“Oops!” Said The Raven

May 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Columns, Eileen: This is Your Brain On...

In a scene from the frighteningly mediocre The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe (played by John Cusack, befuddled-looking-actor-extraordinaire), discovers his house has been burned down by a serial-killer fiend intent on destroying Poe because of something something. But Poe is not to be deterred; he simply picks up his raccoon and goes to Luke Evan’s Victorian soundstage. (Yup.)

The house in question is assumed to be Poe’s abode in Baltimore, which in real-not-owning-a-raccoon-life is a museum. It is historic and educational. The Raven is neither, and even a more intriguing project because those involved with the film were dedicated to helping the Poe house from being shut down, and then proceeded to burn the shit out of it on screen.

Wait, what?

For those of you who don’t subscribe to “Ye Olde Historical House News,” you might not know that the city of Baltimore cut funding for the Poe House with the idea of it becoming “self-sustaining.” Translation: You’re fucked! True, I’m not a House Scientist (I got my degree in Sensual Horticulture), but I’ve heard through the (very hip) historical homes gossip chain that there has never been a historical home that’s survived on price of admission alone. Estates such as Louise May Alcott’s Orchard House or Jefferson’s Monticello rely on private funding (as well as other various means such as visiting book tours) and the protection of being recognized as National Historic Landmarks. The Poe House now has neither.

But! When I visited last year and spoke with the curator, he had high hopes for the soon to be released film. He admitted he was fine with the “re-imagining” of Poe as a detective-type on the hunt for a serial killer, and explained that some might be disappointed by the lack of historical fact, but rabid fans wouldn’t even be pleased if Poe’s corpse was dug up and re-animated. (TV series idea: Poe as a droll, bitchy zombie in a 30-minute comedy of errors co-starring his equally bitchy sidekick Truman Capote, whose soul was transferred into the body of a werewolf by a voodoo priestess. Tagline: “He’s hairy, but HE’S scary!” Send pitch to ABC, peddlars of classic shows like According to Jim and Are You Hot?)

I took the curator’s word for it, and avoided suggesting other money making suggestions like selling delicious sandwiches called POE’Boys because he would probably hate me and call the poepoe. (I’ll stop.) Instead, I enjoyed the exhibits and shoving myself up the narrow, steep stairs. (Not only were people smaller Back Then, but they must have had amazing calf definition.)

Indeed, the house was as difficult to maneuver through as it is to piece together the true facts of Poe’s life. The displays in the home discussed Poe’s re-imagining by those who wrote about him after his death. Over time his image metamorphosed from a talented writer who suffered setbacks, to the myth of the debauched drunk and drug user. The film, then, cannot really be blamed for taking liberties, but it can be blamed for failing to re-energize the public’s interest in Poe (which was the hope of many fans of and for the museum).

 

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PGDV1SWRkQ

The Raven is the second of James “I-directed-V-for-Vendetta-and-it-wasn’t-half-bad-considering-the-complicated-source-material” McTeigue’s and probably should have been named “The Bone Collector with Top Hats.” This is because the film is so uselessly gruesome in violence it almost overshadows the haphazard plot about some serial killer who has such a boner for Cusack’s Poe, he decides to kill people in the same manner of Poe’s stories kinda sorta. The reasoning behind disgustingly murdering these people (or props, really, as viewers learn only the most basic details of the victims. Who cares! More guts!) is to “help” Poe return to writing macabre stories. I disagreed strongly with this intention, because Poe was doing a great service to the community by hating on transcendentalists and had his smack-downs interrupted because sailors were being kidnapped, murdered and dressed in drag. (Yes, that happens.)

"Suck it, Emerson!"--Edgar Allan Poe

There’s also a woman (there’s always a woman), who Poe is desperately in love with, Emily Hamilton, played by an actress with the facial expression talent of a donut. Even though Poe is a penniless drunk who wants to kick Walt Whitman in the shins, Emily is totally warm for that form! Her father, played by Brendan Gleeson (who pretends to be in a much better movie), is totally against the idea. Emily is upset by this: Why can’t she marry a man twenty years older than her who was once married to a pre-teen and enjoys feeling up rat corpses? (Yes, that happens.) But don’t worry about that conflict! Because Emily is soon kidnapped by the mysterious serial killer and a battle of wills takes the stage with as much gusto as someone breaking wind. (The end result is the same: you decide it’s best to pretend it didn’t happen and leave the vicinity of said stinker.)

So, to summarize: the Poe House in Baltimore is an attempt to piece together the man before he became the myth, while the film The Raven just wants to use up the shitload of corn syrup blood producers had on layaway. Which is a more worthwhile price of admission?

The Raven

Pros

  • John Cusack’s confused face
  • Capes!
  • Luke Evans, who deserves so much better
  • Cusack’s scenes in the newspaper office, which touch upon the climate of the literary world in the 19th century

Cons

  • John Cusack’s confused face
  • Alice Eve
  • Everything Else
The Poe House in Baltimore

Pros

  • Scenes from The Wire were filmed in the area so you can enjoy the significant cultural impact of Edgar Allan Poe and the Barksdale Organization  (Idris Elba is dreamy.)

Historically Accurate Good-Lookingness

  • The museum’s handout is both informative and wonderfully caustic. For instance (paraphrased): “If you think the house is haunted, fine. But don’t bring your ghost potions up in here, Houdini!”
  • There’s a looped VHS tape that shows all of the Poe birthday celebrations, plus an oddly fascinating play from the 1980s in which Poe gets his MAGNETIC EYES ON when he meets a boy from Modern Times for a Q&A session (Not as inappropriate as phrased. Sorry)

Cons

  • None. Go visit the Poe House, jerkwad.

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For more information on how you can donate please visit Pennies For Poe and sign the petition.

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