During the early stages of this project, creator Wally Coberg was supported by several consultants who contributed significantly to his efforts to write, submit and ultimately secure the original NEH Development Grant that helped launch the project. Among them were:
PAUL DAY CLEMENS
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Our narrative opens with a dramatic scene: In September of 1849 Edgar Allan Poe sets sail from Richmond, Virginia for New York City. Stopping in Baltimore along the way, he inexplicably disappears for five days. When found again he is delirious with drink and in clothes not his own. Four days later he is dead at the age of 40, never having explained what happened. And so the creator of the detective story and one of the best-known writers in America is at the center of his own mystery.
By starting the story with a moment of suspense and dark drama, we borrow a technique directly from Poe himself. At the core of his aesthetic principles is what he called “unity of effect”--Poe urged every artist to decide which mood he or she wants the audience to feel, and then pursue it from start to finish. Explaining his theories of composition, he wrote: “Of the in-numerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart or the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”
Following the prologue, the story unfolds in a three-act structure that traces both his life and his impact on American culture, art and letters. Notable writers and film-makers such as Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, Poet Laureate (1997-2000) Robert Pinsky, and Hollywood director and producer Roger Corman help us understand why Poe exerts such a powerful influence on artists in multiple genres, and Poe biographers and experts provide colorful testimony to fill out the details of his life.
As the story approaches its end, we chronicle Poe’s increasing emotional instability following the death of his young wife. Despite everything, he continues writing, and seems close to achieving his dream of publishing his own magazine when he dies so mysteriously. Within days, a slanderous obituary appears that does incalculable damage to Poe's reputation. The enduring Poe myth of the dark, demented figure out of his own stories is born.
By 1875, Poe has regained his popularity, thanks in large part to the French symbolist poets Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Our story ends with a Poe-like scene: 25 years after his death, the author’s remains are dug up and re-interred in a more prominent location with great ceremony, and no less a figure than Walt Whitman lauds the long dead Poe and his writing. But the popular conflation of Poe the man with his work is only just beginning. By the end of the film, viewers understand how much more there is to the mysterious story of Edgar Allan Poe.