Monday 23 June 2014

Poetic Gestures of Film

In her introduction to I Found it at The Movies, a new anthology of film poems, editor Ruth Roach Pierson describes how hard it can be to "draw a sharp line between movie and life":
On a car trip through the Canadian Shield some years ago, a friend of mine commented on how paintings by members of the Group of Seven organized her view of the landscape. I think the same could be said of the impact movies can have on our perceptions. One might say movies provide a prism through which we view our lives. In “Emerald City Blues,” Phoebe Tsang sees Hong Kong through remembered images from “The Wizard of Oz.” Barry Dempster, on his ramble through a Simcoe County forest, is visited by scenes of Russian birches from Tarkovsky’s "Ivan’s Childhood." If asked: “Which would you choose: movies or life?”, how many of us might answer, on some occasion or other: “Movies!” In the 1970s, after viewing, during a long Victoria Day Weekend, twenty-two films in four days at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Federation of Film Societies, I looked out the window of the train on which I was travelling and, thinking the take of passing landscape was going on far too long, caught myself just before crying out: “Cut!”
Jonathan Ball was under the sway of specific filmmakers—among them David Lynch and Andrei Tarkovsky—for his most recent book of poems, The Politics of Knives:
Lynch’s mastery comes from dramatic shifts in tone, his ability to move in an instant from a banal to a nightmarish realm. He continually sacrifices sense for tone, and in the course of this shift he creates strange, poetic worlds that we move through emotionally but which make little logical sense, although there is a poetic logic that underlies and gives order to Lynch’s worlds. I try to use language in a similar manner throughout the book, which has a sort of grammatical slipperiness. A sentence will begin as if describing a scene (“The mist dissolved…”) but then switch the grammar to describe an event (“The mist dissolved what it did not need”) with an alien actor (here, the mist becomes a sort of living force). Tarkovsky’s poetic approach to filmmaking, and his occasional use of genre material (horror and science fiction plots) have inspired me, but especially influential are his occasional, striking long takes. The book’s final poem, “That Most Terrible of Dogs,” is structured like a long film take—like a slow movement across a cultural wasteland, toward some inevitable terror.
In a 2011 interview, American poet D. A. Powell unpacks more of connections between the two arts:
I also think that, for my generation, we have learned so much of our poetic technique from the poetic gestures of film: fade, jump cut, montage, long shot, close up, match edit. I make no secret of the fact that I learned most of what I know about poetry by watching the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Federico Fellini, and Robert Altman. Yes, the subjects of films are wonderfully engaging. But even more engaging is the way in which film can intercut between multiple narratives and splice together actions, reactions, balancing shots, non sequiturs. The way in which film allows the artist to move quickly, deftly, and intelligently through multiple frameworks without having to worry whether the spectator will catch up. We can rely upon our audience's ability to process and respond to a different palette of images, tones, and ideas.

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