The cinematic texts of Edgar Allan Poe: from the written word to digital art

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Gil Curiel, Germán
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Debates on the encounters between literature and cinema have for a long time focused on the different ways in which each convey interiority and subjectivity, the argument being that literature is better suited for these purposes since film inevitably shows, thus it is better suited to convey external action (Kroeber 2006). The argument is presented in such a way that the cinematic and the literary are made to oppose each other, supposedly bringing about diametrically different aesthetic experiences of subjectivity and consciousness, and contrasting perceptions of reality outside oneself, with a focus on the way space, time and perception are rendered on film and in literature (See for instance (Gil-Curiel 2013). In this piece however my key tenet is that art is either a total artwork or not art at all. By total artwork I am here referring to the idea often attributed to Richard Wagner, but that can in fact be traced back to Friedrich Nietzsche, that literature, theatre, music and painting would all be brought together by a kind of art that would encompass all of them, referring, at that time, to opera. This idea was later retaken by Riciotto Canudo and other early film theorists, arguing that such an artwork would in fact be cinema. For in cinema, the argument ran, theatre, music, literature, painting, dance and even architecture ‘all found (…) an efficient way of understanding themselves and of co-operating with each other creatively’ (Ruíz 2007, 9), helping each other, as it were, to bring out the best in each one of them. For most of the 20th century, however, these ideas were much marginalised as film studies struggled to establish itself as a discipline in its own right, and as universities sliced up knowledge into separate fields in accordance with dominant epistemologies of the day. Nevertheless, recently the view that knowledge is in fact inherently interdisciplinary and the convergence that digital media have brought about have thrown the intermediality of cinema into sharp relief, allowing other forms of thinking about the nature of art and the relation between cinema and literature and the other arts and media. My contention is thus that there was always cinema in certain works of literature, and literature in many films, and that indeed, all pieces of art that deserve that name implicitly contain all the other arts. In the paragraphs that follow I shall first explain what I mean by ‘total art’ and then point to the cinematic features in three pieces by Edgar Allan Poe that Jean Epstein drew from to create his La Chute de la maison Usher (1928) (The Fall of the House of Usher). I then move on to the literary features of Epstein’s film, to show the way literature and film—and in some cases, music and painting as well—are interwoven in a complex kind of work that we might call ‘a total artwork’ of sorts.
Cinematic , Symbolic , Subjective , Literary
Gil Curiel, G. (2012) 'The cinematic texts of Edgar Allan Poe: from the written word to digital art', FilmAsia 2012: The Asian Conference on Film and Documentary 2012. Osaka, Japan, 2-4 November. Japan: International Academic Forum (IAFOR)
© 2012, Germán Gil Curiel.