My favorite grave
On my recent trip to D.C. I flew into Baltimore, so I just had to stop and pay my respects. I wish I could ask my buddy Edgar to rest in peace, but I'm sure he's been spinning beneath one gravestone or another* ever since Rufus Griswold's 1850 biography of him, which set the tone for every piece of nonsense published or propagated about Poe in the past 156 years. If you want to believe Poe was an insane pedo/necrophiliac dope fiend, or worse, you can probably find some essay by some Internet nutjob supporting such a view. Indeed, can you think of a slander to which Poe has not been subjected?
Well, there's one: No one, to my knowledge, has successfully made a big-budget Hollywood biopic about him (although his stories have been subjected to all sorts of hideous celluloid distortions, most famously by Roger Corman). A few years ago Michael Jackson got hold of a screenplay about Poe and started work on a film, with himself in the lead. Can a man, even a very dead one, imagine a crueler fate than to have his reputation in the hands of Michael Jackson? (Must ... resist ... temptation ... to ... make ... cheap ... joke.) Fortunately, that project, like the rest of Jackson's career, went nowhere.
But now comes the news that another Hollywood star has written his own screenplay about Poe and intends to start production, with himself as director and Robert Downey Jr. in the lead. Can you guess who?
That's right, Sylvester Stallone. Please, God, no. Someone stop him! The guy hasn't directed anything in 20 years, and the films he did direct (the Rocky sequels, Staying Alive, Paradise Alley) don't sound like much of a foundation for a work like this one. This, after all, is the guy who's the all-time leading nominee and winner of Razzie Awards (30 nominations and 10 wins, including two for Worst Screenplay and one for Worst Director).
Even more disturbing is the Variety article (linked above) announcing the project:
Considered the granddaddy of the Gothic horror tale, Poe's life is rich with its own eerie details. He suffered from madness, depression and drugs, and was mysteriously found dead in a gutter in 1849.
If that paragraph came from Stallone's publicist, or if it has anything to do with the actual screenplay, then Poe's reputation is about to suffer another knockout punch. Aside from starting with an atrocious dangling modifier, the announcement can't even get the basic facts of Poe's life straight. Poe was not found dead in a gutter in 1849. He was found seriously ill in a gutter and taken to a hospital, where he died a couple of days later.
Poe did not "suffer from madness, depression and drugs." Depression, yes, and extreme mental stress, which he often described in exaggerated terms — but I don't know of any evidence of any other mental illness. And, contrary to popular belief, he was not a drug user. There is one reference to drinking laudanum in one of his letters — and that was an unsuccessful suicide attempt. There is no other evidence that he took opiates.
Poe had a problem with alcohol, although he wasn't what we think of today as an addict. He was a binge drinker who couldn't stop once he started — but he had long periods of sobriety in between binges.
If Stallone can't be persuaded to abandon this project, he should at least fire the moron who's writing his press releases.
* Poe was originally interred in a different plot in the same cemetery. His coffin, along with those of his wife and mother-in-law, was exhumed and buried under this monument in 1875.