I just shared H. Paul Moon‘s adaptation of “America” and mentioned the trilogy of Walt Whitman poetry films of which it is a part. But that’s not all that Paul’s been getting up to. This wonderfully comprehensive and personal video essay takes a chronological look at the use of Whitman’s poetry in film, embracing a multitude of movies and TV shows good and bad, high-brow and low. It’s the centerpiece at Paul’s site whitmanonfilm.com, and will be part of the May 31st Whitman bicentennial screening in Washington, D.C.
This video essay is an analysis of Walt Whitman’s every appearance in cinema and television, leading up to his 200th birthday on May 31, 2019. […] As explained at the end title, this video essay was created for non-commercial educational access, in the spirit of fair use for analysis, with gratitude to these filmmakers who have honored Walt Whitman.
Go to Vimeo for the clickable timecode list of cited films, but really, you should just watch the whole thing straight through. I’ll paste the list in below.
I should mention for the benefit of any newcomers to the film poetry genre that the 1921 film Manhatta by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand was not only the first real Whitman poetry film, but also arguably the first American avant-garde film and the first proper film poem. (Watch it in full here.) For this reason alone, fans of poetry film and videopoetry need to pour one out for old Walt on May 31. Long may his poetry live and continue to shape art and literature around the world.
02:30 Intolerance (1916): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
02:49 Manhatta (1921): A Broadway Pageant; Mannahatta; Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
03:39 Street Scene (1931): Passage to India
04:25 Now Voyager (1942): The Untold Want
05:18 Goodbye, My Fancy (1951): Good-bye My Fancy!
05:54 The Twilight Zone, Season 3 Episode 35 (1962): I Sing the Body Electric
06:46 Fame (1980): I Sing the Body Electric
07:16 Sophie’s Choice (1982)
08:12 Down By Law (1986): The Singer in Prison
08:59 Bull Durham (1988): I Sing the Body Electric
11:17 Dead Poets Society (1989): O Captain! My Captain!; O Me! O Life!; Song of Myself
15:17 Northern Exposure, Season 1 Episode 2 (1990): When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d
17:12 Quiz Show (1994): I Hear America Singing
17:33 Doc Hollywood (1991): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
18:14 With Honors (1994): Song of Myself; One Hour to Madness and Joy; Song of Myself
19:49 Little Women (1994): Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun
20:24 Beautiful Dreamers (1992)/Song of Myself (1976)
21:19 Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Season 5 Ep. 21 (1997): Song of the Open Road; I Hear America Singing
25:31 Love and Death on Long lsland (1997): The Untold Want
26:15 L.I.E. (2001): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
27:25 The Notebook (2004): Spontaneous Me; Continuities
29:19 Leaves of Grass (2009): To You
31:10 Breaking Bad (2011-2013): When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
32:57 Whitman Trilogy by H. Paul Moon (2016-2019): America; The Wound Dresser; Civil War poems
33:21 Short Film by Sara Wolfley (2019): Poets to Come
A recording of Whitman’s own reading of “America” is juxtaposed with shots of demonstrators in Washington, D.C., minutes after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, to great and moving effect. This is part of a trilogy of Whitman poetry films by H. Paul Moon, “a filmmaker whose body of work includes short and feature-length documentaries, dance films, and experimental cinema, featured and awarded at over a hundred film festivals worldwide.” Paul tells me that he’s currently shooting the last part, a setting of Civil War poems, in the Richmond, Virginia area right now, and based on what he did with “America”, I’m guessing that that film may not shy away from contemporary political references. But we’ll have to wait until May 31 to find out. That’s when the whole trilogy will be posted to whitmanonfilm.com, to mark Whitman’s 200th birthday. They’ll also be screened the same evening in Washington, D.C. as part of a week-long Whitman bicentennial celebration. If you’re in the DC area, check it out.
Moon’s description at Vimeo is worth quoting in full:
The confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was politically divisive, but Walt Whitman’s 19th century wisdom is timeless. In 1892, the poet wrote in prose:
“I have sometimes thought, indeed, that the sole avenue and means of a reconstructed sociology depended, primarily, on a new birth, elevation, expansion, invigoration of woman.”
Towards the end of his life in 1888, he added “America” to his collection “Leaves of Grass,” and then recited four lines from the poem, onto a wax cylinder recording, before he died (it is the only record of his voice in existence):
“Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love”
And the written poem proceeds to say:
“A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.”
This poetry film combines my documentation of the minutes after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, with Whitman’s own voice, and original music by composer James S. Adams. I used the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K at 120 frames per second, and color graded using the FilmConvert emulsion/grain simulation of Fuji 8563 RL film stock.
It has been presented at the 2018 Rabbit Heart Film Festival, the 2019 Beeston Film Festival, and the Walt Whitman 200 Festival.
This videopoem is a teaser for a forthcoming feature-length poetry documentary, The West, by filmmaker, composer and video artist H. Paul Moon (Zen Violence Films). According to the Vimeo description, it
Features poem “Not the Stars” written and recited by John Dofflemyer. Music composed and performed by Josh Coffey, with Jacob Siener. Additional camera by Bradley Winegar and Shang Ik Moon.
For more on John Dofflemyer, check out the wonderful poetry and ranching blog that he maintains with his photographer wife Robbin: drycrikjournal.
Here’s how the website for The West describes the full-length film:
This is an in-progress feature documentary about Western folklife, cowboy poets, and the American frontier. Pushing boundaries of documentary style, the film complements spoken poetry with artfully devised tableaus and landscapes that visualize the narrative themes of the poems, evincing stories of hardship and perseverance in today’s ranch culture. Surrounding this, interviews with folklorists, musicians, ranchers, and the cowboy poets themselves create an educational and historical context for this exploration, forming insightful ruminations on the West: not just a place or a moment in history, but a state of mind. Among all that seriousness, the cowboy’s lighter side will manifest in live performances and profiles from famous Western musicians like Don Edwards and Ian Tyson, and comedic monologues from legends in Western folklore like Baxter Black.
Before the current post-production stage of development, things kicked off in late 2012, when renowned historian and author Michael Wallis sat for an interview to give his insights on the West, laying a foundation for the West as “not just a place, but a state of mind.” Principal photography began around the annual occasion of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada in January 2013, and continued at the 2014 Gathering. Icons of this culture, like Temple Grandin, Wallace McRae, Joel Nelson, John Dofflemyer, Baxter Black, Paul Zarzyski, Henry Real Bird, Amy Hale Auker, Don Edwards, The Quebe Sisters Band, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger and many more are now in-the-can, with more footage to come. Release is planned for sometime in 2017.
In the meantime, a module from the feature-length documentary, of Joel Nelson’s reading of his poem “Equus Caballus” combined with footage from the ranch of John Dofflemyer, has been an Official Selection in the 2014 Visible Verse Film Festival at the Cinemateque in Vancouver, Canada, and in the 2015 Trail Dance Film Festival at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma.
It sounds as if it will be an engaging and entertaining film. Moon told me in an email that he’s “heading now into concentrated post-production editing after wrapping most of the principal photography.” Visit the website to read bios of all the people involved in the production, follow news about the project, sign up for the email newsletter, and more.