We all remember that scene: Robin Williams a.k.a John Keating cleaning his tutor desk and his students standing to attention, saying goodbye with ´´oh captain, my captain´´, famous Walt Whitman´s verse. Dead Poets Society, however gloppy it was, remains one of the most famous movie on poetry and poets. Poetry is fotogenic, but dangerous too- it´s easy to fall into all these corny schemes. These are the ones that didn´t.
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Argentinian movie seems to be a bit otherworldly. The director hasn’t been afraid of the kitsch, with different results: sometimes we’ll be amazed by the poet’s monologues, sometimes we’ll look away with embarassment. Here the poet talks with his poems, lives his poems and absolutely believes in his mission which turns out to be enlightening the society about the misery of life. His chase for a perfect muse and his walks with death portrayed as a black dressed, reasonable, 90s dressed woman (sic!) are at the same time a journey through the misty side streets of Buenos Aires . The poet declaims his verses from behind the windows of the cars waiting on the red light and to confused cashiers in the bank. The film captures the thing that suprised me travelling through South America- the art meets the everyday life, as on every bus there is someone singing, rapping or turning their life failures into slam-like monologues. The main character, like a modern Werter, wanders around gin mills of la Boca shady port neighbourhood with an anguished face and a cigarette in his mouth, being very much reminiscent of an intersection of Wojaczek and L’homme qui dort.
A little dose of kitsch never harmed anyone; even if a talking cow and the flying couple cumming together is a fatal overdose, I’d still recommend the movie as an insight to Argentina’s culture.
Speaking of Wojaczek, the polish movie named after the poet is one of the most extraordinary biographies of my homeland literature figures. Rafał Wojaczek, the representative of postwar generation of poets, has been living shortly and intensively; quarrelsome lifestyle filled with alcohol and meds has led him to few suicide attemps- the last one, at the age of 27, has ended his life. The movie features his evolution as an artist starting from the teenage years at his silesian postindustrial town Mikołów, where he has been constantly agitating a provincial community with his vanguard behaviour, to life in Wrocław- the last german stronghold reattached to Poland after hundreds of years and total demolition at the end of second world war. Paradoxically it flourished as a place of artistic initiatives, gathering the most outstanding personages of literature and other fields of art.
The use of black and white suprisingly adds a subtle elegance to the grey reality of early communist period. The artists get wasted in honky-tonks and declaim their pieces on the tables and it´s not fun anymore, it´s a cry for help. Picturing the sad but important episode in polish history, the movie is at the same time an introduction to the fascinating poetry of Wojaczek, often compared to Rimbaud and Lautréamont- vibrant and vanguard, using the body metaphores with all its hideous sheath to reflect the emotional states.
Paterson, named after the town where he was born, where he is living and working as a coach driver, writes poetry. In typically Jarmush style we observe seven days of his life, day after day, repetitive as Groundhog Dog’s. As director claims, this repetitiveness comes from his fascination for duality starting from when he was a child.
¨I love the repetitive verses in poetry, he says in an interview with Wyborcza, the structure of Bach´s compositions, multiplied canvas of Andy Warhol, he says. That´s why I wanted to do a movie in which every upcoming day is a copy of the last one- with one different element.¨
In contrary to majority of movies on the subject of artists, neither anyone discovers Paterson nor his life changes anyhow- his poetry stays safe and sound in his closely guarded notebook, to the great dissatisfaction of his girlfriend hungry for his and hers success, convinced that his voice has to be heard. Instead climbing to the top, Paterson just craves for his own peace. Poetry here is rather a tool for a contestation of reality and observation of casual occurences. It also may be perceived as a terapeutical tool. Paterson´s past lingers through the film, mostly locked in photographs; as we can see, before moving back to his hometown and starting his driver´s jobs, he had been an apprecciated solider. The instictive reaction of taking the plastic gun away from the actor in one of the bar scenes and the way he organises the life itself- without suprises, with an unshakable routine might be a veiled clue to PTSD syndrome, which is self- treaded with writing, especially if locked in the sock drawer.
We constantly follow her on the screen, her fuzzy hair and wandering eye, she leads us through following stages of her unstable life- Yona Wallach, Israeli poet who became famous because of her adamant work stuffed with sexual metaphors. The people she meets on her way are portrayed taking her into account, dimmed with her authoritarian personality and although it could generate opinions that it´s hard to identify with her story, that goes well with her poetry- written in first person, often seditious ( her poem Tefillin published in 1982 combined sex and religious artefacts and was widely commented by media and governement figures). The only typically biographical movie in my compilation has been nentioned here mainly because of a stunning performance of Naomi Levov. Yona herself has been a ready-made material for a movie as her life filled with sexual experiments and creative crisises has driven her to the brink of insanity. The poems reflect it- complex but formally negligent, they hadn´t convinced me at the first glance. This movie is a proof to the power of interpretation. The passion that Naomi has put into Yona´s work made me discover a new quality.
The movie, instead of portraying the life of the artist with the poetry in the background lets us look deeper into his personality put in the perspective by deconstructing his most famous artwork- Howl. Three-level narration allows us to simultaneously observe the obscenity trial launched 1957, the series of interviews with Ginsberg and the poem illustrated with a breathtaking animation echoing his chaotic style of writing. This uncommon construction, at the beginning a bit confusing, helps to fully understand one of the most influential American poems and the flag work of the Beat Generation. With all due respect to Daniel Radcliffe, Franco becomes a Ginsberg, playing with his specific mimics and voice modulation. The animation turns out to be a great formal choice when it comes to the dense language and the context of the epoque captured in the poet. Mary Louise Parker is another highlight.
There is no Beat Generation- claims Ginsberg in the interview. Apparently, there was and the lecture of the poem is the cherry on the top, when it flows and hits- with the beat. Obligatory movie for everyone fascinated with the beat culture.