Edgar Allan Poe (D.W. Griffith, 1909, USA)

Edgar Allan Poe is an early short biopic, directed by D.W. Griffith for Thomas Edison's Biograph Company. The film stars Herbert Yost, who had an extensive career both on Broadway and in early Biograph shorts, as the titular author. Linda Arvidson, with whom Griffith at one point had a relationship, plays Poe's wife Virginia. The film was shot over two days at Biograph's studio on East 14th Street in New York City - the original heart of the American film industry. 

The film, at a brief 10 minutes, showcases a couple of vignettes from Poe's life. Notably, the film showcases his inspiration for his famous work "The Raven". With his wife Virginia bedridden and sick, a raven suddenly appears in their bedroom. We see Poe trying to shop around his poem, and while he is initially rejected, another editor accepts his proposal. While he gets money to help Virginia, he returns and finds that she has died. This film must certainly be one of the earliest examples of attempting to show creative inspiration on screen. While the performances are for the most part overwrought and stagy, Griffith here is beginning to incorporate more aspects of cinematography into his style. The gothic set of course mirrors Poe's style of writing, and there is some proto-Expressionist lighting here as well.

The film was rushed to premiere for the centenary of Poe's birth, so interestingly the film had Poe's name misspelled on the prints that came out at the time (Edgar Allen Poe). However, the film is more typical silent fare and does not truly demonstrate Griffith's innovation about parallel editing or other cinematographic techniques. Still, as an early example of the biopic, it is worth seeking out for film historians as well as fans of Edgar Allan Poe. Not Griffith's best but worth a watch.



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