Jenny Hendrix

Things I've written, mostly.

At Slate: Edgar Allan Poe, Action Hero

Only a few seconds have passed in The Raven before that familiar shot of a quill pen at work is interrupted by the arrival of a police inspector. Edgar Allan Poe puts pen to paper twice in James McTeigue’s film, for a total of maybe a minute. Even so, the writing process has to be given pizzazz by being made part of the deadly “game of wits” to which the author has been challenged by a killer; for some reason—it’s not really clear—one of the rules is that Poe has to write up each of the crimes. The film, though, isn’t content to just let him work. Poe’s more often riding a horse through some misty wood, knocking back a tankard, or chasing the killer across a rickety scaffolding, gun less-than-firmly in hand. He trades barbs with the “philistines” and “mental oysters” that are his critics. At one point, he prods a dead cat with what might be a pen. From the writer’s perspective, The Raven seems like a fight against the opinion of its villain, who muses, near the end: “That’s life: so much less interesting than fiction.”

This is a common problem for the literary biopic: The writing life just isn’t that compelling. What’s interesting happens inside the writer’s head, and, candlelit curlicues aside, there’s little cinematic interest in putting pen to paper. Maybe some of us writers are poor, drunk, or insane, but such states are also boring unless sublimated somehow.

So filmmakers sublimate. [Read more…]