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Edgar Allen Poe (#110 of 11)

Bloodsuckers, Hatchet Murderers, and Lollipop-Smacking Devils: Three by Mario Bava

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Bloodsuckers, Hatchet Murderers, and Lollipop-Smacking Devils: Three by Mario Bava
Bloodsuckers, Hatchet Murderers, and Lollipop-Smacking Devils: Three by Mario Bava

Undisputed maestro of the macabre, Mario Bava put Italian horror cinema on the map in the late 1950s with I Vampiri, the first horror film to come out of Italy since the silent era. Gothic horror was in the air, you might say, in those days: Witness the roughly coeval resurgence of the genre at England’s Hammer Films, with their muscular and bloody take on classic Universal monsters (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula), as well as the cycle of gaudily decadent Edgar Allan Poe adaptations helmed by Roger Corman (House of Usher). Unlike those Technicolor terrors, Bava preferred, at least initially, to work in moody monochrome. Drawing on his training in the fine arts, as well as his background working as cinematographer for renowned neorealist filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Bava developed his own inimitable style. Most noticeably, he displayed a marked affinity for economical, and often improvisatory, effects work, especially the exquisitely detailed matte paintings that often help to enrich the pictorial density of his films.

15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

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15 Famous Movie Blackbirds
15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

In what’s unfortunately one of the lesser films about a literary great, John Cusack wields a quill and a gun as The Raven’s Edgar Allen Poe, a legend who would’ve skewered this thriller in one of his sharp-tongued newsprint critiques. What’s perhaps best about the movie is the eerie mood that’s established, a mood symbolized by the titular winged creature. Blackbirds have been harbingers of doom in many a dark tale, and otherwise added spooky style to countless filmic palettes. Even in lighter fare, they point to something sinister, be it imminent attack, loneliness, or even racism.

A Large Wedge of Cheese Peter Straub’s Mrs. God

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A Large Wedge of Cheese: Peter Straub’s Mrs. God
A Large Wedge of Cheese: Peter Straub’s Mrs. God

Peter Straub’s new novel, Mrs. God, isn’t entirely new. It first appeared as part of a longer work, Houses Without Doors. Then its title was prosaic and uninviting. Now it’s so ludicrous it beckons you in. Professor William Standish has received the rare honor of a fellowship to study at Esswood House in England, home and estate of the Seneschal family. For a period of three weeks he will have access to Esswood’s famous library and the private papers of Isobel Standish, a former guest, forgotten poet, and distant relative. He believes it’s time her reputation was rehabilitated, that she should now take her place among greats such as Eliot and Pound. He flies to England and checks into the house, but not before learning “there is supposed to be a secret.” His curiosity is piqued and the reader waits for the drama to unfold.

And waits. Along the way, Straub seeks to authenticate Esswood as an illustrious literary bolt-hole by having real writers as past guests. Apparently D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, and Henry James went on to produce their masterpieces after their stay. Straub even hints that the “remote house” in The Turn of the Screw was inspired by Esswood. We are told more about his fictional writer. Isobel Standish is “an important precursor of Modernism,” “a poet of the first rank,” and “in some ways the Emily Dickinson of the twentieth century.” Straub should have left the eulogy at that, but instead he opts to include one of her poems. Unfortunately, it’s hopeless doggerel. A. S. Byatt performed the same trick by incorporating the Victorian verse of a fictitious poet into the pages of Possession. It was a risk, but she pulled it off. The trick backfires on Straub because he isn’t in Byatt’s league. Namedropping real writers who write better than Straub was a mistake; attempting to realise a 20th-century Emily Dickinson was disastrous.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Twixt, The Cat Vanishes, & Love and Bruises

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>

With the quasi-comic horror trifle Twixt, Francis Ford Coppola joins the long list of narrative-conjurers to (mis)appropriate Edgar Allan Poe as a sober maestro of spook. A pallid, somber fictionalization of the author, played by Ben Chaplin, becomes Virgil to the Dante of Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer, looking likeably portly), a bargain-basement witch novelist who gets fittingly embroiled in a small-town murder mystery. Poe counsels Baltimore in the crisp, ghostly digital dream world he plummets into whenever slumbering or getting knocked out, reciting passages from “The Philosophy of Composition” with a syrupy colonial accent, and seeming perpetually ready to stare down an owl. We read this off-kilter avuncular-ness, which is so at odds with Poe’s legacy (would the man who wrote “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” be so devoid of humor?) as a nod to Coppola’s own mentor, Roger Corman. And extrapolating on Corman’s own fondness for Poe’s thin macabre, we might understand Twixt as an awkward paean to hackwork, from “The Raven” to Spy Kids 3-D Game Over. (The film’s own 3D segment, to which we’re alerted by a monstrous pair of CGI glasses that non-diagetically enter the frame, is an easily collapsible parody).

The Spectacular Confrontations of "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty"

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The Spectacular Confrontations of “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”
The Spectacular Confrontations of “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”

It’s a violent business, tailoring. Cutting, ripping, pinning, yanking, pressing, stretching, stitching; we put the raw materials of our clothes through quite a lot before putting them on our bodies. Typically, these exertions result in the merely presentable, occasionally the fetching, rarely the beautiful, and perhaps once in a generation, the transcendent. Throughout his career, beginning in the 1990s and lasting right up to his suicide in February 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen constantly laid bare the brutal qualities of his craft. In doing so, he upended our notions of bodily contours, movement through space, and beauty itself.

Entering its final week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” has established itself as one of the defining events of Summer 2011. The New York Times, in its print edition and Arts Beat blog, has devoted no fewer than seven posts and articles to it. The $45 hardbound catalogue is selling by the tens of thousands. People dress up in elaborate outfits to see the exhibit. And, when it’s all over, “Savage Beauty” will probably rank among the top 20 most-visited Met exhibitions since the museum began taking attendance. The Met has extended the show from July 31 to August 7, extended viewing hours during regular opening days, and has also offered $50 viewing tickets on Mondays, when the museum is normally closed. On the final two days of the show, the museum will remain open until midnight. News of these measures has only added to the buzz surrounding the show, and the crush of visitors continues to pack the exhibition rooms and queues for hours on end to see it.

In Library of America We Trust Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973

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In Library of America We Trust: Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973
In Library of America We Trust: Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963-1973

“The drama of any air raid on a civilian population, a gesture in diplomacy to a man like Henry Kissinger, is about the inhumanity of many of man’s inventions to man. That is the dominant theme of what I have written during the past forty-five years or so.” So says Kurt Vonnegut in a special preface to Slaughterhouse-Five, a preface that is now in the final section of an excellent new Library of America collection of Vonnegut’s early novels and writings.

The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher that has, since 1982, been releasing a canon of our nation’s finest fiction and prettiest poetry, our most serious speeches and most legitimate journalism. LoA books are hardbound, printed on Bible paper, and contain a sewn-in ribbon bookmark and calligraphy on the cover. Many editions top 1,000 pages in length. The texts are edited by scholars and feature notes, a chronology of the author’s life, and corrections to the errors of earlier editions. What they lack in the scholarship of a Norton Critical Edition they make up for in elegance, in providing at a reasonable price the pleasures of a solidly bound, densely packed, good old book.

The most recent LoA release is Kurt Vonnegut: Novels and Stories 1963-1973. The bulk of the volume consists of four of Vonnegut’s better novels: Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. Also included are short stories, speeches, addenda to Slaughterhouse-Five, as well as a very haunting and dear letter Vonnegut wrote to his family in 1945 after surviving the fire bombing of Dresden.