The poet Borges stated that ‘I feel constrained to be a particular individual, living in a particular city, in a particular time’. His labyrinthian poem ‘The Watcher’ explores self reflection, confinement and split personality.
Throughout the film I aim to portray the division of the self as well as explore the theme of isolation cyclically, as the narrator deconstructs himself into numerous selves. The idea being to covey a ‘confused sense of being’ as universal, relating to everyone and everything.
This nearly 14-minute videopoem was conceived, shot and edited by Sva Li Levy, AKA syncopath. Initially I wondered how it was going to hold my attention for so long, especially considering that Borges’ original poem is fairly short, but I needn’t have worried: I found it mesmerizing, a brilliant concept beautifully executed. How better, indeed, to anticipate love than by going through a soapy car-wash, Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” playing on the radio? And then playing around with the radio dial and finding Borges’ poem mysteriously transmitted in different languages: Hebrew (read by Yitzhak Hyzkia), Spanish (Julio Martinez Mezansa), English (Yonatan Kunda, reading the Alastair Reid translation), Portuguese (Martha Rieger) and French (Ravit Hanan).
Including the text of a poem in the soundtrack of a poetry film or videopoem has by now become so standard a move that I think I’ve been hungry for a new twist. And Levy’s treatment feels right in part because the poem could so easily be made to seem sententious, and instead he brings out the undercurrent of humor and the provisional quality found in so much of Borges’ writing.
“A journey around Argentina and Uruguay to illustrate words of Jorge Luis Borges,” says the Paris-based director, Neels Castillon. The soundtrack includes Borges’ own reading of the poem, as well as music by Yann Scott. The cinematography is by Kévin Michel.
Here’s the English translation Castillon supplied in the description at Vimeo:
To gaze at a river made of time and water
And remember Time is another river.
To know we stray like a river
and our faces vanish like water.
To feel that waking is another dream
that dreams of not dreaming and that the death
we fear in our bones is the death
that every night we call a dream.
To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into music, a sound, and a symbol.
To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadness–such is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.
Sometimes in the evening there’s a face
that sees us from the depths of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.
They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca,
humble and green. Art is that Ithaca,
a green eternity, not wonders.
Art is endless like a river flowing,
passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.
Today’s Google Doodle commemorates the birth of Borges:
“Wishing Jorge Luis Borges a happy 112th birthday!” Google tweeted early this morning, adding a well-known Borges quote: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
I shudder to think what this arch-conservative and biobliophile would’ve said about videopoetry, let alone digital texts. But thanks to a Facebook contact, I saw this video and thought it worth sharing.
It appears to be a quite illegal upload (and re-branding) of a snippet from the documentary Art, Poetry and Particle Physics, narrated by John Berger and directed by Ken McMullen. However, the uploaders do at least acknowledge the theft, and also reproduce the text of the translation by Stephen Kessler used in the documentary. [The YouTube user account was terminated for copyright violations. I swapped in a DailyMotion version on 15 August 2014.] And it’s a very effective selection, I thought — it works well on its own as a videopoem, even with the apparent non sequitur by Berger at the end about Borges’ lack of interest in 20th-century science.
A nicely non-literal animation of the poem by Latvian filmaker Signe Baumane, from 1999. It won Silver at Worldfest – Houston Film Festival 2000, the Robbie Burns Award at Cin(e) Poetry Festival 2000, and a Jury Award at the 34th New York Exposition of Short Film and Video 2000, according to Baumane’s website. Here’s the Spanish text.