Given Edgar Allan Poe’s well-known fear of being buried alive, the
claim that the horror writer and poet "must be rolling over in his
grave" at the prospect of Sylvester Stallone writing and directing the
biopic Poe is more than rote recitation of cliché. It’s definitely a
curious way for 61-year-old Sly to follow-up the cinematic Cialis he
recently gave to both the Rocky and Rambo franchises.
It’s also yet another bizarre turn in the trajectory of Poe’s
pop-culture legacy. First an NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens, takes its
name from his poem (its raven mascots are named Edgar, Allan, and Poe).
Then Poe’s great-great nephew, actor-musician Edgar Allan Poe IV,
appeared as the ghost of his great-great uncle on the sitcom Sabrina,
The Teenage Witch. A fictionalized Poe was also found sleuthing murders
with King of the Wild Frontier Davey Crockett in The Alienist-ish novel
Yet it’s not the idea that the star of arm-wrestling epic Over The Top
or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is doing a Poe movie that bothers me (the
man did write his own ticket with his script the original Rocky; let’s
show him some respect).
Even Stallone’s rumored casting notions (Robert Downey Jr., Viggo
Mortenson) seem on target—if too buff—for his portrait of the tortured
genius. So what’s the problem? It’s just that prospect of any Poe movie
being made renders Michael Jackson’s long-dormant dream of starring as
Edgar Allan Poe even more unlikely-and that’s a problem for me. Could
Wacko Jacko fall in the footsteps of Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang, and
become yet another black man knocked out by the Italian Stallion?
That’s no way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Thriller.
Some background: In 2000, USA Today reported that the King Of Pop had
finally seen the "very scary" script for his European-funded vanity
project The Nightmares of Edgar Allan Poe and was gearing up to "devote
himself full-time to preparing for the role" of the author.
It was mind-blowing news, even by the (high? low?) standards of
tabloid staple Wacko Jacko, one that lends itself to jokes: Will he
instruct "The Tell-Tale Heart" to "just beat it?" Could we next expect
Jacko’s opportunistic sister Latoya to star as Virginia Woolf in A Room
of One’s Own? Would Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis be cast as Poe’s
child-bride Virginia? Would "The Raven" be replaced by Bubbles The
Chimp? Would we quoth The Raven "Mama-Say-Mama-Sa Mama-Tu Sa?"
And yes, the racial angle of the MJ casting also raised questions,
among them: How confused would’ve the late playwright August Wilson
been? But, let’s be honest — casting MJ as Poe is not as problematic
as, say, casting El DeBarge as Nathaniel Hawthorne. Whether it’s
because of the skin disease vitiligo, cosmetic bleaching or a
combination of both, Jackson’s pallid complexion looks even more Goth
than portraits of Poe’s pale visage. The issue here is not casting a
black man to play a white man; it’s casting an alien mannequin drag
queen apparently sculpted out of soap to play a white man.
Nonetheless, the King of Pop insists that he feels connected to Poe,
and maybe—DEFINITELY—because of the fact that I was obsessed with both
Jacko and Poe in elementary school, I believe him. Before we give
Michael’s movie a premature burial, let us consider the connections
between these two eerie American icons, "thrillers" both—and implore
Sylvester Stallone to do the same.
Both Jackson and Poe are arguably the most popular American export in
their respective fields, and major influences on those who followed.
Baudelaire was said to make his morning prayers to God and Edgar Allen
Poe, and Justin Timberlake and Usher are obviously both Michael Jackson
impersonators trying to moonwalk in MJ’s fleet footsteps.
There is also symmetry to their scandals. They both have been accused
of pedophilia; at the very least, they share a penchant for PYTs
(Pretty Young Things): Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia, and
Jackson has hosted many a sleepover with 13-year-old boys. Thus, their
sexuality has been wildly speculated about. In a posthumous
psychoanalysis of Poe, Dr. Maria Bonaparte theorized that Poe was
celibate, entertained thoughts of necrophilia and suffered from a
castration complex (her mentor, Dr. Sigmund Freud provided the preface
for this study).
Despite vehement assertions to Diane Sawyer, many said the same (well,
minus the necrophilia and castration stuff) of Jackson’s marriages to
Lisa Marie Presley and later, to his plastic surgeon’s nurse, Debbie
Rowe, even though they had two children together. (I’d also bet that
the paternity suit of a certain Billie Jean would get thrown out of
court in a hurry.)
They both struggled with financial difficulties despite being among
the best at what they did. Many historians say Poe was an opium addict;
Jackson revealed he had an addiction to the painkiller Demerol in court
papers. They both explored the pull of drugs in their work. Here’s
Poe’s narrator from "Ligeia," seeing visions of his dead lover: "In the
excitement of my opium dream (for I was habitually fettered in the
shackles of the drug), I would call aloud her name …"
Here’s Jackson, from Blood On The Dance Floor’s "Morphine":
Demerol Demerol Oh God he’s taking Demerol
Hee-hee-hee Demerol Demerol Oh my oh God it’s Demerol
Then there’s the Vincent Price connection. Price, of course, was the
on-screen embodiment of Poe’s work in such Roger Corman films as The
Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque Of The Red Death, and The Cask Of
Amontillado. He also provided the rap and maniacal cackle on the title
track of Jackson’s Thriller.
That’s not all. They both had a less-talented, oft-maligned brother
named Tito. Yep, that’s right — Tito Allan Poe. They both (except
Jackson) are widely credited with inventing the modern detective story.
They both (except Poe) were known for wearing a single white sequined
glove, allegedly wanting to buy the Elephant Man’s bones, and getting
their scalp burned by a pyrotechnic mishap while shooting a Pepsi
Sure, skeptics may assert that Poe has a better chance of writing a
sequel to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym before The Nightmares of
Edgar Allan Poe would take any Oscars, or even Golden Globes. Then
there’s always the camp that will insist that Prince does and will
always do everything better than Jackson. But those people obviously
haven’t seen Under The Cherry Moon lately, and I think Michael’s turn
as The Scarecrow in 1978’s The Wiz proves he can update classic
material,) These maybe nonexistent critics are also forgetting that
Jackson has worked with both Francis Ford Coppola (Disney’s 3-D Captain
Eo, to these eyes, a primary influence on The Matrix and Neo) and
Martin Scorsese (MJ’s "Bad" video, which featured Wesley Snipes as a
gang-banger challenging prep-schooler MJ’s manhood) back when that
meant really something.
Whether Jackson as Poe is bad meaning bad, or bad meaning good, or so
bad it’s good, who knows? But even if you don’t take into account
movie’s off-the-scale camp genius potential (R. Kelly’s "Trapped In The
Closet" would be rendered a trifle by comparison); think of Jackson as
an ambassador of American literature. I don’t know how big Poe’s work
is in Filipino prisons, but I bet he’ll be huge there after this movie.
So it is with this argument that I must ask Sylvester Stallone
resurrect another ‘80s icon, and cast Michael Jackson as Poe. C’mon
Rock, make a nightmare come true.