I’ve had some critical things to say over the years about the use of poetry in advertising, but this Under Armour ad does it right. First off, they hire a contemporary poet, Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo, rather than re-purposing some out-of-copyright Walt Whitman or whatever, and they give her credit right up front: “words by Safia Elhillo.” (I saw a performance poetry-style ad for Transport for London two years ago that didn’t credit the poet at all.) Second, it actually feels like a real filmpoem: the words and images go together in a fresh and interesting way, suggesting that the poet worked closely with the (uncredited) filmmakers. I’m especially impressed considering how tired and cliched this kind of athlete-triumphing-over-adversity narrative has otherwise become in American television.
Perhaps that’s why the Under Armour advertising people decided to hire poets. This is one of a series of poetry-film ads they’ve produced, each with a tie-in to the Winter Olympics. An article in the Baltimore Sun by Lorraine Mirabella, “Under Armour unveils Lindsey Vonn film ahead of Olympics,” has the whole story:
Under Armour has put out a short film on Lindsey Vonn in its Unlike Any women’s campaign, just days before the start of Winter Games in South Korea, where the world champion skier will compete in her first Olympics since 2010.
The campaign, which celebrates female athletes who shatter expectations, looks at ways in which debilitating injuries and setbacks have served to motivate Vonn. The alpine skier missed the 2014 Olympics because of a serious knee injury. Last year, while training, she broke an arm.
The video is set to a poem by Safia Elhillo, author of last year’s The January Children, who wrote the piece specifically for Vonn. It’s called, “Kintsugi,” the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.
“This is what I became each wound filled with sunlight to bond my old self to my new,” the poem goes, recited in its debut in the film by the poet.
Under Armour has been working with Elhillo over the past few months on the poem and film, which is a new, remix of Vonn’s original Unlike Any video released last fall.
“It accentuates not just my strengths, but also my weaknesses and my story and coming back from adversity,” Vonn said in a Sun interview in October. “I’m strong because of everything I’ve been through.”
The sports brand launched its Unlike Any campaign in July. Each of five films featured spoken word artists who created poems to fit stories of each of five athletes, Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater principal ballerina; Alison Desir, founder of Harlem Run Crew; sprinter Natasha Hastings; professional stuntwoman Jessie Graff and Chinese taekwondo champion and actress Zoe Zhang.
Under Armour said the latest Vonn video, coming off her World Cup wins this past weekend, was inspired by the athlete’s “undeniable strength and dedication to her sport…Lindsey is more than ready for gold.”
Directed by Jamil McGinnis and Pat Heywood, Word: Collected Poetry is an exemplary poetry-film anthology that conveys a real sense of the unique character of a vital, passionate community of poets. Jamil and Pat call it
A collection of spoken word poems brought to life, adapted from the work of four poets living in New York City.
“Untitled” by Makayla Posley (0:09)
“band-aids & other temporary healings” by Trace DePass (4:01)
“From the Inside” by Nkosi Nkululeko (7:23)
“Rule #1” by Esther Aloba (11:09)
Essentially, the film is a work of collected poems brought to life. The featured poems’ authors are young poets from New York City. We wanted the film to feel as if someone had wandered into a bookstore and began flipping through a book of poems. […] It’s essentially an extension of the Motionpoem we did (but produced independently of them).
We partnered with a nonprofit called Urban Word NYC, who introduced us to the poets. We wanted to dive into the same themes and ideas that their poetry does, so naturally, collaborating closely with the poets was an essential part of the process. We didn’t want to assume anything about their experiences, but rather create a visual space to explore them further. We raised these questions about the school-to-prison pipeline, the problematic side of creative expression, and queerness, amongst others because they did. They gave us that space.
The film premiered online in Booooooom, which noted that “The film’s production was entirely crowdfunded through Kickstarter, raising over $15,000 through nearly 200 donations in 30 days.” Jamil and Pat told them that
Adapting poetry to film was a lot closer to putting together a thematic puzzle than it is building any kind of narrative. All sorts of space for us as filmmakers opened up to explore their language. Juxtaposing images, observing, asking questions rather than giving answers. We wanted a film that was challenging and abstract, but at the same time, presented moments of meditation.
Click through for photos from the shooting of the film as well as for the full, extensive credits.
A brilliant remix by Miss Muffet AKA Lisa Seidenberg. The Vimeo description:
A poetry film re-invents a stylised text by author Gertrude Stein as a reflection on the current national zeitgeist using visuals from Charlottesville and other assorted Americana.
This is Lost Acres, part of director/composer Jennifer Stock’s Poetry Illumination Project. Though it contains just two lines from Roethke’s long poem “Meditations of an Old Woman”, it does manage to convey something of the poem’s aesthetic and mood. The description reads:
An illumination of lines from Theodore Roethke, centered around abstracted nightscapes. Original music comprised of processed piano sounds.
ON THE OTHER SIDE is a portrait of an aging woman as her “youngness” slips away. Based on a poem by Natalie H. Rogers, the film interweaves voice, animation and music to lay bare the essence of a woman’s vanishing youth; her aging process is irrevocable revealing a deeply fragile and touching reality.
The three narrators are Avis Boone, Duvall O’Steen, and Natalie H. Rogers. Their repetition of lines wouldn’t work for every poetry film, but it’s a good fit for this poem’s disbelieving, incredulous tone.
This is Drive, a remix by Daniel Cantagallo of Robert Creeley’s poem I Know a Man. The poet’s reading is a bit stilted, pausing for the enjambed line breaks (not reproduced by the text on screen here) that were so central to his style, but somehow it makes a perfect fit with the music (“Red Tide” by loscil) and the full-tilt footage. Quoting Cantagallo’s description:
There’s always been something deeply existential about driving…the open road, the possibilty of escape from identity…and of course the threat of death by accident.
In Robert Creeley’s most famous poem, “I Know A Man”, the speaker contemplates what we can do against the darkness and chaos of modern life.
In this cheeky and moody remix, I use a recording of Robert Creeley reading his poem juxtaposed with a 1951 government public information series on automobile safety and the dangers of driving at night.
Driving on the Highway can be watched in all its glory on the Internet Archive. The National Archives description:
TRAINING FILM: On techniques on driving on highway. Sixty percent of all accidents happen at night because of poor visability and fatigue. Reduce speed, use headlights and avoid using interior lights at night.