes girl.  Boy asks girl to sign confidentiality and bondage agreement.  Boy falls for girl.  Girl gets flogged and finds herself.  I mean the whole thing happened to me when I studied abroad.

I’m not going to go into elaborate detail, you know you are going to see it so I’ll let you make your own judgements, but here are my highlights.

-If a man buckles me into a helicopter to go on a date, I’ll absolutely give him a safe word.

-I laughed OUT LOUD a few times during the movie where I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.  The first was when he opened the door to his play room I was in hysterics.  “like, where do you keep your Playstation?”

-After he took our heroine’s virginity, he played her a concert on his large grand piano.  I got half a Purple Passion and a walk home.

-When there is a scene of two people in a tub acting comfortable I call bullshit.  Someone always ends up with the spout in their back.

-Laugh out loud moment #2: when they are going over the “contract” line by line and she says… “Anal Fisting .. hard limit.”  I was laughing so hard I went into a coughing fit.  I’m sorry, but those two words never need to be said aloud in the same sentence.  EVER.

-The longer I watch, the more I’m convinced he’s total stalker, less Dom to her Sub.  I mean if some dude I was .. whatever you call what they were doing .. showed up in GEORGIA while I was visiting mom, we’d have bigger things to worry about than the above fisting.

She bit her lip 19 times and put things near her mouth at least 6.  This is sexy you see.

There is much to be said about the erotic nature of this movie (21 minutes of sex) and the nature of that sex.  Many women say they loved this book and wanted their husbands to be more like Christian Grey.  I don’t think they do, I don’t think most of the women I know would put up with any of this nonsense.  Most women I know have no desire to be submissive.  And, I’m sorry, when Target comes out with a line of 50 Shades adult products, the whole concept pretty much looses it’s umph.  Did the movie make me tingly in places?  Sure.  Did the shopping spree I did after the movie take care of it?  Yep.

At the end of the movie we are left with a big old cliffhanger.  I’m sure the second movie is going to suck worse than this one because I understand they are letting the actual author do the screenplay.  Either way, I’ll be there, waiting in the dark. To laugh.

 
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