• Karen Lee Street

The Ongoing Poe Influence: Writers & Directors


Poe's writings have influenced a large number of writers in a variety of literary genres such as horror, detective, science fiction, but also filmmakers, artists, and musicians. But I particularly enjoy coming across unexpected mentions of Poe in books or films, where his influence is a bit less expected, or in the works of artists who admire each other's work and Poe's influence on them is a connecting factor.

For example, Francois Truffaut notes in his book Hitchcock that: "The cinema of Hitchcock invariably enriches us, if only through the terrifying lucidity with which it denounces man's desecrations of beauty and purity. If, in the era of Ingmar Bergman, one accepts the premise that cinema is an art form, on a par with literature, I suggest that Hitchcock belongs among such artists of anxiety as Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and Poe." And with that quote he acknowledges the influence of Poe on Alfred Hitchcock and himself.

Hitchcock, the master of suspense in film, noted the influence Poe (master of suspense, dread, and the macabre in literature) had upon him. "Both Poe and I are prisoners of the suspense genre. If I made Cinderella into a movie, everyone would look for a corpse. And if Poe had written 'Sleeping Beauty', they would be looking for a murderer."

The publicity stills for The Birds seem designed to reference Poe's famous poem "The Raven", even if the film is based on Daphne du Maurier's novelette "The Birds" (1952).

Hitchcock himself noted the importance of Poe on his own creative development. “At sixteen I discovered the work of Edgar Allan Poe. I happened to read first his biography, and the sadness of his life made a great impression on me. I felt an enormous pity for him, because in spite of his talent he had never been happy.”

“When I came home from the office where I worked I went straight to my room, took the cheap edition of his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and began to read. I still remember my feelings when I finished "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." I was afraid, but this fear made me discover something I've never forgotten since: fear, you see, is an emotion people like to feel when they know they're safe…"

Francois Truffaut makes reference to Poe in his own work. In Fahrenheit 451, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, Guy Montag, a 'fireman' whose job is to burn books, joins a group of rebel readers, with love interest Clarisse and a man who calls himself The Journal of Henri Brulard. Each person in the group is charged with memorising a book so it isn't lost forever.

An exchange in Truffaut's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451:

Clarisse: What is it? Let me see-- Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe." The Journal of Henri Brulard: Learn it quickly so that we can burn it. Montag: You burn it? Clarisse: Yes, of course, we have to, so that no one can take them away from us.

Ray Bradbury does not give Montag Poe's work to memorise in his book, but he did admire Poe. According to Sam Weller in "Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203" (Paris Review, 2010), Bradbury spent a great deal of time in the library reading authors such as H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe; from the age of twelve to eighteen Bradbury tried to imitate Poe when writing horror tales.

Coming full circle, Ray Bradbury contributed teleplays to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, his television series of uncanny tales. Three of the teleplays Bradbury wrote were based on his own short stories. And several of the tales have quite a Poe flavour.

Publicity stills, "The Birds". Copyright by Universal Studios. Intended for editorial use only.

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© 2016 by Karen Lee Street