Poetry in Film, in Art

This post introduces the ongoing series Poetry in the Arts.

poetry
“Do you know my poetry”
– Johnny Depp as William Blake, in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man


Movie audiences have always demanded realism — or so studio executives have always thought — realism and expensive production values.It’s funny, though, if you think about it: Film is a non-realistic art form.It’s true enough that a film, unlike a play, can be shot on an actual location instead of a set. But in bringing the action to the audience, it’s the opposite. A play shows it to you live, before your very eyes, in real time. A movie shows you an artificial montage of disconnected shots taken at different times, from viewing locations and angles that may be impossible in real life, and shown at different magnifications.There are rules for making a film appear “realistic” — they evolve historically. Audiences accept and crave what they’re used to, with intermittent changes precipitated by trend-setting films.Some of us feel that one role of film criticism is to produce loud buzzing noises that prevent audiences and filmmakers from going to sleep in an endless cycle of mutual gratification. — Other critics feel their role is to praise routine work that’s skillfully done. They, and some audience members, do not like being rudely woken up.

The purpose of “continuity” is to supply shots that can be mounted together to make the audience look through what’s on the screen, as through a transparent window — to see the action that was filmed, unaware of the screen’s, or the filmmakers’, existence.

But — just as there have always been some filmmakers who feel that expensive production values are only one way to communicate with an audience — there have always been some filmmakers who feel that audiences are capable of simultaneously following both what’s on the screen and the action that the screen portrays. This method has its advantages.

It increases the complexity of the meaning that can be portrayed, because it increases the number of points of view from which the action can be seen.

It frees filmmakers to use mise-en-scene and montage for expressive purposes instead of having to use them to enforce the illusion of realism.

It means that the filmmakers and the audience could think of each other as human beings engaged in recognizable activities.

What I want to look at in this “Poetry in Art” series is: What is it that gives poetry to writing, or movies, or painting, or any work of art?

Poetry is a quality that some writing and some films have. It’s not the only way that writing can be successful or even artistic. But it is one way, a way that I respond to strongly.

Poetry in writing and in film is related to a similar quality in painting, in music, and in poems.


Table of Contents for this series: Poetry in the Arts

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