Now You Know Poe

The latest episode of PBS’s American Masters series, Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive points a corrective lens at an author who is ever-popular yet has been long misrepresented/misunderstood (thanks in no small part to the character assassination performed by literary nemesis Rufus Griswold, and to Poe’s own crafty adoption of an offbeat public persona). Narrated by Kathleen Turner, the 90-minute documentary is stuffed with commentary by Poe biographers and scholars, film directors and novelists. The true highlights, though, are the interspersed scenes in which a Poe-impersonating Denis O’Hare performs monologues or equally-dramatic readings (the actor might not cut quite as striking a figure as John Astin did in his earlier “Once Upon a Midnight” one-man shows, but he does superlative work in bringing classic Poe creations such as “The Premature Burial” and “The Raven” to life). Writer/director Eric Stange’s film excels both in its placement of Poe’s life and work within the historical context of the first half of the 19th Century and in its exploration of the psyche of the unfortunate and often-tormented writer. If there’s one shortcoming here, it’s that Buried Alive conducts the postmortem of Poe posthaste; more time could have been devoted to delving into the mystery of Poe’s death, weighing the various theories as to what actually befell him and taking an interpretive stance. Nevertheless, this is an undeniably enlightening biography of the dark scribe, and the viewer will be left thinking of Poe as just some deranged, depraved drunkard nevermore.

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