The Sunday Intertitle: Raven Mad

vlcsnap-2015-09-13-00h25m49s89

Don’t chop the N off! The N is really important!

I’m a bit of a Charles Brabin fan, but until now I had really only seen his pre-code films. His career ended in 1934, as if he personally was unimaginable under the Hayes Code. Before then, he made THE MASK OF FU MANCHU with Boris Karloff and a nakedly sadistic Myrna Loy in yellowface; the best, grisly bits of RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, which are still astonishingly extreme; and the vicious, fascistic BEAST OF THE CITY. Oh, I’ve seen a bit of TWINKLETOES from the silent era, and he did bits of the original BEN-HUR. But THE RAVEN is from 1915, way earlier. It’s interesting to see a filmmaker whose style I kind of know (Scouse maniac), working with material conducive to his dark talents, but in a much earlier period, when DW Griffith held illimitable dominion over all.

vlcsnap-2015-09-13-00h28m48s76

It’s a Poe biopic, following hard on the heels of Griffith’s EDGAR ALLAN POE (1909) and THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (1914), which adapted The Telltale Heart (with a bit of The Black Cat). Here, Brabin attempts to create a hybrid life story and adaptation of The Raven, throwing in a bit of William Wilson and a lot of delirium tremens for good measure. It’s basically a classy temperance film, which sits awkwardly with its other ambitious since the poem The Raven is not, so far as I can see, about alcoholism per se. Still, fun to see Poe’s rather unsuitably short stories being fleshed out using the same tricks Roger Corman and his scenarists would deploy in the sixties — conflate, insert, absorb, extrapolate, invent! We’ll get a feature out of this thing somehow!

vlcsnap-2015-09-13-00h29m21s152

The movie begins with a weird history of Poe’s ancestors in little vignettes — a founding father comes up a beach while oars wave strangely in the background — are they drying them off? A revolutionary primes a pistol. Then the rot sets in: Poe’s immediate forebears are actors. A sad case of generational degeneration. What chance did the lad have?

Then we get a snippet of the Poe childhood, some shapeless excerpts from the admittedly somewhat shapeless life, and then the showstopper, the immortal poem hacked up into disconnected intertitles while star Henry B. Walthall (of BIRTH OF A NATION fame) staggers about bemoaning that fatal glass of beer. Good actor, Walthall — the only one in the cast to have absorbed Griffith’s ideas on underplaying, he seems shockingly modern compared to everyone he’s compelled to share scenes with. But left on his own, or with a confused corvid, he reverts to arm-waving a bit — who wouldn’t?

vlcsnap-2015-09-13-00h29m54s252

Still, Brabin serves up some striking images, and I liked the looseness with which he goes from location to theatrical set and back, uncaring as to consistency. There are a lot of tricks with multiple exposures so Walthall can be haunted by the ghosts of lost loves, or face off against his Doppelganger. A bit more plot and Brabin would have really had something here — unfortunately Poe’s life doesn’t really provide much plot — he saved that for his fiction, which has consistently provided better source material than his earthly existence.

Advertisements

One Response to “The Sunday Intertitle: Raven Mad”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: