Glenda Jackson provides the voice of poet Stevie Smith in this animated interpretation of her extraordinary 1950’s poem ‘The Blue from Heaven’. Suzie Hanna has adapted and animated the poet’s own drawings to communicate her rueful, wistful, comic, and melancholy themes with music and sound design by Phil Archer. In Stevie Smith’s awkward world, King Arthur banishes Guinevere to the palace, and he enters the blue from heaven.
A brilliant music video/videopoem hybrid directed by Daniel Broadley for a new single by LYR, adapting a poem by Simon Armitage, the current poet laureate of the U.K. and all-’round mensch. I love the involvement of people under lockdown and the incorporation of visual text—it gives the video a real populist feel, while simultaneously gesturing toward visual and concrete poetry. And as music I think the soundtrack succeeds in being both catchy and inventive.
There was a Guardian article about the collaboration between Armitage and the band, but it didn’t say anything about the video, so I’ll quote the YouTube description instead:
Lockdown is a new song by LYR, featuring Florence Pugh and Pete Wareham of Melt Yourself Down. The song is set to a poem by poet laureate Simon Armitage, written in response to the coronavirus restrictions. ‘Lockdown’ moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam, Derbyshire in the 17th century – when a bale of cloth sent from London inadvertently brought fleas carrying the plague – to the poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa, which follows the legend in which an exile sends words of reassurance to his wife in the Himalayas via a passing cloud.
The song was recorded and filmed remotely at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceeds from the release will go to Refuge, a UK-based charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. The video was directed by Daniel Broadley. Filmed in Bristol in May during lockdown, he asked locals to partake in the project from a safe distance, resulting in a series of smile-inducing clips.
“I’m constantly looking for positives within this negative period of our lives. This project allowed me to reach out to Bristol locals from all walks of life, people who are outside my circle whom I would normally not have the pleasure of meeting, let alone collaborating with. Even at a distance I felt a wonderful connection with these people who all poured their time and energy into bringing this piece of work to life.”
For each download sold in the UK or accounted to Mercury KX in the UK, Mercury KX will donate £0.50 to Refuge (Registered Charity number 277424). 150 paid or ad funded streams shall count as 1 download.
Deadlock is about an old English street: Daniel Street in Portsmouth. The text by Lauren Jones, and the film by Jane Glennie, evoke an important moment in its everyday history around 1820. The following quotes are from the artist notes.
“In the looming shadow of prison hulks docked in the harbour, Jeremiah and Charles Chubb worked on this site primarily as ironmongers providing naval equipment. Frequent crimes, including daring robberies of the dockyard warehouses and escapes from the hulks led to a competition being launched for an ‘unpickable lock’. The Chubb brothers accepted the challenge and created the now familiar Chubb lock still used to this day.”
But the success of the Chubb enterprise created a shadow legacy.
“…for those on the other side of the lock, the invention was a devastating barrier that put an end to those who relied on petty crime for survival, to those who were facing long, punishing sentences on the ships and even those women who were confined to the nearby Lock Hospital.”
The bold phrases of the text, and the spirited voice over, are well met by an animated ‘flicker film’ stream of images. Evocative stills rapidly pass through the eye in a way that feels dramatic and textural. The collaboration between the artists recalls to vivid imagination the local history and its impact.
Deadlock is one in a collection of films commissioned to be the online media component of ‘Dark Side Port Side‘ (2019), a walking tour set in Portsmouth.
“…the street has long since vanished in the name of progress and is now the location of Admiralty Road with its own soaring, modern accommodation. Evidence of the concern of security is still visible… behind keypads, passcodes and security men.”
This 2016 film co-directed by Stephan Bookas and Tristan Dawes moved me to tears. That’s how effective, and affecting, I found this juxtaposition of W. H. Auden’s poem (text here) about Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany—read by a man identified only as Noah, a refugee and former child soldier from Uganda—with excellent documentary footage of contemporary refugees. Here’s the official synopsis from Bookas’ website:
Set to the verses of W.H. Auden’s 1939 poem, the multi-award winning “Refugee Blues” charts a day in ‘the jungle’, the refugee camp outside Calais. More intimate and unlike much of what has been seen in the mass media, this documentary poem counterpoints the camp’s harsh reality of frequent clashes with the French riot police with its inhabitants’ longing for a better future.
On Vimeo, Bookas includes a mini essay about the making of the film, which I found illuminating in its suggestion of how documentary poetry can differ from journalism. This was something I’d been thinking about because I recently attended a reading and slideshow from another documentary poetry project, which was a collaboration between a poet and a photojournalist: Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin’s Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. Technically, Auden’s poem by itself would not be considered an example of documentary poetry, but as a filmpoem Refugee Blues certainly would qualify, in my opinion. Anyway, I hope Mr. Bookas won’t mind my quoting a sizable chunk of his post:
We didn’t set out to make a film at first – that idea came later – we just packed a car full of blankets, clothes, food and other items and went, not fully knowing what to expect. But of course, being filmmakers, we also brought along our cameras – to see if we might have the opportunity to document, to capture, to find the human story in all the chaos that was so ubiquitous in the media at the time.
Soon after our arrival, we found the people living at the refugee camp to be very warm and welcoming, as long as we assured them we weren’t news-gathering journalists.
We didn’t film anything to begin with and just walked around, introduced ourselves as documentary filmmakers and listened to people and their stories. Every single one of them was unique and heartbreaking.
Following these discussions, we asked if it would be alright to take out our cameras and start filming. For the most part the answer was a resounding yes.
We spent the following days exploring the camp and talking to people, discussing the situation and the political climate and spending time with them, being invited for coffee and food and allowed to film elements of their daily lives. This turned out to be the calm before the storm, as things culminated in a clash between the camp’s inhabitants and the French riot police on the road leading to the ferry terminal, symbolic for the plight of the refugees and their struggle against institutional powers they are unable to defend themselves against. […]
Of course, our film can’t possibly even begin to try and unravel all the lives and personal fates entangled within this crisis. But in some small way, and for us especially, it has given this tragedy a face that’s less abstract, more relatable, more human.
Stuart Pound and Rosemary Norman have been collaborating on videopoems for 24 years now, but their work has lost none of its freshness or surprise. When I click on one of Pound’s videos in my Vimeo feed, it’s with the expectation that it won’t resemble too closely anything he’s done before. And so it was with this animation.
“The angry sleeper stalks his dreams/hard from night to night”. Dirk Bouts’s 1470 painting of demons carrying sinners off to Hell is the starting point for this not-quite-serious animated nightmare. Pachelbel’s famous canon played on a musical box is the accompaniment.