The Fall of the House of Usher: Poe’s Classic Tale Turned Into 1928 Avant Garde Film, Scripted by e.e. cummings

Last week, in def­er­ence to the approach of Hal­loween, we fea­tured the com­plete works of Edgar Allan Poe as Free eBooks and Free Audio Books. If you give them a read, a lis­ten, or both, you’ll dis­cov­er that few cre­ators, using noth­ing more than the writ­ten word, can dis­turb quite so effec­tive­ly as Poe. But his writ­ten words have also pro­vid­ed inspi­ra­tion to fright­en­ing works in oth­er media, includ­ing the pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured 1953 British ani­ma­tion of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and, today, the short-film ver­sion of “The Fall of the House of Ush­er.” That 1839 sto­ry per­haps most per­fect­ly (and most vis­cer­al­ly) real­izes such pet themes of Poe’s as ill­ness, dread, and live bur­ial, and as such has served as mate­r­i­al to a great many film­mak­ers as defi­ant­ly low­brow as Roger Cor­man and as uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly idio­syn­crat­ic as Jan Švankma­jer. But here we offer you one of the most inter­est­ing cin­e­mat­ic “Usher“s ever made: James Sib­ley Wat­son and Melville Web­ber’s 13-minute avant-garde adap­ta­tion, script­ed in part by poet e.e. cum­mings.

“Despite their impor­tance as lead­ing fig­ures in the film world,” writes Tara Trav­isano, “Wat­son and Web­ber’s work is often over­looked and not giv­en suf­fi­cient cred­it.” Though they got their shoot­ing script from the mod­ernist-influ­enced cum­mings, the film­mak­ers, “not fans of mod­ernism,” “pre­ferred to have their films described as ama­teur.” Their Fall of the House of Ush­er, the best-known work they ever pro­duced, “hard­ly fol­lows a nar­ra­tive, but is val­ued for its cre­ative use of rep­e­ti­tion and vari­a­tion and for the film’s dra­mat­ic light­ing.” And don’t wor­ry if you haven’t read the orig­i­nal sto­ry in a while; accord­ing to Trav­isano, Wat­son and Web­ber chose to film it because they them­selves had­n’t read it in a while, and thus “would be free of its influ­ence.” But after expe­ri­enc­ing the brief but unset­tling cin­e­mat­ic dream they man­aged to make out of this half-remem­bered Poean mate­r­i­al, you may want to seek out its influ­ence by going back and read­ing it again — or lis­ten­ing to it, or try­ing to sleep and re-dream it for your­self.

You can find Fall of the House of Ush­er in our col­lec­tion, 285 Free Doc­u­men­taries Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Watch the 1953 Ani­ma­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Nar­rat­ed by James Mason

James Earl Jones Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Christo­pher Walken, Iggy Pop, Deb­bie Har­ry & Oth­er Celebs Read Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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