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“Where are the dolls who loved me so…” by Elizabeth Bishop

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This is Where are the Dolls, a stand-out filmpoem by Cassandra Nicolaou of Fighting Fish Pictures. I’m grateful to Swoon for introducing me to it in his monthly column on videopoetry. As he writes,

The editing is thoughtful and draws the viewer inside the story (I love the jump cuts between the introvert close-ups of the woman and the loud and intimidating girls). Nicolaou did an amazing job in translating the poem to this day and age with respect and love for the original words, accenting the power of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. And when it’s over, I want to see it again.

See the column for more on the filmmaker and her thoughts about Elizabeth Bishop and the film-making process, which are all very interesting. She says in part:

“Where are the dolls who loved me so…” is actually an incomplete fragment of a poem, unpublished until 2006. To me it is a beautiful, sad piece – filled with longing for love and comfort, complicated feelings of abandonment, frustrations with idealized femininity, and despair at not measuring up or fitting in. I used the poem as a starting point to explore a middle-aged woman alone in the world – a self-exile of sorts. Maybe she’s grappling with repressed desires, maybe she’s got some of those feelings of not measuring up. Wanting to be one of those perfect women – impervious to age and unforeseen emotions; and hating them at the same time. The film is impressionistic and dreamy, but more overt than both the poem and probably Bishop’s public self. Having read up on Bishop, I worked in a few references to some of her other work – stuff that the Bishop scholars might catch. Beyond that, it’s very much the world of present-day Toronto, as opposed to Nova Scotian 1910’s. I was excited to cast Megan Follows (of Anne of Green Gables fame) as the lead. When I saw the photo of Bishop on Wikipedia, the resemblance struck me immediately. I’m hoping to do a feature about Bishop with Megan in the future.

Megan Follows granted an interview to AFter Ellen in which she talks a bit about the film. Here’s one exchange:

AE: Because it is such a dreamy, non-formed piece, how did you get yourself in the mindset of that character, E? What interested you about her journey?
MF: You know, it was somewhat guerilla filmmaking for sure. What is interesting is when we shot in the club, the club was live and it was just really a club that was happening. There were some signs that said there might be a film crew walking around and we used a very subtle camera. So we just went into that club and started to dance.

It was pretty funny because it was very, very loud in there. And we couldn’t hear each other over the sound of the music. We had to devise hand signals. So often times my character was dancing with her eyes closed. I would no idea if the camera was still rolling or if they’d moved on to a different shot. A couple of times I got pretty intimate with people who were dancing who had nothing to do with the film. And then I’d be like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess we’re not rolling. If you could please get off of me, I have to go find my crew.” [Laughs] So, we had some fun.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

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Another videopoem from John Scott‘s projected feature-length documentary, Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing. See “Sandpiper” for more information and links. Jason Harrington supplied the animation here.

Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop

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Filmmaker and television producer John Scott is working on a feature-length documentary called Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing, which will include a number of videos like this one illustrating her poems. He wrote about the project at length for the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary blog.

Each scene will end on a poem whose inspiration comes from the tensions of the time period being described. And thus the poetry will not only be an aesthetically pleasing and rewarding study of genius, it will deepen the emotional content of her life-story.

I learned about the project from a feature at VidPoFilm back on Nov. 18. Brenda Clews sent Scott a couple questions via email. Quoting from his answers:

I am not interested solely in being illustrative — I am interested in at times being playful with the way the visuals/sounds and the words come together in an effort to use the expressive powers of visuals and sounds. There’s lots of potential in the medium itself that I think might otherwise be lost if it is simply slaved word for word to the text. […]

I believe the beauty of Bishop’s poetry is that it is so loaded with the spirit of the moment, in the fragmentary, in the lush, in the juxtaposition of contrasting images and in the point of view of its subjects.

Do read the rest. About this videopoem in particular, Scott noted on YouTube:

“Sandpiper” is a poem that was written by Elizabeth Bishop in 1965 and it is believed that it was based on observations she made on a trip she made as an adult back to Nova Scotia. Bishop’s adult life took her in many directions and places, and she has explicitly compared herself to the sandpiper and (presumably) both of their quests to endlessly seek (enlightenment?) through careful observation.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

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Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

Film by Erica Tachoir

One of the more unique and ambitious approaches to the video poetry genre I’ve seen so far. I like the meta- aspect here, what the film says about readers and how poems intertwine with their lives. I also like the implicit judgement against people who can’t tolerate poetic expression.