A surrealist journey through colours and shapes inspired by the poem Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca. Visual poetry in the rhythm of fantastic dreams and passionate nights.
This is a poetry film only in the sense that it takes its inspiration from one stanza of Lorca’s, but it’s a brilliant animated homage to Spanish surrealism that reminded me of everything I love about the whole Generation of ’27, which includes so many of my favorite poets and artists. It’s difficult to imagine 20th century poetry and art without this incredible flowering of talent in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. U.S. poets who came of age in the 1960s were heavily influenced by Spanish poetry in translation; I’d say it was equal in impact to translations of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. For me, getting a bilingual anthology of 20th-century Spanish poetry as a Christmas present when I was 11 was a life-changing experience. I doubt I would’ve become a poet otherwise.
Anyway, here’s a serviceable English translation of “Romance Sonámbulo”, followed by the original.
As an introduction to this piece, Haunted Memory by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, it may be wise to first talk a little about what we understand to be a poetry video, or a film poem, or whatever term we might choose to describe a work that brings together elements of poetry with audio-visual media.
Over the past five years I have encountered, and sometimes participated in, regular discussions about this terminology: about what are the most helpful terms to use; and what exactly fits within their incompletely defined boundaries. My tendency of thought on such matters is free-spirited, and a bit anarchic, yet I also try to be respectful of the impulse in others to conceptually chart forms and genres. However I think this pinning down of creative work is useful only sometimes, and perhaps more in relation to practical issues of raising finance for festivals and events, than in enhancing the body of work itself. On the one hand I recognise it is desirable to be able to identify poetic audio-visual works we might include and embrace as part of an ever-growing body of artistic achievement in our field of interest and passion. On the other, I fear that tight definitions can become too exclusive, and even strangle or oppress possibilities for that we are meaning to nurture and grow.
Within this context, Haunted Memory challenges notions of boundaries. Cristina and Adrian refer to the film as an “audiovisual essay”, and that is the term used too by its publisher, Sight&Sound, on the opening title. The skilfully edited visual stream is made up of moving images drawn from scenes in the films of Spanish director, Víctor Erice. The crystalline selection of filmic moments, together with the precise montage that arises from their combination, obscures their cinematic origins. What we see in this re-creation is largely comprised of faces in subtle motion, especially those of children. Even without its soundtrack, I find Haunted Memory to be cinematic poetry.
This reminds me of an idea that has been proposed by many others aside from me, that film poetry does not always need to contain words. An example of this is a video I shared a few weeks ago, Snow Memory, by Australian poet and film-maker, Brendan Bonsack.
There is, however, a narration in Haunted Memory, spoken with a quality of interior softness. This was contributed by Adrian, a world-renowned film critic and theorist whose work has appeared in a wide array of major film publications, as well as in several books from highly esteemed publishers such as the British Film Institute. Adrian is one of the most imaginative and creative of film writers. He has been in love with the cinema for going on 50 years, and his texts often challenge boundaries between criticism, theory and creative writing. This is apparent in the text of Haunted Memory, written in collaboration with Cristina, a Spanish critic, writer and film-maker, who since 2009 has been a prominent artist in this form of film on film. Other parts of the soundtrack include snippets of breathy voice-over narration from the original films, again hauntingly poetic in text and affect.
Erice’s films themselves are easily seen as poetic cinema. In a way reminiscent of some types of experimental or avant-garde film, Haunted Memory creates a new, fragmented, and somewhat abstract audio-visual form from his work, at once beautiful and profound.
Editor’s note: the film and thoughts raised here have inspired an extended essay in two voices about poetry in film, the boundaries of genres, and the words we use to describe the meeting of audiovisual media and text, with a substantial reply from Adrian Martin.
A 2014 film by Pablo Diartinez and Erik Parys that’s been out of reach to web viewers until now, making the indie film festival rounds and racking up a bunch of awards — and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful film. Here’s the summary from IMDb:
‘Out of reach (rain night)’ is the first installment in ‘From the pages of Album’, a series of short films adapting the poetry of Jorge Diaz Martinez to the screen in a collage of animated graphics, texts and live action. ‘Out of reach (rain night)’ finds the series’ protagonist, a nameless poet in Brussels, seeking shelter and a place to sleep in a tram stop, while memories of lost friendship and love invade his clouded mind and the screen. The poem for this episode, a ‘found object’, paints a state of incommunicado and evasion.
Music and sound are by T.S.E.G. (Thomas Giry). For more on the poet, see his blog; the Pages of Album has its own website and Facebook page. I’ll be following the progress of this “fusion cinema poetry book” with great interest.