A powerful new film from the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe in response to a poem by the Uruguayan writer Rafael Courtoisie, which is included in the soundtrack. London-based translator and poet Jean Morris supplied the English translation used in the subtitles, a collaboration which I’m happy to say I had a small role in bringing about. The music is by Four Hands Project, and the actresses are Mercedes Castro and Montse Gabriel.
Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe used a still image of Camille Claudel (“Camille Claudel à 20 ans” by César D.R.) as well as his own footage and music by Four Hands Project in this film of a poem by Kathleen Kirk from the Poetry Storehouse. The poem also appears in Kirk’s chapbook, Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel (Dancing Girl Press, 2014).
Yagüe has made not one, but two films based on this poem. They couldn’t be more different. Here’s the other one:
The translation is Yagüe’s own. The music this time is by archiv ev noise. Broken Figure was filmed in October 2014 in Stockholm, while Figura Rota was filmed the following month in Madrid. I wonder to what extent the different locations and languages may have helped produce such divergent results. But perhaps the real marvel is how the two films nevertheless exist in dialogue with each other in something approaching an apotheosis of translation.
Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe’s film for the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest runner-up poem by Amy Miller. As mentioned in the contest results, poetry judge Jessica Piazza actually selected two of Miller’s poems: one as the first-place winner (see “Backward Like a Ghost“) and the other as one of three runners-up. Here’s that second poem, Miller’s response to Yagüe’s contest footage:
I Was Grass
Under the city, I grew
What did I have to drink
but cracks of sun
and the sometimes slash
of paint? Or was that
song? I heard it too. Bachata,
an imagined circle step.
You don’t think
grass can dance?
blade and its shadow.
No, watch. Can you see me?
The stem, the glint,
Yagüe had this to say about the making of the film:
Nic S. suggested I make a video as inspiration for poets writing for The Poetry Storehouse’s first anniversary contest. I am always very honored to collaborate with TPS, so I told Nic that I would be delighted to make the video.
I spent September and October in Stockholm, Sweden. I recorded footage for Marc Neys (Deze zachte witte kamer, poems by Runa Svetlikova). I also directed a videoclip called La viuda, for Spanish singer Pablo Werner, and started several personal projects (such as the Storehouse remix Broken Figure, by Kathleen Kirk). I also took a lot of pictures of the beautiful Swedish capital and its magical light.
Close to Kungsholmen, the district where I live when I go to Stockholm, there is a place that one might find in every big city (it could be New York, Paris or Madrid) and that’s the set I used for the video. A rough stage full of graffiti, concrete and passing trains contrasting with the fragility and tenderness of the great little actress Emma Sjöstrand (10 years old). The general idea was to capture claustrophobic urban images of this place and contrast them with a few shots in a park (Kronobergsparken) with a very different light, air and colors. The only idea I was sure about was the girl snapping her fingers, staring at the camera and disappearing.
I chose for editing some very beautiful music by Kosta T. But my idea was to ask for an original musical score for the final cut from Four Hands Project — the great, imaginative film and TV composers Alberto Ayuso and David Gómez. They composed an exclusive score for what I consider a very special video.
I am quite sure Amy Miller recorded her poem while she was watching the video. When Nic sent me the audio I hardly touched anything, just added a shot or two and revised the rhythm of some images. Amy’s poem was perfect for the images and the music fit incredibly well with both images and words.
I hope you like the final result. I am very happy to have been a collaborator in this amazing project of TPS. Congratulations to Amy Miller and the other winners and participants in this year’s contest, and very special congratulations to Nic S. for her great and generous work of spreading poetry and connecting artists all over the world.
We asked Miller about her writing process. She wrote,
I was moved to write a poem for Eduardo Yagüe’s video—of course—because of that girl. That beautiful, innocent, wily girl. She owns that alley. She is that alley. But she’s something else, too: a spirit of defiance.
The video opens and ends with grass. And I couldn’t help thinking of what that city will look like long after humans are gone, that apocalyptic vision of the vines engulfing the concrete, the wilderness taking over again. And the Carl Sandburg echo is no accident; his grass covered the battlefields, but this girl’s grass uproots the city, grows up—as she does—right through it. She is the blackberry, the kudzu, the bindweed that splits apart the pavement of every civilization and imparts her wildness into it. I think there’s a youthful hope to that, a reminder that every kid has dreams that reach far beyond the walls of where she’s growing up. Every kid is capable of bringing down the old city, of changing the drab old ways—just watch out.
I wanted the girl to ask questions, to get in the reader’s face: “You don’t think grass can dance?” And I wanted her to talk about an actual dance. In the theatre festival where I work, we’re doing a play next year that features Puerto Rican Jíbaro folk music, and it’s been on my mind a lot. I started looking on the internet for a dance that Latina girls in New York might aspire to do, and I found Bachata, which originated in the Dominican Republic. I chose it for the sound of the word and its popularity in clubs. But when I realized I was going to have to record the poem, I had to go back online and listen to recordings of people saying the word because I’d never heard it spoken. (I’m in Southern Oregon; Bachata, along with many other cool things, has not reached us yet.) I had practice the word over and over before recording the poem. Probably still didn’t nail it.
Is Eduardo Yagüe wonderful, or what? Such lyric beauty in this film. What a privilege it was to work with it.