Hear Christopher Walken’s Wonderful Reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Christo­pher Walken, writes Ari­fa Akbar in the Inde­pen­dent, is a “sin­is­ter-look­ing man who has made a liv­ing from look­ing — and act­ing — sin­is­ter,” but he did­n’t start out that way. His “career tra­jec­to­ry – start­ing benign­ly enough in chil­dren’s com­mer­cials, musi­cals, and dance – took a dark­er turn two years after his near-miss with Star Wars,” when he’d almost land­ed the Han Solo role that went to Har­ri­son Ford. Instead he played “the emo­tion­al­ly dec­i­mat­ed Viet­nam vet­er­an in Michael Cimi­no’s The Deer Hunter, and was immor­tal­ized in the ‘Russ­ian roulette’ scene as a gaunt, bug-eyed mad­man aim­ing a shak­ing revolver to his own head. The role won him an Oscar and led to assem­bly-line cast­ing in an array of deranged, demon­ic parts.”

Of course, when an actor becomes syn­ony­mous with a grim but art­ful inten­si­ty, he must soon­er or lat­er inter­pret the work of a writer syn­ony­mous with grim but art­ful inten­si­ty: Edgar Allan Poe. And so on this day, the 167th anniver­sary of Poe’s death under still-unex­plained cir­cum­stances, we give you Walken’s per­for­mance of “The Raven.”

The 1845 poem stands today as Poe’s best-known work by far, as he seemed to intend: he wrote it, so he lat­er claimed in a mag­a­zine essay, with “the inten­tion of com­pos­ing a poem that should suit at once the pop­u­lar and the crit­i­cal taste” and pack an emo­tion­al punch as well.

Walken, for his part, has var­i­ous­ly appealed to both pop­u­lar and crit­i­cal tastes in the rough­ly 130 roles he has played over his six­ty-year career, some­how earn­ing both respect as a seri­ous dra­mat­ic actor and almost instinc­tive audi­ence laugh­ter as a fig­ure of fun. At his best, Walken’s dark­ness con­tains a light­ness and his light­ness a dark­ness, all of which you can hear in his nine-minute recita­tion, accom­pa­nied by music and sound effects, of the words of this name­less man tor­ment­ed by a talk­ing bird while pin­ing for his lost love Lenore. If any­body can cred­i­bly stare into the abyss Poe’s work opens up, Christo­pher Walken can — after all, he knows what it means not to fear the reaper.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Great Stan Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Christo­pher Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and From “The Fall of the House of Ush­er”

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

Lou Reed Rewrites Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” See Read­ings by Reed and Willem Dafoe

John Astin, From The Addams Fam­i­ly, Recites “The Raven” as Edgar Allan Poe

The Simp­sons Present Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and Teach­ers Now Use It to Teach Kids the Joys of Lit­er­a­ture

Hear the 14-Hour “Essen­tial Edgar Allan Poe” Playlist: “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” & Much More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.