A poem by 20th-century Romanian poet and playwright Radu Stanca is reimagined as a film by actor Lari Giorgescu and director Andreea Dobre from Three of Swords Productions, who specialize in “Unhinged cinematic fantasies. Mood and magic. Deep dark fears.” See Vimeo or their website for the full credits.
The horror/fantasy film vocabulary isn’t always a good fit with poetry film, but this succeeds admirably, I thought. Three of Swords Productions describe it in a blog post as “the first extravaganza in our series of poetry films: an actor we love + a poem we love = magic ✨”
Australian filmmaker Jutta Pryor (film and sound production) collaborated with Romanian American poet Claudia Serea (text and voice). There’s also a version without the titling, but I think this one’s better for savoring the poem’s unusual vocabulary: the etymology of “moth,” plus some of the more bizarre names of actual moth species.
To me, though, the most impressive thing about this filmpoem is its successful use of pretty literal imagery—footage of a moth—without in any way seeming to reduce or pin down the text. If anything, I think it leaves it more open. Why this succeeds, when so many similar efforts by lesser filmmakers fail, I’m not entirely sure. I love how the camera seems to adopt a moth’s erratic flight toward the end.
For some reason, poetry filmmakers don’t tend to combine texts by different authors very often. With Undone, Marc Neys AKA Swoon shows just how well that can work, even with multiple language barriers to cross. Doina Ioanid‘s Romanian text meets Jan H. Mysjkin‘s Dutch text in the soundtrack, with an English translation by Mysjkin in subtitles. As if that weren’t enough, Marc made a second version with the poets reading their work in French translation, also subtitled in English:
And a version of that version with subtitles in German and supertitles in Turkish:
Marc wrote about how he came to make the film in a recent blog post:
This time I picked out Culoarul vagonului e liber/ The coach’s aisle is clear by Doina and combined it with Teniet/ Undone by Jan for obvious reasons.
They both read the poem in French, Doina also read hers in Romanian, Jan his one in Dutch. They also gave me English, German and Turkish translations. So much blocks to work with.
German, English and French translation: Jan H. Mysjkin
Turkish translation: Burak Sengir
Working with a split screen came natural. I combined 2 sets of visuals for each poem. Empty <-> crowded, abstract <-> concrete, nature <-> urban, black&white <-> colour.
Shifting between those during the readings and in between…
In the final editing I made some minor cuts to fit the footage with the reading (different languages, different pace), but nothing major. They all ‘feel’ the same.
I guess that last bit answers my question: Why not put all the translations into Vimeo’s own subtitling system and just serve up a single video? Because Swoon’s an insane perfectionist, that’s why.
I’m told that in some MFA poetry classes, budding poets are discouraged from writing about the moon. Are they also discouraged from writing about love and death, I wonder? The moon is a touchstone in almost every culture, and according to the latest science, not only was it birthed by our own planet after a fiery collision with an asteroid, but it’s known to have played an essential role in stabilizing the earth’s rotation enough to allow the evolution of life, despite its own utter lifelessness. So it seems clearer than ever that banishing the moon from poetry would be a sad and solipsistic exercise.
The fact remains, however, that modern poets need to “make it new.” Claudia Serea‘s poem at The Poetry Storehouse works precisely because it challenges the powers we have traditionally imputed to the moon, including the way we out-source our longings to it. (Read the text.)
Videopoets working with Serea’s text have a further problem, it seems to me, inasmuch as the moon — especially an unnaturally close/large one — is such a stock image in the movies, freighted with associations that may or may play well with the poem. Nic S. was the first to attempt a video remix (above), using her own reading and a soundtrack by Jarred Gibb. Then Lori H. Ersolmaz made this:
And finally, here’s Jutta Pryor’s take:
Pryor’s soundtrack — my favorite of the three — uses a soundscape by Neal Ager as well as the poet’s own reading, which I prefer to Sebastian’s mainly because of her accent, which to my WASPy ears sounds more “foreign” and thus better suited to a poem in the moon’s voice. None of the filmmakers managed to avoid using footage of the moon, though Ersolmaz came the closest by turning her moon into a screen for other, earthly footage. And I liked the way Pryor made an almost Wizard of Oz-like switch from pale, seemingly moonlight images to saturated colors, extending her film into a wordless montage that serves to expand the poem outwards, suggesting possible connections between artificial light and nighttime violence.
I don’t think any of these films constitutes a definitive interpretation of the poem (if there can be such a thing), but each has something in it that I like, and after watching all three, I find myself wanting to try to write yet another poem about the moon.
Marc Neys (A.K.A. Swoon) writes in a blog post about this video that it grew out of a face-to-face meeting with the author, Romanian poet Doina Ioanid, at the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp earlier this year.
After the festival I asked her and her translator Jan Mysjkin if I could make a video for one of my favourites of her performance […] The images of this piece were taken from ‘Lost landscapes of Detroit’ (Prelinger Archives) and I re-edited them, adding an extra layer of colour and light.
The result is a short (moody) piece.
To me, the ability to present a poem in multiple languages is one of the best and most under-appreciated uses for videopoetry/filmpoetry, which is itself already something of a translation. I’ve always loved bilingual editions of poetry with the original language on the facing page, but it’s so much better to be able to hear the original while seeing an English version, the two linked and in some ways brought closer together by a filmmaker’s vision (usually including a good soundtrack, as here).
Remember only that I was innocent
and, just like you, mortal on that day,
I, too, had had a face marked by rage, by pity and joy,
quite simply, a human face!
A striking, abstract envideoing of the excerpt from Fondane’s Exodus inscribed at the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Hadas Zarbiv, the filmmaker, said she produced this in collaboration with Yad Vashem, which would account for the language choice.
Benjamin Fondane was a surrealist poet and existentialist philosopher in France, part of what the English translator of Exodus calls “the extensive Rumanian contribution to French intellectual life” in the 20th Century, which includes such luminaries as Tristan Tzara, Constantin Brancusi, E. M. Cioran, Mircea Eliade and Eugene Ionesco. The Wikipedia article is also quite extensive.
A literal illustration of Tristan Tzara’s technique by Yeju Choi. An alternate translation of the 1920 text appears on Red Studio’s page for an online equivalent of this technique. I love the closing lines:
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.