Edgar Allen Poe: Buried AliveReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/05/17 07:02:34
SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2017: It's somewhat ironic, but inevitable, that despite "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" leading with the idea that much of the conventional wisdom about Poe is greatly influenced by an obituary written by a rival as character assassination, writer/director Eric Stange winds up going back to the familiar. There is more to Poe than everyone knows, but it turns out that what makes him flawed also made him interesting.In positioning his film in opposition to the history as set out by Reverend Rufus W. Griswold from the start, Stange sometimes finds himself backed into a tricky position where Poe still has a fair amount of weird stuff in his history and it comes off as kind of odd when the thesis of the movie is that Poe wasn't the fiend that Griswold portrayed. It particularly comes off as strange when talking about his relationship with Sarah Helen Whitman - the film opens by talking about how Poe was about to return home to his childhood sweetheart at the time of his death, and the down-the-middle telling of what sounds like a man looking to marry into money to finance his ambitions seems a bit in opposition to this.
Whether they reflect well or poorly on Poe, things like that are interesting stories, and Stange does a decent job of stringing them together, pointing out a lot of the other parts of the writer's career that sometimes gets lost in the shadow of his justifiably more famous horror stories - the literary criticism, the comedic and romantic material, the less-overshadowed-but-still-possibly-not-given-its-due invention of the detective story - as well as his early life. Not every chapter is thrilling, and the tracking of his vagabond progress up and down the East coast doesn't make for the sort of clear landmarks one might hope. Often, Poe's specific history is less interesting than the looks at 19th-Century America needed to put it into context, from the precarious financial positions of writers in that environment to the kidnappings which might explain his mysterious, erratic last days.
This film will likely wind up part of a documentary series such as American Experience, and its look and feel is fairly typical of programs like that: Nondescript interviews, shots where a camera floats above photographs, letters, or newspaper articles, narration that includes a fair amount of excerpts from those. It's okay and Stange does it as well as expected. Every once in a while, there are bits with Denis O'Hare portraying Poe and either reading his works or narrating his story directly, and those aren't bad; O'Hare is a notch or two above the actors who usually do that sort of work in independent documentaries,almost verging on "that guy" territory, although those scenes did make me wonder if anyone would ever film Jeffrey Combs's one-man show more than make an impression on their own.All in all, "Buried Alive" is not bad for this sort of thing - probably pretty basic for those who are already Edgar Allan Poe enthusiasts, not quite fascinating enough to keep the mildly curious viewer intrigued after it's done, but it seems like a decent primer on one of America's most important writers, and that's fine.
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