Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movies & Poetry: "A Film from the Sixties"

[Interview with Wislawa Szymborksa, The Guardian, July 15, 2000]

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (left) wrote one of the funniest descriptions of writing I've come across.

Here's what she says about the unfilmability of poets.
From her Nobel lecture, no less:
"It's not accidental that film biographies of great scientists and artists are produced in droves.
... Of course [they are] all quite naive and [don't] explain the strange mental state popularly known as inspiration, but at least there's something to look at and listen to.

"But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic.

"Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens ...

"Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?"
There may be few films about writing poetry, but poets do write poems about films. Including Szymborska.

To me, her wonderful poem "A Film from the Sixties" is like one of those riddle-poems from the Middle Ages that describe a thing and end with the question, "Who am I?"

I'll tell you my guess at the end.

"A Film from the Sixties"

This adult male. This person on earth.
Ten billion nerve cells. Ten pints of blood
pumped by ten ounces of heart.
This object took three billion years to emerge.

He first took the shape of a small boy.
The boy would lean his head on his aunt’s knees.
Where is that boy. Where are those knees.
The little boy got big. Those were the days.
These mirrors are cruel and smooth as asphalt.
Yesterday he ran over a cat. Yes, not a bad idea.
The cat was saved from this age’s hell.
A girl in a car checked him out.
No, her knees weren’t what he’s looking for.
Anyway he just wants to lie in the sand and breathe.
He has nothing in common with the world.
He feels like a handle broken off a jug,
but the jug doesn’t know it’s broken and keeps going to the well.
It’s amazing. Someone’s still willing to work.
The house gets built. The doorknob has been carved.
The tree is grafted. The circus will go on.
The whole won’t go to pieces, although it’s made of them.
Thick and heavy as glue sunt lacrimae rerum.
But all that’s only background, incidental.
Within him, there’s awful darkness, in the darkness a small boy.

God of humor, do something about him, okay?
God of humor, do something about him today.

--by Wislawa Szymborska
So, who could she be describing?

To me, those wonderful last lines give it away.

"The circus will go on" could be Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, with its crazy circus dance at the end, but the God of humor has got him well covered.

The small boy in "awful darkness" describes Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows, but how delightfully resilient the boy, Antoine Doinel, turns out to be. Way too funny.

I thought it might be Eric Rohmer, because of the reference to knees (Claire's Knee).
And Gene Hackman's character in the 1975 film Night Moves describes watching Rohmer's films as "kind of like watching paint dry." (Well, I like them.)
But still, I can't imagine any of his characters running over a cat.

I suppose the poem is a bit about all of these Sixties directors, but for my money, the answer is Jean-Luc Godard (left).

He's everything a cool French film director should be;
but if there's any leavening in his movies, godknows I missed it.


Margaret said...

The bit about filming poets made me laugh out loud - it's so spot on!

I was thinking of AnTOINE Doinel while reading the poem, myself.

Jean-Luc Godard (Jean-Luc Picard is way to close for coincidence. . . .) is one cool smoothy. I think it's appropriate to say he's a regular GQMF.
Makes me wonder if it's too late to start wearing sunglasses perpetually.

ArtSparker said...

Oh, man. That is so funny. I belonged to a film group not too long, ago, had a crush on the guy who ran it who was WAY into the Nouvelle Vague. But, I'm afraid I'm with Gene Hackman's character on this (except for Agnes Varda).

Clowncar said...

Is he really smoking that close to the film? Inches away?

That can't be wise.

Fresca said...

M & C: Right: smoking and sunglasses--very GQMF, but what kind of film editor is this?!?

SPARKY: I have to admit that one of the few films I ever walked out of was Alain Renais' "Last Year at Marienbad."

Lill said...

In honor of your encouragement in Poetry Month:

Giddings Garden News
April 21, 2010

It did not frost last night.
Fiddleheads the workman crushed underfoot
are still unfurling.
Last year’s violas reseeded, unintentional gardening triumph,
yielding yellow and cornflower-blue blooms in the brown spring garden.
Red tulips the non-gardening former owner neglected
are blooming for the first time in years.
Lungwort ML carried on the plane in a plastic bag
Shows tiny pastel blue and pink bells.

The strawberry plants were green all winter.
The “Yellow Submarine” has new leaves,
and the river birch.
Giant allium, Eli’s totem plant, are raising their fat, single bud
to be ready to celebrate his luck in May.
Lily of the valley, spiderwort, Jacob’s Ladder, coral bells,
penstemon – all are back, emerging where only weeds grew
two springs before.

The stock market is down, it is up,
people lose their homes, or do not,
a gang-banger’s bullet misses, or it hits,
a politician steals this or that city blind,
or this or that state, or this or that country,
people work hard to destroy, not to cultivate,
those headlines I will read later,
with eyes too dry, no water for those seeds.
Now I am reading the garden news:
Last night it did not frost.

Nancy L. Wade

Fresca said...

Wonderful, Nancy/Lill!
So much in it.

I love how you tell the plants' backstory --brought on a plane, especially---I remember my mother smuggling clippings of plants home from Europe.

Nice job showing the balance of human news with the news of the weather...
I find it weirdly comforting--putting things in perspective, anyway--to remember that the planet will be fine, whether we are here or not.

This is almost a poem about movies, since there's a plant named "Yellow Submarine."

Did you know there is a Captain Kirk hosta?
It is green and gold, like his two uniform tops.
I tried to order one last year, but they were SOLD OUT!

Thanks for adding to my poetry month.

Fresca said...

P.S. And "Giddings Garden"---it's like a T. S. Eliot title, eh?