Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poe: Last Days of the Raven

Friday night I went to Cinematheque to see "Poe: Last Days of the Raven".
The film was written, co-produced, co-directed and stars Brent Fidler, a Canadian actor based in Los Angeles.
The film script was apparently based on his play about the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

I know from personal experience how hard it is to get a first feature done in this country and my hat is off to any and everybody who manages to achieve this feat. Whenever I go to see one of these things I want to love it.

It apparently took 24 years to get this film made and that's part of the problem.

It began promisingly and creepily enough with a drunk and dissipated Poe being robbed in an alley by thugs and then found by friends. The child Poe in the theatre watching the dissolution of his parent's marriage and the death of his mother was effective. We then go to Mr. Fidler playing Poe as a very young man and this was where the trouble started.

In the more than two decades since Mr. Fidler initially took to the stage in this role, he like the rest of us, has gotten - well, older. Poe died at 40. Mr. Fidler is at least 10 years past that and seeing him in bed with the thirteen-year old bride who was all too convincingly her age ( Poe married his young first cousin when he was 23) went well past creepy. Mackenzie Gray does good work as Poe's estranged guardian but he and Fidler are far too obviously of the same vintage for us to buy Gray as a father figure. Poe's young love interests all look more like his daughters.

The script was in dire need of a story editor to create a workable cinematic adaptation from the original material. This isn't a filmed play a la BRAVO or the CBC . Nor is it cinematic enough to be convincingly a movie based on a play. It's a bit of both and sadly neither.

Fidler recites the poems well but the recitals are poorly integrated into the narrative and often just bring the action to a grinding halt. The end result of all this work is a disjointed and wildly uneven film.

Mr Fidler is clearly an accomplished actor. If he had played only the dying Poe and cast someone else as his more youthful counterpart and worked with a story editor to come up with a better script, his labour of love would have been less lost on the audience.

5 O'Clock Bells

My folks KNEW Lenny Breau. I grew up listening to his music and hearing stories about his messy life. So it was with excitement and some trepidation that I went to see MTC's first production of the season about the life of the late, great guitarist Lenny Breau.

Pierre Brault wrote and performed this piece. He creates the family, wives and musicians who surrounded Breau using their differing voices like strings on a guitar to riff about Lenny's talent and troubles.

This is an elegantly constructed play with a spare effective set and a fabulous lighting design. Brault is a fine writer and the script is impressive. The colours of the lights meld beautifully with the vocal colourings Brault uses to distinguish the dozen or so people he creates onstage. The relationship between Breau and his mother is especially movingly portrayed.

The one colour we don't see or feel much of onstage is black. Brault plays Breau as a man-child. He doesn't shy away from the darker side of Breau's life but he never seems consumed by daemons as Breau was. The ending is blue but not a really dark shade for a genius whose too-short life ended face down in a pool.

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