One thing that poetry-film can really do well is make experimental or avant-garde poems seem more approachable, even entertaining, to a mainstream audience. That’s what Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sielecki and poet Gerhard Rühm have managed to do here, employing what can only be called a choral arrangement of readers—all versions of the same person—in 4/4 meter to defamiliarize and poeticize a found text taken from a newspaper report. For someone with no German like me, the result is a pure sound poem. I was in the audience last Saturday for the main screening of this film at ZEBRA, where it was one of the 29 competition films, and the response was very warm indeed. And that’s not a surprise: this is an immensely entertaining film. Had there been a true “people’s choice” award voted on by everyone who attended the competition screenings, I suspect this would’ve won. (I see that the American animator Cheryl Gross, who also had a film in the competition, has also singled this out as one of her favorites.)
An English translation appears at the beginning of the video, but it’s also included in the YouTube description, so let me just paste it in here:
THE LONGEST KISS
The longest kiss in the world continued for 30 hours, 59 minutes and 27 seconds.
Clara and Hannes who kissed each other for the first time on November 21, 1986 are determined to break this world record on Valentine`s Day, February 4.
The world record attempt will be organised by the Association of Pharmacists.
The pharmacists want to promote superior oral hygiene.
They refer to the fact that during a normal kiss 40 000 parasites are transmitted, besides nine milligrams of water, some fat, proteins, salt and also 250 species of bacteria.
The Association of Pharmacists chose Clara and Hannes because at the age of respectively 38 and 41 years they would be experienced.
During the world record attempt they are neither allowed to lie down nor sit and may not visit the toilet.
A Moving Poems original. I got the idea of combining two poems about small children, and spent more than a week tinkering with the footage, trying to create enough echoes between the two parts of the film so it all hangs together. I’m not sure whether I succeeded or not, but it was an interesting experiment.
The texts came from The Poetry Storehouse: “Ethics of the Mothers” by Rachel Barenblat and “Prayer” by January Gill O’Neil, each read by the author. The music is by Serge Seletskyy, AKA GustoTune on SoundCloud, used in its entirety without alteration. I wanted to stay as far away from stereotypically “spiritual” music as possible, and suggest instead the boundless energy of childhood.
I shot some of this myself (the dodgy wildlife shots and the overlays) and filled it out with free footage from Beachfront B-Roll and Phil Fried. Yes, I really was that close to a mother bear with cubs! It seemed important to start out with a powerful image of motherhood that also might be seen to possess a kind of celestial resonance (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). And over-all, the wildlife imagery and the closing shot of the night sky gave me a way to suggest something extra about the kind of felt connections with the larger-than-human world that seem to come naturally to most children, and the awe that that can inspire in them. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have dared to close with such a “cosmic” shot if O’Neil’s poem hadn’t focused so resolutely on small things.
A film by Helen Dewbery, whose film and video poetry website with poet Chaucer Cameron is the latest addition to the Moving Poems links page: Elephant’s Footprint. Check it out. Dewbury’s bio there suggests why she might’ve been drawn to the imagery of the poem:
I grew up near Kingston Upon Thames and spent time living and working in London where I photographed urban and suburban landscapes and became fascinated by the juxtaposition of the green spaces in London’s Royal Parks, the dark muddy grey-brown waters of the Thames and the rolling chalk downs, flower rich grasslands, acid heaths and ancient woodlands of the Surrey hills.
I then moved to Pembrokeshire where I lived for 17 years spending time travelling through the Pembrokeshire countryside. It was these surroundings that inspired me to engage with the art of photography, drawn by the beautiful wild dramatic landscape with gorse strewn hedgerows, Campion covered coast paths and the moody moor land of the Preseli Mountains. These separate but interrelated landscapes played a significant role in my creative process.
This 1995 poetry film classic won the main prize at the very first ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in 2002, as well as an Arts Council of England Animate Award and 1995 ICA Dick Award as “the most provocative, innovative and subversive short film of the year.” Director Tim Webb uploaded this version to Vimeo himself, and the description there is exhaustive. Click through for the full credits. Here’s a snippet:
15th February mixes live action and animation to describe a symbolic rejection and its sadistic outcome, as related in the poem by Peter Reading.
Love gone wrong in 294 cuts. From a poem by Peter Reading, symbolism and sadism meet live action and stop motion in this tale of rhythmic rejection and its aftermath. The 15th February is from Reading’s book Diplopic. In explaining the title, Reading wrote, ‘Diplopic means pertaining to double vision. Every subject is treated from two sides. The funny and the ghastly are symbiotic.’ The 15th February is from one side.
The film mixes 16mm live action, stop-frame and drawn animation.
The late Peter Reading’s poetry was described by The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry as “strongly anti-romantic, disenchanted and usually satirical.”