Monday, 6 November 2006

Poetic Cinema - An Artist's Date for Poetry Thursday

This evening I went to the Poetic Cinema event, organised by Edinburgh's Filmhouse and the Scottish Poetry Library. An evening of cinema inspired by poetry. Including three film poems from Margaret Tait Where I Am Is Here (1964), Colour Poems (1974) and Hugh MacDiarmid; A Portrait (1964). Although there are moments of great beauty in the first two of these and all of them offer interesting historical snapshots, I felt that they lacked coherence and any sense of either direction or wholeness.

Much more interesting and successful for me was Neil Kempsell's visual interpretation of Sorley MacLean's poem Hallaig, about the tragic loss and memories of a highland community on the Island of Raasay. This is a stunning film of animated characters moving over filmed broken houses and landscape, as if the ghosts of the original inhabitants have returned. The soundtrack was wonderful too, composed by Martyn Bennett.

The evening ended with Bernard MacLaverty's film inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem 'Bye-Child', a film of eerie beauty with a disturbing story to tell.

After the screening Bernard MacLaverty and Neil Kempsell discussed the films and some of the challenges around adapting poetry for the screen. The most interesting discussions for me centred around narrative and how to adapt a poem to fit the narrative requirements of the cinema. Of course Margaret Tait chose to sidestep any real narrative and that for me is largely why her films didn't work. However I have seen other films that have chosen to take a non-narrative, poetic approach to their subject matter and have succeeded as a more meditative type of cinema, possibly blurring the boundary with video art. The other question is how to judge how much material to add to a poem in making it a film and where is the line between the film of a poem and a film inspired by a poem?

This week, Poetry Thursday suggested we take an Artist's Date, I think this fits the bill!


Roger Stevens said...

Hi. Came here via Liam Wilkinson's blog - only to discover you were my next port of call anyway. I love Liam's poems - and he doesn't get a lot of visitors - I don't think he travels very far in Blogland.

We visited Edinburgh in the summer. I love the place - so much to see and do. Went to the Fringe a few years back - one of my best ever experiences. Performed some of my poems at the Children's Book festival too - which was a bonus.

Right now we're in France. I'm waiting for my other half to get up. The wood burning stove's roaring, the coffee's percing (or should that be perking?) - and it's turned eleven. What's up with her? You'd think we were on holiday or something.

ren powell said...

I haven't really thought about this before. So- I'm just going to the the thought gestate before I say anything outloud. thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad that someone is doing work inspired by Martyn Bennett. I'm a big fan.

Anonymous said...

Wish I'd gone to this, sounds brilliant. I've seen Margaret Tait's film Blue Black Permanent and whilst it's good to see Orkney, it's not a great film.

Catherine said...

I wasn't aware of any of these films. The only poem-film I know of is one shown to us many years ago at school - W H Auden's "Night Mail". Of course I heard many years later that it was an ad for the British postal service, and I think the poem was written especially for the film rather than having to be adapted. I enjoyed it very much at the time.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Roger, welcome to Crafty Green Poet. I reqally like Liam Wilkinson's poetry too, its a shame his work isn't more widely read.

Nia, I'm now also a great fan of Martyn Bennett!

Katherine - Blue Black Permanent had been on my list of films to get round to seeing some day. Now I'm not so sure. She is supposed to be a very influential director though.

Catherine, I've heard of the Night Mail film but never seen it.

ren.kat - thanks for visiting and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Do you know where I can contact the film distributors of these films for a poetry fest in New Zealand please