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Guide to Poetry in Film by Vittorio Carli
(this update includes over 40 new entries.)
Believe it or not, this guide is about 20 years in the making. For a long time I have wanted to do a lengthy guide that combines two of my greatest passions: poetry and film, but I ran into big problem. Some time in the ‘80s, I finally finished it. The first part of the article appeared in the defunct poetry newspaper, "Tunnel Rat," but the newspaper ceased publication before the second half could appear. Over the years, I have been keeping track of many of the poetry-related films. In the back of my mind, I always planned to update the piece and submit it somewhere else, but it turned out to be more work than I bargained for. Part of the second half was lost, so I had to partially reconstruct it from memory and reference books. I eventually found part of the missing material on a typed page, but I had to retype it. I also viewed a few of the films again (mostly ones that I owned or that the local library had).
There were also new films that used poems that came out every year. I am sure I overlooked more than a few. Keep in mind that I have not seen some of the films for more than ten years. If I didn’t see a film on the list, I added “a could not find” line. I will do some future updates. If you can think of any I overlooked, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this guide, I mostly discuss two categories of "poetry" movies: non-documentary films about poets and films that use poetry as a plot device. In this version of the article, I have included a few documentaries and classic TV show DVDs with episodes that include poetry. My preference or bias is toward art films and trash: although, I do like some things in between. Middlebrow or mainstream cinema tends to be less risky. Poets in film are usually presented as psychotic manic-depressives ("Total Eclipse"), long-suffering martyrs to art ("The Bell Jar") or objects of ridicule ("Hairspray"). Many argue that Hollywood’s perception of us in no way reflects the public’s, but I have my doubts.
The tone of this piece is somewhat light. For a more serious examination of poetry in film, I recommend that you survey used magazine bins for the excellent, all poetry and film issue of " Parnassus: Poetry in Review" which was released in 1998. I hope this guide will prove useful to a wide variety of people, including fans of film trivia, bohemian performance poetry types, and academics. The guide is also a great excuse to make bad jokes and take shots at poets I don't like (take that, Edgar Guest!).
An Angel at My Table (1995) ****
This powerful and horrific biopic about the New Zealand poet, Janet Frame is one of the finest films ever made about a literary figure. The socially inept, awkward Frame did not conform to the societal expectations of women of her period. She was punished with shock therapy and even a lobotomy. Expertly directed by Jane ("The Piano") Campion who refuses to oversentimentalize or overpoliticize the subject. Edited from a three-part mini-series made for New Zealand television.
The Angelic Conversation (1985) ***
Derek Jarman's non-narrative film features Julie Dench reading 12 Shakespearean sonnets. Featuring appropriate experimental music by Coil (one of their CDs is nothing but clanging rapiers.)
Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Redux (1979)****
(Coppola exceeded expectations with his brilliant and radical adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Coppola transposes the action from the Congo to Vietnam , and he keeps the anti-colonial message (although both the film and the book dehumanizes the natives.) Martin Sheen has to pursue the disillusioned poet/warrior/Nietzscheian superman, Kurtz who turned against the system. When Kurtz first appears, enters he recites T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" and his last words are “the horror, the horror!”), a work which was influenced by “The Heart of Darkness.” In addition, a photojournalist misquotes Eliot when he says, “This is the way the fucking world ends.”
Many find Brando's rant self indulgent and pretentious but I think it makes the movie. His last great performance would have been a great cap for his career. Too bad, he kept making movies. “Apocalypse Redux” adds more than 40 minutes of deleted footage, which helps develop Sheen’s character, and makes him more rounded. I consider it an improvement over the original.
The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) ***1/2
Brad Pitt is quite good as a sympathetic anti-hero, Jessie James, and Casey Affleck is even better as the traitorous Judas figure, Robert Ford. But the greatest assets may be the exquisite cinematography by (Roger Deakins) and the haunting, evocative score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. At one point, a folksy love poem is recited and one of the James Gang members declares that poetry doesn't work on whores. The film masterfully draws parallels between James and Jesus.
(1990) - This drama features one of the most moving uses of poetry in recent cinema. A poem is used to reflect the main character's sense of psychological entrapment. The character (Robert De Niro) suffers from a malady that shuts his mind off, and an experimental drug allows him to enter the land of the conscious. When De Niro awakens from delirium, he recites Rilke's brilliant "panther" poem. The work serves as a perfect metaphor for an intelligent mind imprisoned in a defective body. Its director, Penny Marshall, has come a long way since "Laverne and Shirley".
Back to School ***
(1986) - Overly pedantic English professors can learn a thing or two from Rodney Dangerfield's passionate recitation of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" during the film's climatic scene, but they may disagree with his simplified interpretation. The film also features a hilarious cameo by Kurt ("Slaughterhouse Five") Vonnegut Jr.
(1987) - This biopic deals with the life of acclaimed binge drinker/street poet, Charles Bukowski. Of course, the ultra cool, sun glass wearing Mickey Rourke bears no resemblance to the overweight, socially maladjusted Bukowski," and the film provides a prettified (Bukowsky would say Disneyfied) view of his life. See the recent documentary "Bukowsky: Born Into This" to get a glimpse of the real icon. But this is a great excuse to see Mickey Rourke strut his stuff in his greatest unkempt hedonist role; done before his fall into semi-obscurity (I hear that he's still big in some parts of Europe). Faye Dunaway is impressive in her best post-"Network" role. We even learn a little about Charles.
The Barrets of Wimpole Street (1934) ***
Frederic March and Norma Shearer play Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the superior literary biopic.
The Barrets of Wimpole Street (1957)**
This dramatization of the love between Elizabeth and Robert Browning is sometimes informative but often ponderous and boring. Avoid it like the plague. The 1930s version has a much better cast, and is superior in every way.
Basketball Diaries (1995) **1/2
Leonard DiCaprio plays the drug addicted punk poet/prose writer, Jim Carroll inn a role that was originally intended for River Phoenix. DiCaprio isn’t bad, but the film lacks the narrative drive of the book. Updating the film to the ‘90s was a mistake.
Beat Girl/Wild for Kicks (1960) *
This dated British exploitation film presents a ridiculous "straight" take on the beat world. It also has some priceless bad dialog and some appearances by Christopher ("Dracula") Lee and Adam Faith. The predictable plot incorporates murder and stripping. Roger Corman and Russ Meyer did this kind of thing better.
Beautiful Dreamers (1990)**1/2
Rip Torn plays the freethinking writer of epic poetry, Walt Whitman. He involves himself with the plight of the mentally disabled and continually shocks prevailing Victorian mores.
Before Night Falls (2000)***1/2
Intriguing and riveting account of the life of the Cuban poet/political dissident, Reinaldo Arenas. Arenas was a gifted writer but he was persecuted for his homosexuality, and imprisoned. Javier Baredom gives an unforgettable performance, and the alluring direction is by painter, Julian Schnabel who also did “Basquait.”
Being John Malkovitch (1999)***1/2
The protagonist is a struggling artist who puts on a hilarious puppet show based on the life of Emily Dickinson
The Belle of Amherst, No Rating
(1975)-This video captures Julie Harris's Tony winning performance as the immortal poet, Emily Dickinson. The author, William Luce incorporates the author's writings into a monologue. I haven't been able to find this one yet, but it is available on DVD.
The Bell Jar (1979) **
Marilyn Bassett stars in this disappointingly un-cinematic translation of Sylvia's Plath's autobiographical novel. Read the book instead.
The Best of the Colbert Report (2007) ***1/2
The TV show compilation DVD includes a hilarious metaphor duel between liberal actor, Sean Pen and the likeable conservative buffoon character, Stephen Colbert. The contest is hosted by former poet laureate, Robert Pinsky and it's called a "Meta-Free-Phor-All." There is also a reading of a nonsensical poem in "Let the Gravitas Begin."
Blade Runner (1982) ****
This cyberpunk classic was one of the first American films to combine sci-fi with film noir (The French film, "Alphaville" did this earlier). Deckard (Harrison Ford in his best film and role) goes to earth to hunt some escaped artificial beings called replicants, and there are no true heroes to be found. Here's where the poetry comes in. Roy , the replicant is the most human figure in the film. His lingo is poetic at times, and at one point, he even misquotes a line from a William Blake poem. Some Phillip K. Dick fans disapprove of the changes Ridley Scott made but sci-fi cinema doesn’t get any better than this. Stunning cinematography and engaging story line make this a must see. A second “director’s cut” was released in 2007.
Blank Generation (1979) ***
Punk poet/singer Richard Hell plays an unstable punk musician. Now there’s a stretch!! A French journalist investigates him for a piece and falls for him. The movie that the film is named after is an underrated classic, and Hell was at least as responsible for punk rock as Joey Ramone or Johnny Rotten, but he rarely gets the credit. Hell was also featured in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and several New York underground films. Anything that Hell is involved in is probably worth checking out.
Blood In, Blood Out/Bound by Honor (1993)***
The first half-hour of this film is violent and difficult to sit through but worthwhile in the end. This document of prison gangs is partially based on the experiences of superstar poet Jimmy Santiago Baca. It includes no poetry, but its depiction of the painter underscores the potential of art as a cure for crime.
Blood of a Poet (1930) ***1/2
Jean Cocteau's cinematic journey into the inner life of poets is undeniably one of the most important surrealist works, but I've always preferred the works of Maya Deren and Luis Bunuel or Cocteau's "Orpheus.”
Bob Dylan-30th Anniversary Concert (1993) ***1/2
The performances on this set range from the unimaginative (George Harrison's "Absolutely Sweet Marie") to sensational (Eddie Vedder's earth shaking "Masters of War'). Steve Wonder's rendition of "Blow' in the Wind" is an underrated classic. Of chief interest to poets is Sinead O'Connor's failed attempt to recite Bob Marley's "War" as a spoken word piece. The audience booed her until she gave up. Then she bursts into tears until she is comforted by Willie Nelson. This happened shortly after her controversial "Saturday Night Live" appearance in which she ripped up a picture of the pope to protest Ireland's Catholic inspired anti-abortion policy. What ever happened to free speech? She deserved better.
Born to Boogie (1973) ***
Dated but campily diverting rock concert film about the iconic glam rock band, T Rex with features footage shot by Ringo Starr. Highlights include top notch performances of “Get it on (Bang a Gong)”, “Telegram Sam,” “Jeepster,” and “Children of the Revolution,” but many people might know the cover versions of the songs (by Bauhaus, the Violent Femmes, and Marilyn Manson) better. This surprisingly surreal film includes some silly verbal horseplay. Some of the abominable, hallucinogenic footage looks like it was left over from “Magical Mystery Tour.” T-Rex were not enormously successful in the USA , but they had a string of hits in the U.K. Their poppy music has dated far batter than the progressive dinosaur rock of the time (Does anyone still listen to ELP?) The late T Rex leader, Marc Bolan had confidence, talent, and style to spare, but the self-penned verse he recites in the film is even more puerile and juvenile than Jim Morrison's poetry. Bolin just may be the missing link between Tommy James and David Bowie. It features guest appearances by Elton John and Ringo Starr. Recently released for the first time on DVD. When are we going to get that long awaited film on The Sweet?
Blue Car (2003) ***1/2
Sensitively drawn and well-developed story of a neglected teen poetry student who is attracted to her English teacher. Kind of like "Lolita" from the point of view of the female protagonist. See my complete review at
Bob Dylan-30th Anniversary Concert (1993) ***1/2 -The performances on this set range from the unimaginative (George Harrison 's "Absolutely Sweet Marie") to sensational (Eddie Vedder's earth shaking "Masters of War'). Steve Wonder's rendition of "Blow' in the Wind" is an underrated classic. Of chief interest to poets is Sinead O'Connor's failed attempt to recite Bob Marley's "War" as a spoken word piece. The audience booed her until she gave up. Then she bursts into tears until she is comforted by Willie Nelson. This happened shortly after her controversial "Saturday Night Live" appearance in which she ripped up a picture of the pope to protest Ireland 's Catholic inspired anti-abortion policy. What ever happened to free speech? She deserved better
Boogie Nights (1997) ***1/2
Philip Thomas Anderson's fine film about '70s porn culture takes more than a few cues from Coppola's "The Godfather,” but it's mostly lively and original. It's about the rise and fall and rise of porn star, Dirk Digler (an ideally cast mark Wahlberg). One of the other male characters has a crush on him, and tries to impress him with a truly awful poem.
The Brave One (2007) ***
Urban vigilante Jodie foster recites "Because I could Not Stop for Death" (appropriately enough) in this taut revenge thriller. Good acting by Foster and Terrence Howard compensate for a predictable script. A fairly enjoyable "Taxi Driver" variation.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) ****
The greatest of all Universal horror films features Elsa Lancaster in two electrifying performances. She plays both the 1930s' premier female monster (Dracula's Daughter is the only competition), and the bookish, nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley. Douglas Watson puts in a brief appearance as Percy Shelley and Gavin Gordon plays Lord Byron.
Bucket of Blood (1959) ***1/2
Roger Corman's amusing, quickie horror comedy uses the 1950s beat cafés as backdrops. The film opens with a hilarious poem that serves as the film's introduction (It includes the line: "Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of life"). The poem is later used as a justification for murder ("Crush their bones into a paste, so that you might mold them"). A pathetic coffee clerk named Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) gains instant fame by making statues out of people he kills (at first, he kills by accident). The homicidal artist idea predates the joker in "Batman" (the earliest version probably appeared in "Mystery in the Wax Museum"). Believe it or not, this entertaining lowbrow, B classic actually owes much to classic highbrow literary works. The poets and folk singers comment on actions like the Greek chorus, and when the killer attends a party, an ominous voice says, "No one knows that Duncan was murdered" (the killer's wearing a crown, and this suggests that he's haunted by the voices of his dead victims - like Richard III.) Highly recommended. Remember, "All that is not creation is graham crackers."
Bull Durham (1988) ***1/2
Susan Sarandon shines in one of her finest roles as an athletic groupie who teaches poetry at a community college.
Bukowsky: Born into This (2003) ***1/2
Fascinating documentary contains some great footage of the curmudgeonly street poet performing, and explaining his philosophy towards life and poetry. Some interviews are relevant and well chosen (such as Neeli Cherkovski, Barbet Schroeder, and Tom Waits), but the publicity hog Bono does not belong here. He has nothing particularly illuminating to say.
Butch Camp **
(1996) - This lesbian underground feature was filmed at The Hungry Brain poetry venue, the former home of the immortal Leonard De Montbrum.
Candy (1968) ***
A young nymphomaniac (Ewa Aulin) takes on a score of lovers including a poet in this adaptation of Terry Southern's bizarre parody of pornography. This campy curio is somewhat fascinating as a period piece, and it falls into the so good it’s bad category. The stellar cast includes the late, great, Marlon Brando, John ("The Adams Family") Astin and Richard Burton.
Candy (2006) ***
Well acted Australian film of two junkies (the guy is a poet and he’s played by the recently deceased Heath Ledger) who go deeper and deeper into the abyss. Its structure is similar (though not identical) to Dante's “The Divine Comedy,” and the couple goes through heaven (the initial rapture of the drugs), earth (they get married, plan to have a baby, and run into some insurmountable obstacles), and hell (the end of the relationship). At one point, the female lead has a breakdown and writes a marvelous poem on the wall ( Some of it is non-linear and it goes in all directions.) The best part of the film is when she reads the whole thing and it's only on the DVD as an extra. Because of all the close-ups and the intimate nature of the film, it probably plays just as well on the small screen anyway.
Carried Away (1996) ***
Joseph (Dennis Hopper in one of his rare subdued) performances plays an English teacher who is in a rut. He teaches poetry, and there are some short discussions on Emily Dickinson. Joseph has been dating another teacher his own age for years, and she's so inhibited that she will only make love on certain days with the lights off. Joseph unwisely starts sleeping with Catherine (Amy Locaine) a spontaneous and mentally unstable lit student. Their relationship causes unforeseen complications in his life. The characterizations are sharp especially the major's dad (played by Gary Busey), and the ending is powerful. The funniest line in the film, "Can't you see I've given you the single best year of my life" is delivered by Catherine.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007) ***1/2
Rollicking, fun-filled movie depicts Tom Hanks as a wily congressman working in a Washington in which sex is traded by lobbyists like commerce. He is ably supported by the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who steals the show) as a CIA agent who helps escalate the arms shipments to Afghanistan. There is also a poetry connection. A government official sends Charlie a bottle of Scotch which was mentioned in Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad." The witty script is by Aaron ("West Wing") Sorkin.
Warren Beatty is a senator who actually starts telling the truth in raps after he puts out a hot on himself. Poet Amira Baraka appears as a wise seer/street person who may be speaking for God.
Carried Away (1996) ***
Joseph (Dennis Hopper in one of his rare subdued) performances plays an English teacher who is in a rut. He teaches poetry, and there are some short discussions on Emily Dickinson. Joseph has been dating another teacher his own age for years, and she's so inhibited that she will only make love on certain days with the lights off. Joseph unwisely starts sleeping with Catherine (Amy Locaine) a spontaneous and mentally unstable lit student. Their relationship causes unforeseen complications in his life. The characterizations are sharp especially the major's dad (played by Gary Busey), and the ending is powerful. The funniest line in the film, "Can't you see I've given you the single best year of my life" is delivered by Catherine.
Cat People (1942) ****
Terrific low budget chiller produced by Val Lewton has many nourish elements and it suggests much more than it shows. It’s about a young Romanian woman (played by the unforgettable Simone Simon) who fears she his inherited a curse and will become a cat when she was aroused. Her husband is also attracted to a “good, normal” woman who thinks Irene is insane. The film closes with a Donne poem at the end (“Holy Sonnet V “) which ties to the film’s them of a divided personality. Director, Jacques Tourneur, also made the terrific “Curse of the Demon,” one of the best horror (or is it supernatural suspense?) horror film of the ‘50s.
Chelsea Walls (2002)) *1/2
Pretentious and emotionally unsatisfying directorial debut by Ethan Hawke goes nowhere. The film depicts goings on in the Chelsea Hotel which catered to artistic types. Some of the many residents included Dylan Thomas, and we hear some of his poetry in the film. There is an appearance by Mark Strand, and Kris Kristofferson's turn as a booze soaked novelist. See any Richard Linklater film instead.
Chicago Poems (2005) **
This film follows different intersecting story lines involving three couples. The acting’s fairly good, but the run of the mill characters and situations drag the film down. Some of the main characters include a boxer who is abusive to his girlfriend, a trendy club owner, and a moody director who is adapting Carl Sandberg’s poems for the stage. The film is named after one of Sandberg’s books. The whole thing was shot in Chicago except for one scene, and it makes excellent use of Millennium Park . I desperately wanted to like this film, but it failed to keep my attention.
(2002)-Kwon-taek Im’s visually impressive biopic of the renowned Korean painter, Jang Seung-up was also called “Drunk on Women and Poetry.” Im's previous film, Chunhyang (2000)" is even better.
Citizen Kane ****
(1941) The title character loosely based on the life of newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, but there are also many parallels between Kane and Hearst. The opening (which is one of the most famous intros ever0 reproduces quotes from Coelridge's "Kubla Khan." This invites us to draw parallels between the deranged subject of that poem and the lonely elder cane. Both built a giant palace that was never completed. A direct inspiration for Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and there’s even a Kane influence in “There Will be Blood.”
Children of the Century ***
(2002)-French film goddess, Juliette Binoche stars in a film about a 19th century affair between George Sand and poet Alfred de Muset
Clueless (1995) *** - Charming update of “Emma” is about a vapid but caring valley girl who fixes us his teacher hoping he’ll become an easier grader. The following poetry themed conversation occurs in the film.
Dionne-Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, but thy eternal summer shall not fade. Phat! Did you write that?
Cher-Duh, it’s like a famous quote.
The Color of Pomegranates ***
(1969) Slow moving but rewarding film about the spiritual journey of 17th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova is divided up into eight sections.
The Crow ***
(1994) - This flashy and macabre action film helped spawn (pun intended) a neo-Gothic revival with its great décor, creepy songs and Poe-spouting, undead anti-hero. Prepare to be dazzled, but don't expect profundity. Like Poe's heroines its star, Brandon Lee, gained a kind of immortality after his untimely death. (Along with James Dean and Kurt Cobain, he'll remain young forever).
Cyrano de Bergerac
**1/2 (1925)-Interesting silent version has a hammy lead performance by Pierre Magnier as a man who “feeds” poetry to a man who is wooing a woman. It's also a bit too theatrical.
Cyrano de Bergerac
*** (1950) -Jose Ferrar is fine as the lover who uses poetry to woo a woman through another man, and Mala Powers makes a ravishing Roxanne
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) ***1/2
Gerard Depardieu is marvelous in this newer, longer version, and he just may be the definitive film Cyrano.
Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2001) **
Underwhelming film teaches us that exotic dancers can have lives as boring as anyone else. The film does have an unusually good cast including Daryl Hannah (playing another dumbbell role) and Sharon Old (in a pre "Grey's Anatomy" and "Sideways" role) as a stripper named Jasmine who begins reading her undercooked but somewhat intriguing confessional verse at open mics. The film has some good moments (especially the Daryl Hannah/arrest scene), but it's still hard to believe that the maker of "Il Postino" (Michael Radford) directed this
Dangerous Beauty (1998) ***
Arty and stylish biopic of a courtesan in 16th century Venice who is very learned in poetry. Her position as a societal outsider allows her to pursue intellectual interests that are denied other women of her time. It's actually a lot better than it sounds.
The Danish Poet (2006) ***
This irresistible little an animated film is about a poet who searches for a famous poet and he unexpectedly meets the love of his life. Unfortunately, her father already picked someone else and she thinks its bad luck to go against her dad's wishes. It won award and is featured on the Oscar shorts video. It was nominated for best animated short but it lost.
The Darwin Awards-(2006) ***1/2
Wonderfully entertaining and tragically neglected story about a crime solving duo who are somewhat reminiscent of The X-Files (well played by Winoma Ryder and Joseph Fiennes) . The film is named after a series of awards for people who die stupid deaths. Featuring a delightful cameo by beat poet extraordinaire Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Dead Man (1995) ****
One of the main characters is named after the poet, William Blake in this classic mystic western. A native American guide thinks that he actually is the deceased poet.This is both Jim Jarmusch’s and Johnny Depp’s most memorable effort. Reader critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum was so taken with the film that he wrote a whole book on it. This was one of my picks for the top 10 best films of the ‘90s.
Dead Poets Society (1989) ***
Literature teacher, Robin Williams inspires his students to love poetry with his unconventional poetry methods and hammy overdramatic readings. The film includes very little about poetry instruction, and it's a very standard but occasionally entertaining Hollywood triumph of the human spirit film. It works fairly well until the smarmy, calculated, Oscar-baiting ending. One of the most popular and wildly overrated films on the list. Was I the only one that wanted to see Robin Williams's character impaled in the last shot?
Devil in the Flesh ***1/2
(1986)-Mentally disturbed young woman falls for a terrorist. At one point, she reads him a poem (penned by director/writer Marco Bellocchio who is a published poet) while he is in a very compromising position. This film got more attention for its sexuality than it's other content but it's fascinating to watch. Unfortunately, the video version darkens the explicit shots so that you can hardly see what's going on.
The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca (1997) ***
Andy Garcia stars in a portrait of the acclaimed English poet. It examines the circumstances of his mysterious death at the hands of fascists. Read a "Poet in New York " first.
The Doors (1991) ***
I'm a greater admirer of Morrison's songwriting craftsmanship than his often-puerile verse. (Remember, he achieved more success as a pinup than a poet.) Lou Reed was a better rock poet. However, I must concede that this is a fairly entertaining dramatization of the late Lizard King's life. Val Kilmer is quite good and physically right in the main role, and Stone's over-directing never sinks the film. One quibble is that it should've been called "Morrison" because it completely underplays the other band member's contributions.
Down by Law (1986) ****
Wry and wonderfully funny Jim Jarmusch classic minimalist film which includes superb deadpan performances by Tom Waits and John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni basically being himself. Roberto doesn't know English well and he tries to impress new American acquaintances by proclaiming "I like Walt Whitman very much." He also recites Whitman and Frost poems in Italian. This is eighties Indy cinema at its best.
Educating Rita (1983) ***1/2
An eccentric literary professor (Michael Caine) takes a returning student (Julie Walters) under his wing, and he learns as much from her as she learns from him. Of course, her husband, Denny disapproves and there is conflict. The prof used to write well-regarded poetry, but now he is cynical and only cares about his next drink.
The Elegant Criminal (1990) ***1/2
A nineteenth century French intellectual poet embarks on a life of crime (hey, it's easier than applying for NEA grants).
Elling (2001) ***1/2
A child-like future poet is separated from the world by his mom, and lives in seclusion. After she dies, he is placed in a mental institution. When he gets out, he is placed in state run, subsidized housing, and he truly experiences life for the first time. He moves in with a sex obsessed forty something virgin that runs up the phone bill and acts irresponsibly. The slow pacing and unusual, decentered characters give it the feel of an Aki Kaurismaki or Jim Jarmusch or film. Lovely, eccentric and sublime. Made in the Netherlands .
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ****
Jim Carrey is a meek man who is shocked to discover that his aggressive ex girlfriend went through a medical procedure in order to have all the memories of him wiped from her mind. He later goes through the same process, but he rebels in the middle of it and tries to hide the memories of her in other memories. The title of the film comes from the Alexander Pope poem "From Eloisa to Abelard." The poem was based on a true story about a nun lamenting her impossible love for a priest that had been castrated for their forbidden relationship. We are supposed to make connections between that situation and the seemingly modern day relationship in the film. One of the best written, imaginative, and sharpest films of the decade. The director, Michel Gondry started out making videos for Bjork, The White Stripes, Daft Punk, and Kylie Minoge. The videos are available on a compilation, and they are sometimes better than the songs they were made for.
Far Side of the Moon (La Face Cachee De La Luna) (2005) ***1/2
Well made French-Canadian film about a Phillipe, a brainy but unlucky scientific scholar who clashes with his practical brother (a shallow meteorologist). At one point, Phillipe also reads an interesting but obscure poem. Playing Jan. 6-12 at the Gene Siskel Center .
Fay Grim (2007) ***
Fay Grim is a sequel to Henry Fool, which matches and occasionally surpasses the original. Parker Posey is marvelous as the neurotic but charming main character, a mom who gets in over her head when she gets involved in espionage. Fay Grim is a sequel to Henry Fool (also by Hal Hartley) and takes place eight years later. Fay (Parker Posey who was the best thing about Superman Returns) is raising her son alone. Her greatest fear is that he will grow up to be like his dad, Henry, who accidentally killed someone and then disappeared. Her only confidant is her brother, Simon, an ex garbage man and Nobel prize-winning poet, who is serving a long prison stretch for aiding and abetting Henry, who now has terrorist connections. Unfortunately, the film uses some of its momentum in the last third, as the plot becomes more convoluted.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) ***
Hugh Grant stars in this amiable and respectable romantic comedy. "Song IX" from W. H. Auden's "Twelve Songs" is recited in the funeral scene eulogy, which is delivered by the deceased's lover. I still prefer Hugh Grant's early art films over his more mainstream romantic comedies.
Freedom Writers (2007) ***
This inspiring story is about an inner city school teacher (played by an increasingly anorexic looking Hillary Swank) who battles a hostile administration in order to merely do her job well. At one point her analysis of a 2pac song using poetic terms inspires derision from the students, but eventually she wins their confidence. This film doesn't always ring true, but it is everything that the more Hollywoodized "Dangerous Minds" should have been. My high school teacher friend, Lynn Fitzgerald, and her peers thought it was unbelievable.
Free Sex (2005) *
Bored Milton scholar goes looking for his friend's stripper daughter and he ends up falling for her. Needless to say she drags him into her dark world. This is like a less interesting softcore porn version of Paul Schrader's "Hardcore." At first her friend she doesn't believe he's a real prof but he proves it by reciting Shakespeare. Stupid, unerotic, and obvious.
Fried Shoes, Cooked Diamonds (1982)***
Fascinating but overly short look at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. Includes performances and interviews with many leading luminaries in the beat movement and the '60s counterculture such as Amira Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Ann Waldman, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and the underrated, late, great Gregory Corso. Highlights include a very rough performance of Ginsberg's "Father Death," and a most unusual anti-military protest.
Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (2004) ***
Strange and erotic Japanese film about a prostitute who gets shot in the head and becomes a genius. She becomes sexually excited by the mere thought of philosophy and poetry and considers making love while discussing “The Wasteland”. The best scenes are hallucinogenic dream sequences involving the cloned finger of George Bush.
Glass Lips/Blood of a Poet (2007) ***
Compelling experimental film by poet/ film maker Lech Majewski opens with a shocking shot of a baby crying with an umbilical chord tied to a rock. It’s a semi sequel to Cocteau’s “Blood of A Poet.” It is made up of 33 short films that were originally shown separately, and the unifying concept is that a mental patient may be dreaming it all. The film is filled with haunting images don’t always mesh.
Gothic- Zero (1987) - Lord Byron and the Shelleys gather on the night that "Frankenstein" was created. Ken Russell's visual garishness and pomposity reach new highs. Despite the talent, this film is unwatchable.
Grave Indiscretion (1996) ***1/2
Crafty and sinister butler works behind the scenes to manipulate his employer. Kind of like a black comedy version of “The Servant.” I much prefer the original title, “Gentlemen Don’t Eat Poets.” When you hear his recent world muzak, it’s hard to remember there was a time that Sting was once considered cool.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) **1/2
Passable poor man's "Mean Streets" based on a memoir by Dino Montel. It features a scene with a new Scottish student in a mostly Italian-American school that recites an undistinguished poem about America . A fine supporting cast (including Chazz Paliminteri and Robert Downey Jr.) helps but we've seen it all before in better films (such as "A Bronx Tale" instead).
Habit (1997) ***1/2
-Man starts a relationship with a seductive young woman and he begins going through big changes. He could be becoming a vampire or an alcoholic depending on how you look at it. Larry Fessbenden's film is one of the best recent low budget horror films and it was shot in Chicago to boot. Appropriately enough, at one point the hard drinking protagonist reads a Dylan Thomas poem.
This film was made by the formerly shocking cult director, John Waters. It includes a funny scene that depicts two beat poets, played by Pia Zadora and former Cars leader, Rick Ocasek. Waters portrays them as a literary equivalent of carnival freaks (Ocasek ends his performance by smashing his head through his drum). The film is a perfect slice of self-conscious schlock. The 2007 musical version was entertaining, but the original simply cannot be beat.
Haunted Summer **1/2
(1988) - An extremely unusual dramatization of life with the Shelleys. Not quite as unwatchable as the similar "Gothic", released the same year.
Henry Fool (1998) ***1/2
Typically eccentric Hal Hartly feature has developed a cult following. The plot involves a bohemian writer/garbagman Henry who inspires his friend, Simon to write. Simon becomes a big media success and Henry stays obscure. Odd but rewarding
A Heron for Germany , (1988) No Rating
Loukas Kostoglou is a poetry publisher, and his assistant Marios, is in love with a woman named Nina. I couldn't find this one, either.
Hip Hop Poetry Jam Volume 1 (2002) ***
Some of the featured poets are excellent and others are mundane. The film leans more towards spoken word than poetry and the quality of the performances is often better than the actual works. The Mumia poem by Mark Gonzales is passionately delivered, topical, and compelling. The extreme rapid fire delivery can become a bit tiresome but the film works best if you see it in individual segments. Highlights include the Barrett Browning inspired "Miss Kimm's ”I Love You This Much" which also updates Marvell and courtly love conventions.
Heart Beat **
(1980) - A good cast (Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek and John Heard) is featured in this exploration of the incident that inspired Jack Keroauc's "On the Road".
Hedd Wyn (1995) ***
True tale of a Welsh farmer who enters a poetry contest under a pseudonym. Before he can finds out that he won, he gets shipped off to fight in WW II.
The History Boys (2006)***1/2
Succesful film adaptation of Alan Bennett's play about poetry teacher at an all boys school who is crucified by the educational establishment. The twist is that he sometimes crosses the line and has an unhealthy attraction to one of his students.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1985) ***1/2
The satiric film (and book) has a group of aliens that use bad poetry to drive their prisoners to suicide as an ingenious plot device. The aliens give their prisoners a choice between enduring a poetry reading by a terrible poet or committing suicide by jumping from their space ship (most choose to jump). There's no truth to the rumor that one of the poet was based on Rod McKuen. I recommend the book over the film because poetry buffs can avoid the uneven special effects. I haven’t seen the newer version yet.
Holy Smoke (1999) ***1/2-
Underrated film about sexual power dynamics is about a young woman who turns the tables on a cult deprogrammer. It also makes use of Philip Larkin's "Ignorance.”
I am a Sex Addict (2005) ***
This fairly diverting documentary is about a sex obsessed artistic type who gets a thrill out of approaching and rejecting prostitutes. It was directed and written by the promising film maker, Cayeh Zahedi. .The film is highly autobiographical, and the audience’s reaction may depend upon how well they like the director/narrator. It chronicles how he eventually overcame his unhealthy sex habits, and became more stable and happy. He is painfully honest, and at one point he admits every lustful thought he has until he drives his wife away. Earlier, he had left the woman he truly loved to make a film on Rimbaud in France with a suicidal psychopath. Of course, once he gets to France , he cannot raise the funds to make the film. “I am A Sex Addict” is interesting, but occasionally lapses into self-indulgence.
see http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/rmc/V_2005/various%20number%202%20oct%208%202005.htm#I%20am%20a%20Sex%20Addict for the whole review.
I Captured the Castle (2003) ***
Matthew Arnold's " Dover Beach " is quoted in this tale of a dysfunctional family
If I Were King (1938) **
Ronald Coleman won an Oscar for his portrayal of a poet in this now obscure film. Rathbone is at his hammy best as a monarch. The script by the comedic genius, Preston Sturges was not one of his finest moments.
II Position/The Postman (1994) ****
Many may be put off by the sentimentality of this live story, but this film left me with renewed respect for Pablo Neruda's work. This film broke the record for foreign film attendance in America , which means that it probably earned slightly less than "Men in Black" did in a week. (This makes me want to immigrate in Canada .)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979) ***
The former "Julia" star, Diahann Carol, is convincing in this adaptation of Maya Angelou's memoirs.
I’m Not There (2007) ***1/2
Bob Dylan’s story is told with six different people (including an African American boy and a woman) playing his different personas in Todd Hayne’s fine but uneven biopic. One of the personas seems to blend Dylan with his idol, the French symbolist poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Cate Blanchett makes the most convincing Dylan, and Gere is the worse (although he seems to be intentionally playing Bob Dylan as a bad actor played Billy the Kid. “Palindromes” had a similar concept and it was a little stronger.
Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (1995) **1/2
Reasonably engaging film of the growing attraction between two high school girls includes some recitation of Walt Whitman's works.
In the Cut (2003) **1/2
Erotic thriller featuring Meg Ryan' was one of Jane Campion's lesser efforts. But it does use Meg Ryan against type and it features John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci."
In Your Shoes (2005) ***1/2
This sensitively drawn melodrama is about the relationship between a spontaneous, hedonistic woman and her frumpy, inhibited sister. The director, Curtis Hanson has a rep for getting great performances out of limited actors. Here, he gets the best ever performance out of Cameron Diaz, and this is her finest film except for "Being John Malkovich." "In Her Shoes" benefits from great chemistry between Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz (as the sisters.) A terrific scene celebrates the pure power of poetry. A retired professor uses Elizabeth Bishop's "Art of Losing" poem to teach the a dyslexic person how to read, and some lines from an E.E. Cummings poem are also used .See http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/rmc/I_2005/in_her_shoes.htm for the complete review
The Kite Runner (2007) ***1/2
Effective Oscar bating film features an Afghani boy who tries to make up for a wrong that he committed in his youth by adopting a youth. One of the films characters recites a philosophic and evocative poem by Rumi which begins with "If we come to sleep/we are the drowsy ones." For the full text of the poem in both English and the original Farsi go to http://www.scribd.com/doc/81293/The-Kite-Runner-Khaled-Hosseini.
Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) *1/2
(Robert Bolt's account of Lord Byron's mistress was the source material for this flat, unsuccessful and hard to watch film (his writing's usually electrifying).
La Ricotta (1962) ***1/2
In this mini-film, Orson Welles acts as Pier Paolo Pasolini's unofficial mouthpiece. Welles recites an intriguing Pasolini-penned poem that positions its author as a hybrid of classicism and modernism. Pasolini himself directed this fascinating and controversial passion play parody (a pre-cursor of "Jesus of Montreal"). This was included in the anthology film, "RoGoPag".
The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997) **
This film has some good moments and a great sound-track, and it probably taught me more about self indulgence than beat literature, but at least it prevented Keanu Reeves (he reputedly idolizes the beats) from starring in a second (groan) "Speed" film. Neal Cassidy plays less of a cad here than he did in "On the Road".
La Vie de Boheme (1992) ***1/2
Aki Kaurismaki's absurdist-influenced film depicts the life of three struggling anti-establishment artists: a composer, a poet and a painter. The source novel was also the inspiration for Puccini's opera of the same name.
Le Lectric/The Reader (1989) ***1/2
The enchanting French actress Miou-Miou plays a literary prostitute. She gets paid to read texts (including poetry) to her admirers. In the United States , we call this newscasting.
Letters from the Park (1989) ***1/2-
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing is impossible to beat, but this works well on its own terms. A gifted poet named Pedro is hired to pen correspondences between and Maria and Juan, a man and a woman in a budding romance. Of course, Pedro also begins to fall for her. The poet claims that poets are like prostitutes because they both live from what those in love pay them. The Cuban film master, Tomas Guiterrez Alea (" Death of a Bureaucrat ") directed this highly literate and entertaining twist on "Cyrano de Bergerac." In Spanish with English sub-titles.
The Libertine (2005) ****
A magnificent, sublime biopic/costume drama which follows the exploits of John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, in 17th century London. The earl wrote excellent formalist verse and plays, and he was a contemporary of Dryden. Johnny Depp is typically superb as the self-hating, destructive, womanizing alcoholic anti-hero, Wilmot. He gets one last chance to please Charles II (John Malkovitch in a false nose), when the monarch commissions a play from him. The married Wilmot also tries to coach and romance a temperamental actress. An extremely erotic and ultimately tragic drama that will leave you shaken. This film is scheduled to be released in Chicago until January, and it deserves multiple Oscar nominations. To read some of Wilmot's poems go to http://www.ealasaid.com/fan/rochester/artemesia.html. The web page includes a scathing attack on Charles II. It will be released in Chicago in early 2006.
Looking for Langston (1989) ***
This experimental short explores Langston Hughes's sexuality, and it does a good job at capturing the Harlem Renaissance/ Cotton Club ambience. It also uses some striking homoerotic Robert Mapplethorpe photos
Love Jones ***
(1997) - This film helped focus some well-deserved national attention on the Chicago Poetry Scene. It concerns a man attempting to woo a female with a sensual poem, which initially turns her off because it's sexually bold. They fall in love and separate when she takes an out-of-town job. Audience members can probably guess the rest. The film is redeemed because it gives rare glimpses into Chicago 's African-American poetry scene. Many scenes were shot at the seminal Chicago poetry place, the Green Mill, but Marc Smith is conspicuously absent. It does feature a poem from Maria McCray, and cameos by many others (I worked on the film as an extra but didn't make the Silver Screen).
Love the Hard Way (2003) **1/2
Adrien Brody is a two bit conman who extorts money from businessmen by catching them in the act with actresses that he hires to play prostitutes. A female college student sees through his tough guy exterior. He is secretly a closet intellectual who loves poetry.
Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) **
Creaky and dated dramatization of the unhappy life of the literary icon including his often-tragic dealings with women.
Lucky Night (1939) ***
Screwball comedy about in which a rich society woman (Myrna Loy) marries a starving poet (Robert Taylor).
Man Bites Dog (1992) ***1/2
This Belgium-made art film is about a poet-reciting serial killer. He is followed by a newsman who records all his murders. This violent and misanthropic film is a far more intellectually satisfying attack on the media than Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers.”
(1921)- This short avant-garde film reputedly juxtaposes shots of Manhattan with quotations from Walt Whitman, but I have not been able to find it.
A Merry War (1998) ***
Gordon Comstock quits his job to become a poet much to the chagrin of his fiancée (Helena Bonham Carter.) Based on Orwell’s semi autobiographical novel, “ Keep the Aspidistra Flying." Frustrating but all too true account of how leading the life of an artist can impede romance.
Million Dollar Baby (2004) ****
Superb tale of crusty trainer who reluctantly takes a female boxer under his wing. Hillary Swank is terrific and Eastwood is near the peak of his directorial powers. The poetry comes in because the Eastwood character is learning Gaelic, and he recites from William Butler Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."
Mindwalk (1991) **1/2
A long and odd discussion between a poet, a scientist, and a politician.
The Mirror (1974) ****
The films of Russian film genius, Andrei Tarkovsky's films are all extremely abstract and oblique, but they are worth exploring. In this film, he explores childhood memories and uses his father's poetry, which is recited by his dad. All of Tarkovsky's films can be seen as visual poems and there is even a book written about him called “Tarkovsky: Cinema as Poetry”.
My Left Foot (1989) ***1/2
Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful playing the unconquerable, physically challenged poet, Christy Brown. Brown created art and street-wise, humorous verse using the left foot (hence the title.)
My First Mister (2001) ***1/2
Albert Brooks is a straight laced, conservative older man who unexpectedly forges a platonic friendship with a suicidal Goth teen (Leelee Sobieski). Of course, she's a poet, and the film features a performance of her poem "Ode to My Face Jewelry Metal." This touching and unjustly ignored film is about two people from different worlds that somehow find common ground.
The Namesake (2007) ***
Engrossing film about the travails of a young Indiana man in the USA and his complicated relationship with his family. The film features a reading of the Wordsworth poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth.
No Direction Home (2005)****
Martin Scorsese's first rate Bob Dylan documentary covers his early folk days up his plane accident. It's pretty hard to lose when one of the best directors focuses his attention on one of the greatest musical icons. Bob Dylan makes a reluctant and moody "voice of his generation," and after seeing this movie, it's easy to see why he would lose his cool when confronted with incredibly inane questions from journalists. At one point Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg admits that when he saw Dylan sing, he knew the torch had been passed. It's exciting to see people's extreme reactions to Dylan's going eclectic. It's hard to imagine any musician today stirring up that kind of extreme reaction. Scorsese’s labor of love serves to humanize Dylan. This documentary is an interesting contrast to “Don’t Look Back” which makes Dylan look arrogant and unsympathetic. Excellent DVD was originally aired as a two-part PBS TV special, and the DVD adds some extra concert footage.
Nostalgia (1983) ****
Tarkovsky’s sublime film has a scene in which a poetry book in the original language bursts into flames after someone reads from a translated version.
Notre Musique (2005) ****
Jean-Luc Godard's subversive, genre-bending metafilm is a meditation on the nature of war. It mixes documentary footage, encounters between fictional characters and real people, fictional narrative material, and clips from war films. It also features an appearance by the renowned Arab poet, Mahmoud Darwich and a poetry reading by Juan Goyisolo. Highly idiosyncratic and thought provoking. One of the best films of 2005.
(1949) Surrealist masterpiece about a poet named Orphee who is attracted to death that comes out of the mirror. She appears in the form of an attractive rebellious leader of a motorcycle gang. Her followers are like prebeats.
Out of Africa ***
(1985)-A miscast Robert Redford (in real life the character was a bald intellectual) plays the man who had an extramarital affair with Isak Dinesen. Meryl Streep does a devastating recitation of Houseman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young” during the funeral scene.
The Outsiders (1983) **1/2
Mushy and oversentimental film featured many rising male stars and includes a recitation of Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" during the funeral scene.
Pandemonium (2000) ***1/2
Julian Temple's unjustly neglected film about the romantic poets, Samuel Coelridge and William Wordsworth is a feast for the eyes.
Paris, Je T'aime (2007) ***
The poet Oscar Wilde shows up in one of the shorts in this film. He plays a similar function that Bogie did in "Sleeper" and provides the right words for a man to win his true love. But the quality of these shorts about Paris range from superlative to mediocre. Still worth seeing overall.
Pierre Le Fou (1995) ****
Hysterical and subversive film about two free spirited lovers that enjoy killing people (and the man likes to read books). , and they take a cross country tip fleeing from gangsters. At times French poetry is quoted (such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire)
In the film, almost all the cinematic traits we associate with Tarantino came from Godard. In French with English sub-titles.
Pinero (2005) ***
Benjamin Bratt is fine as the controversial poet/playwright in this fair biopic. It depicts his life in a mostly linear fashion including his jail term, his role in the founding of the Nyorican Poets Café, and his rise in Broadway. Bratt’s better than the actual film.
The Pillow Book **** (1997)
This visually stunning and unconventional film successfully
fuses together literature and cinema in a new way (Words often appear on-screen the same time as images.) It also makes extremely ingenious use of lines from the Gospel of John, one of the most profound and poetic works in the Bible. The constant repletion of lines has an incantatory affect. Its director Peter Greenaway has also used his own poetry
Play Misty for Me (1971)***1/2
A subdued Clint Eastwood is a radio host who is stalked by an unstable woman who always calls and says "Play Misty for Me." Excellent precursor of "Fatal Attraction" features a recital of Poe's "Annabel Lee."
Poetic Justice *** (1993)
Janet Jackson plays a poet (she reads some of Maya Angelou’s work) named Justice and the late rapper Tupac Shakur is her love interest. John Singleton’s second feature was fine, but it was a bit of a letdown after “Boyz N the Hood.”
Poetry in Motion (1982) ****
Ron Mann's impressive compilation of poetry performances and celebrity interviews is consistently remarkable and illuminating. Highlights include inspired musical/poetry performances by Amira Baraka, and Allen Ginsberg (who proves to be a terrible singer.) Former Fugs member Ed Saunders's wacky performance is also a bizarre germ, and John Cage is terrific as well. And who could ever forget the avante garde group, the Four Horsemen?
Poet of the Wastes (2005) ****
A raw and visceral film about a romantic dreamer that works as a street cleaner in Iran . He disobeys orders an order not to get involved in the townspeople’s lives, and begins to appreciate people considered the refuse of society. He befriends a forlorn hermit who writes poetry, and falls for a sad woman mourning the death of her fiancé. He tries to cheer the woman up by sending her some of the hermit’s poems and making her think they are from a secret admirer. The hermit speaks in mostly aphoristic statements reminiscent of the ones uttered by the lead character in "Being There." He delivers all the most memorable lines in the film. His fatalistic view of his role in society is summed up when he says: "I am a cow who cannot flee the country. He stays so they can behead him in honor of his fellow citizens." He also says: "Cows consume grass and produce milk. Poets consume newspapers and produce poems." Finally, he suggests that in order to become a poet one must plant his or her feet in the ground. I saw about 15 films that played at the 2005 Chicago International Film Festival, and this one was by far the most memorable. So far it has not been distributed. For the full review go to http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/rmc/V_2005/various%20number%202%20oct%208%202005.htm#Poet%20of%20the%20Wastes%20aaa.
Possession (2002) ***
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a distinguished literary professor who has a romance with an American professor in Neil LaBute's overwrought drama.
A Prairie Home Companion (2006) ***
Robert Altman's good if somewhat overrated last film has a great ensemble cast (including Meryl Streep and a surprisingly tolerable Lindsey Lohan) as well as a recitation of Robert Herrick's "Gather Ye Rose-buds While Ye May." Somewhat less quirky and enjoyable then Garrison Keeler's radio show.
Priest of Love (1981) ***
Ian McCellan portrays the controversial English poet/novelist, D.H. Lawrence. He later went on to play Magneto in “X-men,” and James Whale in “Gods and Monsters.”
Proof (2005) ***1/2
This film features terrific acting but it could’ve been called “A Beautiful Mind part II.” The film is about a troubled and brilliant young woman who keeps seeing her departed father even after his death. Paltrow gives one of the year’s deepest, richest performances, but the film is somewhat derivative. There is a scene towards the end in which a mathematical problem is recited as if it were a poem.
Pumpkin (2002) ***
Christine Ricci (sporting blonde hair!) is wonderful in this charmingly quirky romance about a preppy sorority girl who falls for a mentally disabled man and the relationship threatens her comfortable middle class lifestyle. Her mentor is one of my all time favorite academic characters teaches her poetry class. He’s an angry man who deflates her wistful optimism, and insists, “I’m a poet not a professor.” He dismisses a horrifically cheerful poem she writes called “Ode to Pasadena .’ The film ends with her finally finishing a poem since she actually lived through some hardship and matured.
The Raven (1934) ***
This creaky but atmospheric tale was suggested by the popular Poe poem. Bela Lugosi is a talented surgeon who worships Poe. He's also a sadist who loves torture. He saves the life of a beautiful young woman then he tries to force her into marriage. He also blackmails a deformed man into assisting him (Karloff who does a great variation on his Frankenstein monster routine.) The film isn’t very scary but Karloff evokes great sympathy. Director Lew Landers later went on to direct the mediocre, "Return of the Vampire" with Lugosi. One of the highlights is a weird sequence in which a woman dances to "The Raven" poem.
The Raven (1963) ***1/2-
Delightfully hokey performances and cheesy special effects make this horror comedy a trashy delight. For once, Vincent Price is a good guy. He's a reluctant sorcerer who is forced to use his powers when he is challenged by an evil mage played by Boris Karloff. The rest of the cast is also wonderful. The hilariously belligerent Peter Lorre keeps turning back and forth from raven to human form, and a teen Jack Nicholson plays his dashing son. Hazel Court is Price's wicked wife, but we're not sure if she is alive or a ghost. Director Roger Corman pulls out all the stops, and the film even opens with Price reciting the title poem. The magic duel at the end is spectacular.
(1996) Aristocratic man plays a game of wits in which he must insult others in verse. This medieval French practice seems like it could have been a forerunner in modern rap duels (like the one in “8 Mile.”)
***1/2 (1987) Charming, updated version of the classic, Cyrano de Bergerac with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in the leads.
Run Lola Run ***1/2
(1999)- A punk woman (Franka Potente) must find some way to get a large sum of money or her boyfriend will be killed by the mob. The film shows three potential “run” with three different possible outcomes. The opening quotation from Eliot’s “Little Gidding’ reflects the cyclical nature of the film. Check out my article on Potente and the director at http://artinterviews.com/Franka.html.
Regular Lovers (2005)***-
Black and white new wave influenced work about an unstable pacifist poet turned protester is fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Godard’s 60’s films. At one point the main character is excused of draft dodging and the lawyer defends him by saying he is a poet. This overlong film takes place at the same time and place as “The Dreamers” (it even stats the same main actor) but it is not quite as effective (it tries to demythologize everything Bertolucci glorified in that film). “Regular Lovers” played at the European Film Festival in Chicago , but has not been widely released here.
Running with Scissors (2006) *
Unendurable film is filled with every poetry bio cliché. The films has a fine cast (such as Ann Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rachel Leigh Wood). There is one hilarious scene in which the main character imagines that his mom is harshly criticizing his work in a poetry workshop environment.
Salo, 100 Days of Sodom (1975) ***1/2
The poet/political dissident/linguist/novelist/director Pier Paolo Pasolini, ended his brief but fascinating career with this shockingly sexually explicit and sometimes difficult to watch film. Unlike many of the other countercultural rebels of the period, Pasolini had no illusions about the sexual revolution. He saw sex as just another way for individuals to exert control over others (French philosopher, Michel Foucault had similar ideas.) The film features a brutal series of S and M scenarios in which the upper class humiliate, torture and rape their captives Even though it takes place in the past, the Marxist Pasolini clearly saw these scenarios as metaphors for modern societal and class power relations. The film takes place in Salo, named after a short-lived republic that the Fascists set up in World War II Italy. The structure of the town is modeled on Dante’s hell with each circle representing a different perversion. Appropriately enough the film quotes the following line from Pound ‘s Canto 99: “The whole tribe is from man’s body/The father’s word is compassion/The son’s filiality. Pasolini had earlier interviewed Pound for an English journal, but considering the context, I’m sure the line was not meant to be supportive of the poet’s ideas.
The Scarlet Pimpernal ***
Anthony Andrews stars as a royalist who poses as a shallow, doggerel spouting dandy. Jane Seymour is fine as the actress he loves, and Andrews is often amusing as the French revolution’s answer to Calvin Thrilling. The older 1935 version creaks but it has better acting, and the 1917 one is hard to find.
The Seventh Seal (1957) ****
(1957)-This classic Igmar Bergman film uses a passage from the apocalyptic the Book of Revelations to set the stage for a profoundly philosophic cinematic meditation on death, mortality, and the meaning of it all. A brilliant spoof of the dance scene appears in Woody Allen’s “Love and Death,’ and the film is also wittily lampooned in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”
The Seventh Victim (1943) ****
Superb psychological horror film with some film noir elements about a woman who leaves school and goes to the big city to search for her missing sister. She finds out that the unstable sister has fallen in with a bunch of Satanists. She also becomes part of a love triangle with her traditionally handsome brother-in-law (played believe it or not by Leave it to Beaver's Hugh Beaumont and a rather odd looking and shy poet. The film opens with the John Donne quote, “I come to Death and Death meets me as fast and all my pleasures are as yesterday”. This superb thriller was an important precursor of "Psycho" and "Rosemary's Baby," and it's one of the most fascinating and effective horror films ever. But the crowd (mostly Art Institute of Chicago students) at the Gene Siskel Center did not get it. They laughed loudly as if they were seeing "American Pie," and they almost sabotaged the film's eerie ambience. This film is part of the new and highly recommended Val Lewton box set.
Shakespeare in Love (1999) ***1/2
Romantic film that speculated about the love affair that supposedly inspired "Romeo and Juliet". Gwyneth Paltrow is the least convincing fake man I've ever seen, but she does deliver those lines well. Geoffrey Rush practically steals the film in a great comedic supporting role. The film won an Academy Award for best picture, but it’s good anyway.
The Shakespeare Mystery (1995) ****-
This amusing and informative video presents competing theories about the identity of the great bard. Some of the interviews are with smug, humorless people trying to place him in their family are hilarious. The film indirectly about how literature is exploited for tourism. Originally aired on PBS's "Frontline" and available on DVD
Slam (1997) ***1/2
Raymond Joshua plays poet, (played by real life poet, Saul Williams), a man who goes to jail on drug charges then discovers poetry. Lauren (played by real life poet, Sonja Sohn) encourages him to develop his literary talent. Both of the main characters deliver some devastating poetry performances. This life affirming film is shot in an effective and rather primitive cinema verite style
Songs from the Second Floor (2000) **** Roy Andersson’s quirky surrealist masterpiece was inspired by a poem by Caesar Vallejo. Andersson used to make commercials and his experiences fueled this witty spoof of capitalist society (it’s one of the best examples of existential humor). Don’t look for a plot just let yourself get swept along in the torrent of unforgettable images and bizarre situations.
Southland Tales (2007)***1/2 -
This dystopian fantasy begins and ends with a quote from Eliot's “The Wasteland.” It's about a porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a boxer (The Rock) who collaborate on a screenplay about the end of the world that prophesizes the real end of the world. There is also a neomarxist feminist character who recites part of a slam poem (your legislation won't stop my imagination). Like some of Terry Gilliam’s work. It alternates between being awful and brilliant, but the creative imagination that went into it make irresistible. I haven’t seen the uncut version, but unlike most critics I wanted to see more (hopefully some scenes will be restored for the DVD..)
Splendor in the Grass (1961) ****
A very young Warren Beatty co-stars with Natalie Wood in this timeless tale of thwarted love. The title comes from a Wordsworth poem with the catchy title “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” The lines are recited by Natalie Wood’s character at the end, and they perfectly reflect the film’s them of lost innocence.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) ***
Captain James T. Kirk recites a rather obscure poem by the former English poet laureate, John Masefield (1878-1967.) The poem was originally written to express love for the sea, but Kirk uses it to express his own love for the Starship Enterprise. It’s nice to know the character had time for poetry along with his womanizing and battles with aliens. As always, Shatner’s delivery is out of this world, but there is always space for improvement.
Stevie (1978) ***1/2
Glenda Jackson shines in her portrayal of British poet, Stevie Smith. Not to be confused with the recent documentary.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) ****
In the film, Blanche the literature teacher recognizes her favorite quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Mitch’s locket. In Tennessee Williams’s play, Blanche was previously married to a suicidal gay poet in based on Harte (“The Bridge”) Crane. The play also begins with a quote from Crane. They cut out most of the references in the film to protect our morals. Hooray!
So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) **1/2
The buffoonish main character’s neobeat recitations are mostly used for humrous effect. Mike Myer’s character has an extreme case of commitmentphobia and he uses his poems to attack his former girlfriends (many begin with “Woe man/ woman...”)
The Substitute (1993) **
The always-fascinating Amanda Donahue is wasted in a standard teacher from hell thriller. She reads poetry in class, seduces students, and kills her lovers.
Suddenly Last Summer (1959) ****
Monty Clift stars as a psychiatrist who is hired to treat young women who may be insane. he begins to suspect that there is something behind her delusion one of which involves a poet that is eaten by cannibals. The poet's predicament can be seen as Williams punishing himself over his guilt over being gay,
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1997) ***1/2
Glorious cinematic version of Steven Sondheim's Goth-musical is perfectly cast with Johnny Depp (the new Lon Chaney Sr.) and Helena Bonham Carter (who sings quite well). The two anti-heroes play a mass murdering barber and a woman who grinds the corpses to make meat pies. At one point Carter's character resists the idea of killing a poet in the following exchange.
Haven't you got poet, or something like that?
No, y'see, the trouble with poet is
'Ow do you know it's deceased?
Try the priest!
Sylvia (2003) **1/2
Gwyneth Paltrow (must she be in every literary film?) stars as the brilliant and self-destructive poet, and her story relationship with Ted Hughes. She gave a similar but better performance as a neurotic playwright in "The Mighty Tenenbaums." The performances are mostly competent but very little of Plath's poetry actually made it to the film. A great film may still be made about the great confessional poet's life but this isn't it.
Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983) ***
This bawdy and cheap looking film features Ben Gazarra as Charles Bukowsky and Ornella Muti is his love interest. This hit and miss film was made in Italy, and another Eurotrash Bukowsky film, “Love is a Dog from Hell” came out of Belgium.
Tank Girl (1995) ***1/2
Underrated cyberpunk fantasy about a gutsy riot grrl in post apocalyptic society who battles an evil corporation that wants to control all the water (In a way, this really happened in Bolivia). She is befriended by an intelligent mutated kangaroo sidekick (Ice-T). One of the highlights includes a poetry reading by mutant neo beat kangaroos. Featuring an early appearance by “Mullholland Drive’s” Naomi Watts and a cameo by the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop. Trashy and entertaining
Taxi: The Complete Second Season ****
The episode "Elaine's Secret Admirer (79)” is about an anonymous poet who sends Elaine love poems after she has experienced a bad breakup. One of the funniest moments is when Louie DePalma tries to claim credit for the poem and Elaine tests him by asking to recite some of his own work so he does a disgusting impromptu poem.
Tiger and the Snow (2005) ***1/2
This critically panned film is Roberto Benigni’s hilarious and humanistic updating of “Life is Beautiful.” In “The Tiger and the Snow” Benigni plays Attilio, a passionate and energetic poet/poetry professor who is great with words. Roberto Benigni reputedly named his character "Attilio" as homage to Attilio Bertolucci, the poet who was the father of great filmmaker, Bernardo (“The Conformist”) Bertolucci. Attilio is completely smitten with Vittoria (played by his real wife, Nicoletta Braschi), who of course wants nothing to do with him. He tries to woo her, but she rejects him repeatedly. As it turns out she is writing a book on a famous Iraqi poet (played by the fine French actor Jean Reno). When she goes with him to Baghdad , she is caught in an explosion. She is hurt badly, and Attilio cons his way into the country by pretending to be a Red Cross member. During most of the rest of the film he fights a desperate struggle to keep her alive, even after the doctor has given up on her. Like “Life is Beautiful,” “The Tiger and the Snow” encourages viewers (like the poet) to look for the beauty in all things. While this comedy may seem unsophisticated or opportunistic, to some, the film has a primitive purity, beauty, and healing power that has rarely been in evidence in any comedic films made after the 20s. It’s a worthy successor to both “Life is Beautiful” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.”
Till Human Voices Wake Us (2003) *1/2
Helena Bonham Carter stars in this lackluster and static love story, which plays like a mediocre “Masterpiece Theater” episode. The title comes from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and it relates to a tragedy early.
Tom and Viv (1994) ***
Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson star as T.S Eliot and his tortured and mentally unstable wife, Vivienne in this so-so biopic. Richardson inspires some sympathy, but it’s hard to care much about the other characters
A Touch of Greatness (2005) ****
A first rate documentary about a teacher who succeeds with hi students by applying unconventional and extraordinary techniques In one of the best scenes one of his kids dances to Lorca poem.
Ulysses Gaze (1995) ****
This criminally overlooked film, stars the frequent Scorsese collaborator, Harvey Keitel. It won accolades at Cannes, but it was unfairly trashed by several prominent Chicago film critics (Michael Wilmington and John Petrakis had the wisdom to include it on their top 10 lists for 1997.). This must be one of the most haunting epic films of the period. It was directed by the great Greek auteur, Theo Angelopoulos, and it’s a modernized version of Ulysses’ story transplanted to a mid nineties Sarajevo. It utilizes lines from Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets” which express the cyclical nature of human existence. Eliot was also quoted by the late, great Brando in “Apocalypse Now,” and misquoted in Woody Allen’s “Love and Death.”
The United States of Poetry (1995) ***
A fairly engaging, multi-ethnic, multi generational selection of poetry performances. It justifiably features its share of poetic song lyricists like Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, but hearing Jimmy Carter recite verse will not elevate anyone's life. The complete exclusion of Chicago performers in such a large scale performance poetry collection should be considered a criminal offense. Rumor has it that Green Mill Lounge host, Marc Smith was originally supposed to be included.
Untitled Bukowsky film ****-
I saw this video in a library around 15 years ago at the Northern Illinois Film Library when I visited DeKalb, and I don't think It was ever released theatrically. It's too homemade looking for mass consumption. Charles Bukowsky reads through a series of crudely effective poems in front of some half dazed mental patients in an asylum as he downs one beer after another. The abominable sound quality and horrid lighting were appropriate for the source material. The video did not provide a year, title, or director, and it looks like a home movie. Perhaps the film only exists in my imagination.
Uranus (1991) ***1/2
Claude Berri's ambitious film about a struggle for power among various groups in a post WW II French village.
Urrgh: A Music War (1981) ****-
A great compilation of early '80s post punk, new wave, and experimental rock performances including XTC, Devo, the early Go Gos, Wall of Voodoo, and the Dead Kennedys. The Police is the most well known act, but they do not deliver a very effective performance. Their endless, guest filled version of "Roxanne" is complete overkill. It's meant to be the climax, but it is one of the film's low points. As usual X, the Cramps, Gang of 4, Au Pairs, and Steel Pulse are excellent, and only Toyah and Invisible Sex are truly terrible. John Cooper Clarke delivers the only spoken word performance. His "Health Fanatic." is a hilarious parody of a '80s fitness craze nut. During the performance he looks and sounds a bit like the Phyllis's Musical Inn poetry host, Shag. But the German born counter tenor Klaus Nomi (he is decked out like an extraterrestrial transsexual clown) steals the show. He does both sides of a male/female duet while an unusually traditional looking band plays, and androgynous dancers prance about. Any one with even a passing interest in '80s indy rock should see it. But where's Throbbing Gristle?
A Very Long Engagement (2004) ***
Charles Baudelaire's poem "The Albatross" is quoted in this well acted but overstuffed and overlong WWW II romance. Audrey (Amelie) Tautou is charming as a woman waiting for her lost lover, but a half hour should've been trimmed.
Voices and Visions **** (1988)
A top notch thirteen part PBS miniseries which spotlights the words and lives of some of America's most beloved (and perhaps hated) poets. It also features testimonies and explications from academic scholars. The series has episodes on Bishop, Crane, Dickinson, Eliot, Frost, Hughes, Lowell, Plath, Pound, Stevens and Williams. William Carlos Williams's poetic images are brilliantly visualized in his episode. The series is often aired on channel 20, and individual episodes sometimes show up as college film series selections. A classy, invaluable resource on poets. My only complaint is that I wish there were more episodes. The mini cannon presented here definitely needs to be expanded and diversified.
Keri Russell plays a waitress who has a baby with a no good boyfriend who writes her bad poetry. The performers (especially the lead one--are all winning), but Andy Griffith almost steals the show as a grump who is warm hearted underneath.
Water (2006) ****
Emotionally powerful drama about the plight of widows in India made my top 10 films of 2006 list. At one point a widow named Kalyani meets a peaceful, modern follower of Gandhi who sweeps her off her feet by reading romantic poetry to her. To see my interview with the director, Deepa Mehta go to http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/rmc/W_2006/water.htm.
The Weight of Water (2002) *1/2
A great cast is utterly wasted in a film built around a banal mystery and dull love triangle (or is it a quadrilateral?) Catherine MaCormack (of "Dangerous Beauty" fame) plays a photographer, Sean Penn is her difficult poet husband, Josh Lucas is his brother, and Elizabeth Hurley is his seductive wife who keeps coming onto Penn's character. Penn and MacCormack travel to New Hampshire to investigate a series of murders along with the other couple, and they find out some dark secrets. This slow-paced film drifts along directionlessly, and it literally put me to sleep after the first forty five minutes.
Wilde (1998) ***1/2
Stephen Fry is outstanding as the poet/playwright/dandy who was jailed for his relationship with a younger man. Wilde’s life was also the subject of “The Man With the Green Carnation (1960)” also called “The Trial of Oscar Wilde.”
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)****
The terrifically talented poet/filmmaker from Iran, Abbas Kiarostami often uses his poems in his films including this one. He was supposed to lecture in Chicago, but he was detained in post 911 hysteria,
Wings of Desire (1988) ****
n Wim Wender’s book of essays, “The Logic of Images,” he claims that this
classic was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Dunio Elegies” as well as a song by the Cure. Rilke’s eighth elegy perfectly captured the central character’s dilemma (“And we, spectators, always everywhere/looking at, never out of, everything.’). He is a voyeuristic angel that cannot participate directly in mortal events. Later, he becomes mortal to be with his true love, a gorgeous trapeze artist. Followed by the disastrously titles sequel, “Far Away, So Close.” The Hollywood remake, “City of Angels” is an abomination, which discards everything that made the original special.
The Wolf Man (1941) ****
In the beginning part of the film, future lycanthrope, Larry Talbolt (Lon Chaney Jr.), hears a folksy poem, which foreshadows his own verse. The film’s a high water mark in ‘40s horror. It’s makeup and characterization is far superior to the earlier “Werewolf of London,” Unfortunately most of its sequels were nothing to howl about.
Words in Your Face (1991) ****
Superior, eclectic collection of confrontational spoken word and performance poetry videos which often have quick, MTV style cuts. It was originally aired on PBS's "Alive from Off Center." Punk poet, Henry Rollins is a perfect but occasionally frightening host. A great alternative to the usual dry academic poetry specials. Dub poet, Mhabaruka's piece is especially powerful. More impressive and consistent than the more ambitious "The United States of Poetry." This would be a perfect way to get students interested in performance poetry but it is not available on video or DVD.
This irreverent and wickedly funny film that can be roughly classified as an absurdist biopic, and it was made by the inventive poet/painter/film maker/producer, Lech Majewski (In the US, Majewski is best known for writing the screenplay for Julian Schnabel’s visually arresting art biopic, “Basquait.”) The film has some of the most artful black and white photography since “The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001),” and the abrupt transition shots are often accompanied by loud booming noises which serve to decenter the viewer even more than the story. “Wojacek” is about a mentally unstable and self destructive poet. The film is based on the life of Rafal Wojaczek, the great Polish poet who took his own life in 1971 at the age of 26. Wojaczek inspired future generations of Polish poets who struggled against the shackles of communism. Interestingly enough, instead of using an experienced actor, the film stars a modern poet, Kryzystof Siwczyk, who is utterly convincing in the title role. In his debut, he even managed to get nominated for best actor at the European film awards. Rafal Wojaczek, is depicted as an iconoclastic rebel in the film. When he isn’t writing great poetry or making profound statements, he is creating chaos or trying to kill himself. Rafal’s erratic behavior seems to be in part a response to communist oppression and repression, and there is some sly political commentary in the film. At one point, we see a sign which reads “The Party Steers All Energy,” and the film jumps to an ironically placed scene with a couple pushing a car. In today’s world of cookie cutter films, it’s increasingly rare to see a film that is so startlingly unconventional and boldly uncommercial.
Zero Kelvin (`1995) ***
Greenland serves as a backdrop for the story of an alienated Norwegian poet who works as a fur trader.
Thanks to the former “Tunnel Rat” editor, John Biederman for permission to reprint part of this piece.
Vittorio Carli teaches at Richard J. Daley College, Moraine Valley Community College and Morton College. His film reviews appear regularly at the www.reelmoviecritic.com and he has also had many reviews in “The Star,” and “Chicago Artists News.” Visit Vittorio's website at www.artinterviews.com
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