Last night, Joyce and I watched a DVD of a silent film from 1921--Annabelle Lee, a film putatively based on Poe's sad poem--among the last he ever published--about the death of a young woman. (Link to IMDB info on the film) Poe liked writing about that--in "The Philosophy of Composition," 1846 (three years before he died), his well-known essay about writing poetry, he says, Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones. And--a bit later: the death ... of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world--and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.
Poe wrote those words about "The Raven," his most popular poem (for which he got less than $15 in his life!), but they apply as well to "Annabel Lee," the poem he wrote in May 1849, five months before his death. It was published, posthumously, in November 1849.
The poem tells about young lovers "in a kingdom by the sea." Their elders think they are too young to love. The young lovers--as ever--know better. But Annabel Lee suffers a sudden fatal illness. Dies. Is buried by her family in a "sepulchre by the sea," where the narrator visits regularly to grieve. (Link to "Annabel Lee.) (BTW: On 15 January 2010 I talked about Poe in a Morning Meeting at WRA--then recited "Annabel Lee" at the end.)
We watched the 57-minute film for more than one reason. For one, I am a Poe freak (for proof, you can read on Kindle by YA bio of EAP: Link to Poe bio); for another, I've always loved old films--silent films--and I'd never seen this one.
But the principal reason? Playing the "Young Annabelle [sic] Lee" was one of Joyce's relatives, Arline Blackburn, who'd also enjoyed a long radio career. "Young Annabelle" is not on the screen very long. She appears to be a teenager, and we see her emerging from the Lee mansion (above the sea at Nantucket!), where she greets her widowed father, then hops up on her horse and rides down to the fishing village to visit the man who will be her lover, David, who is coming back from a fishing voyage. They greet each other. A title card then tells us that time has passed. Good-bye, Arline.
The film has very little to do with Poe's poem. Every so often, a title card will appear with some lines from the poem. But that's about it.
Here's the quick plot: Mr. Lee does not want his daughter to marry David, who's poor. David sails off in search of a missing cargo that could enrich him. No luck. His crew eventually mutiny and put him and a Chinese worker referred to throughout as a "voodoo Chink" aboard a lifeboat. (Times were different!) Their little craft lands on a deserted island, where they live more like Robinson Crusoe than Prospero. David's friend dies. A ship eventually rescues him. He goes back to Annabelle Lee to pay a surprise visit.
|Jean Dujardin in The Artist|
David shows up! His mother is thrilled. Annabelle is thrilled. Even Mr. Lee seems thrilled. They embrace by the sea. THE END. Not quite the way the poem went--or ended.
Poe, presumably, has been spinning in his grave since word of that 1921 film eventually worked its way down through the Baltimore soil above his body. Of course, filmmakers have long abused Poe's poems and stories. IMDB lists more than 200 films based on his writing. I've seen lots of them ... so many varieties of suckery. So Poe's been spinning for a long, long time.
Perhaps one of the reasons he always looks so dour in the portraits? He has premonitions. He knows what Hollywood is going to do to him. Maybe that's why he drank so much?
Has he just watched