Triptych image: "Rules of the Universe"
Image Credit: Maureen Selwood
EDGAR ALLAN POE IS EVERYWHERE. The Following, featuring murders based on Poe, occupies prime time Monday on Fox, and memories of Long Beach Opera’s production Philip Glass's The Fall of the House of Usher linger on in San Pedro. There’s a story, true as far as I know, that when Roger Corman was in the middle of shooting House of Usher (1960) — one of his eight Poe adaptations, most of them starring Vincent Price — he heard that a house had just burned down in the Hollywood Hills. He quickly assembled a small crew, and filmed Mark Damon, as Philip Winthrop, riding a horse through the ruined landscape. These shots form the opening of the movie.
Since Poe’s story is set in an unspecified gothic neverland, who’s to say it didn’t look much like the Hollywood Hills? But in fact Corman’s opening sequence shows a landscape so generic that you could easily think it was filmed on a backlot or sound stage. There’s certainly no way you could, by watching the movie, locate that devastated landscape, no way you could go there, poke around, and say that you’d walked where this fictional house once stood. I find that a great shame.
I was in Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington Church Street, London, following distantly in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe. He very definitely set foot in Stoke Newington Church Street because that’s where he attended the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School, between 1817 and 1820. And he may very well have walked into Abney Park, although at the time it was simply a park and not until 1840 did it became a nondenominational garden cemetery and arboretum, complete with a chapel built in Dissenting Gothic style.
Nevertheless, there’s a Poe-ish frisson to be had in the cemetery: overgrown and uneven graves, broken columns and statuary covered in real or carved ivy, huge dead trees, the chapel now in ruins. And at least on the day I was there, a couple of graffiti marked the inside of the boundary wall, one saying “Turn Back” the other “We R Legion.” Yes, honest.
Poe’s old school is now a wine bar, the Fox Reformed, and there’s a bust of Poe mounted on the wall, high enough to be safe from all but the most determined demented vandals. The bust was unveiled by Steven Berkoff, famous for playing Hollywood villains and psychopaths, but he also created and appeared in his own stage and TV versions of The Fall of the House of Usher and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which is no doubt why he got the unveiling gig.
As I stood looking up at the bust of Poe, I happened to meet a friend of a friend, a former rock group manager now a local librarian, and explained what I was doing there. “Ah,” he said, unprompted, “you’re on a drift.” Thus the language of psychogeography spreads around the world like a contagion.
In the dime stores and bus stations, people may not necessarily be talking about the Situationists (the begetters of psychogeography), but in the hipper university departments they seem to talk of little else. Sometimes described as anarchists, sometimes as Libertarian Marxists, the Situationists (there were never more than ten of them) were active from the late 1950s to the early 1970s in France. They a...read more