48hr filmpoems! A cinepoems event.

With due tribute paid to the energy of the kino cinema movement, the cinepoems team organised a 48hr filmpoetry event in Glasgow on a dreich December weekend. 13 teams entered: exactly 48 hours later, 13 brand new filmpoems were delivered. Read on for more about the event and links to all the filmpoems, or jump to the cinepoems YouTube channel here.

The challenge was devised in a moment of creative madness, with the hope of engaging and exciting poets/film makers who were curious about filmpoetry, but hadn’t yet had a chance to explore it. The kino ethos emphasises DIY effort above all things: rough and ready is the nature of it all, thus putting less pressure on those who just want to get out and do. We prefaced the challenge with a crammer workshop introducing the context and history of filmpoetry, some of our favourite examples, encouraging the audience-participants to discuss, choose favourites, criticise, and to explore the building blocks of image, sound and text. The chimes strike 6pm on Friday, and the countdown begins.

It soon became apparent that, far beyond the wildest hopes of the cinepoems team, there was a level of collaboration happening internationally, wholly due to the initiative of participants themselves calling out for collaborators on Facebook and Twitter. We had stipulated that the films must be delivered by the deadline  to the Andrew Stewart cinema in person, in an attempt to bring some sort of structure to the event (it was loosely designated a competition, although challenge really was more accurate). Participants took full advantage of social media, apps, the possibilities of the digital and online world to team up (as strangers) between Berlin and Glasgow, and, in one case, a team operating simultaneously in Scotland, Ireland, Spain and Australia. One member from the latter team, Ally Gillon, explains:

[the ideas came together] very fast and in a Whatsapp group with the three poets on the team deciding the theme in advance (we would draw on our respective international locations and our proximity, in all cases, to rivers) . Rico suggested that we could follow a character, whom he named Riddles and we laid out a timetable for how to divide up the 48 hours, since we were all in different countries. Then on the Friday night of the event, we ​took turns to write. First Rico, then me, then Clare, each ​writing our stanzas in response to what the previous poet(s) had written.

Gonzalo and Brian waited until the poem was finished before​ Gonzalo visualised the storyboard and started sending this to Brian, who illustrated the whole thing. Brian then sent his scans back to Gonzalo, who animated them and put everything – words, sounds and visuals – together.

We didn’t use any cameras or live action. Brian’s illustration work was physical and Gonzalo did everything else on his Mac! They both worked at home collaborating closely via Internet over the weekend. It was pretty impressive.

It was hugely enjoyable to see our ideas come together. They did so as if in dialogue, since the separate parts of the poem were written in response to one another, and the visuals were created in response to the final text. We also responded to our physical surroundings, so the poets’ local rivers Hawkesbury (Sydney), Andarax (Almería) and Forth (Fife) all played a part, which I enjoyed.

The winning filmpoem

Although the emphasis is much more on the DIY challenge than the competitive element of weekend, we invited a judging panel comprised of poets and filmmakers to the screening to provide some critical context. We asked all participants to respect the 48 hour creation period, requesting that all creation, filming, sound and editing was done within this time. It’s fairly impossible to enforce this, of course, particularly when facing with teams varying from first time film makers to experienced film school graduates. Interestingly, our team of judges unanimously awarded first prize to a pair of first time film makers (although experienced poets), deeming their efforts to be the freshest and most responsive to time and place, following the logic of the physical act of making films on the streets of Glasgow to shape their filmpoem, rather than coming to it with a pre-determined idea.

We’re absolutely delighted with the complexity and variety of all the filmpoems, by the energy and sense of accomplishment that all the teams shared, by the unexpectedly international collaborations that seemed to naturally arise. And that there are now 13 more filmpoems out there, and a newfound enthusiasm on the part of the artists for this slippery, addictive artform.

Winning filmpoem – Word:Association from Fiona Stirling and Michelle Fisher.

Michelle [Fisher] and I had hoped to collaborate for a while, but hadn’t found the right project. The 48hr event offered us a set structure, with an interesting goal. Importantly, neither of us had any experience in this area, so it was a real adventure together. We really had no knowledge of filmpoetry, what it entailed, or what it required, so it was a bit of a gamble working with someone new with such a tight turnaround. However, from our first discussion about the project we found our ideas flexed and intertwined to create a concept we were both excited about. I think it helped that we have similar humour and philosophies about life and living. Michelle is also someone who works from her gut, and we would often be led to a creative choice through her ever reliable goosebumps.

Our idea continued to evolve throughout filming, as we adapted to batteries dying and light fading. It really helped that Michelle had the confidence to approach strangers and ask permission to film – this is something I never could have done alone, and it got some of our most powerful images.’ (Fiona Stirling)

  • Second Place: HONEY – co-created by: Dan Minghella, Anna Rising, Max Syed-Tollan, Andrew Ward, Toby Wilson and Yvonne Zhang.
  • Third Place: Gag – co-created by: Annelyse Gelman (Berlin) and Martin Collet (Glasgow).

For me the challenges were more learning as I went as this was my first foray into film poetry, so the workshop was invaluable ( I used imovie), and the technical bits were a real learning curve. Doing it all in 48 hrs added to the excitement, you saw me running to get it in on time! Seeing my work in the big screen was simply amazing and everyone else’s of course. I’m so delighted and excited to have been involved.’ (Janet Crawford, Beacon)

The filmpoems
*the winning filmpoem – Word:Association – is shown above, as is Deciphering The Dust. The team who produced Gag requested that their filmpoem was not added to the channel. Details of the participating teams and artists can be found by clicking through to the details for the videos.

 


Tiredhappycrazy. The cinepoems team, judges, and participating filmmakers and poets.

Richy Carey: Sound Advice

BAFTA Award winning sound artist Richy Carey offers some thoroughly useful practical advice on recording sound for film poetry.

Recording film sound can seem less instantly gratifying than shooting the images. It’s more ephemeral and less conspicuous, and it’s an investment in terms of time and energy for what might not seem like the eventual focus of the film. When was the last time you heard someone say I can’t wait to hear the new Star Wars film? But it is the sound of your film that carries your work to the audience. The patterns of light and sound waves entwining as they unfold from the screen are the contour lines along which your poetry walks, and taking time to think about what the sound of your film says about your work will amplify your imagery and your poetry.

What follows is a bit of a checklist for recording sound for your film poetry, written on the assumption that you might not have done a lot of a sound recording previously. It will hopefully help you think about where and why the sound of your film poetry meets the images you create, as well as just giving you some practical advice to help speed up what can seem like a laborious process.
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1 What do you want to hear?
Much like planning your shots for filming, you should always first sketch out what you want the audience to hear. Find some examples of recordings/films that you like the sound of and try and think about why you like them. What can you hear in them and how might you come close to replicating it? This is true for working in the studio as well as when out doing field recording.

Fig 1: A very quick sound sketch.

It’s really difficult to improvise when you are also thinking about the technicalities of recording, so spend some time making a list of all the things you know you want to get recorded and do them first. Then you can go back and try other things out. This way you’ll quickly build up a bank of sounds and get to making sooner.

2 Monitoring.

Try and make sure that the speakers or headphones you are listening back on when recording are the best you can get your hands on. What the recording sounds like when you record it is more or less what it will sound like when it is played back to the audience. Cars, wind, electrical hum, etc. can be taken out when you are editing, but doing so severely compromises the quality of your recording. Do your best to make sure what you can hear when you make the recording is what you would be happy for your audience to hear at the end. This will also reduce the amount of time you need to spend editing or trying to cover up unwanted sounds later in the mix.

Microphones.

There is a world of microphones out there and for the most part they are not cheap. Much like cameras however, it’s not how big or expensive they are but what you do with them that counts. Different microphones are made for different things and it is important that you know which one you are using and how best to use it. When filming, the most common type of microphone used is a shotgun microphone. These are very good for using outdoors and at a distance from the source you want to record. X/Y microphones, like the kind you get on zoom recorders, are great for close up field recording, ideal for collecting sounds that you will use later in the work and they can also be useful for recording voice. The third is a condenser microphone, much like you’ll see in a recording studio. Excellent for recording voices or other sounds in a controlled environment – not good for outdoors (they are very delicate) and not good from a distance.

Whatever type of microphone you use, be it the one on your phone or something upmarket, make sure you try it out at different distances from the source of the sound. This lets you figure out what type of sound you like and also think forward to the eventual shape of the work and the image you foresee it being paired with. A close up image of a bird and a recording of distant birdsong might be jarring. This can be a good thing of course, just as long as that is a decision you have chosen to make and not one forced upon you by not having made the right recording at the time.

Housekeeping.

This might seem obvious, but once you start recording you’ll quickly amass a long list of .WAV or .MP3 files with memorable names such as 00011463.WAV. When recording using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Reaper, Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, Garageband or even Final Cut, etc. make sure to name the track you are recording on to. This makes it much easier to edit yourself, or pass on to someone else to edit, as it will automatically name your file something sensible. Similarly, when you are out field recording, say what you are listening to into the microphone at the start of the recording. This means that when you come to transfer them on to your computer you only need to listen to the start of the track to know what it contains.

Editing.

As I have mentioned there are lots of DAWs you can choose to use to edit your recordings into one homogenous audio track. They all have their ups and downs, but one that is initially free, has excellent tutorial videos on its website to help you, and can be used to edit to video, is reaper.fm. Of course whatever you are used to will likely be the best option for you.

There are only a couple of tips I would initially give for recording which will help you in the edit, and again these are as true for studio recording as they are for filming and field recording.

  • Let the tape roll a bit before and after your recording. As with film, give it a few seconds from hitting record before you start to speak into the mic or move to the sound you want to capture. Similarly give it a few seconds at the end before hitting stop. It’s really easy to trim a long recording short, but impossible to extend a track if you have stopped it too early and clipped off the last bit of dialogue or not allowed the sound to naturally fade out.

  • Avoid clipping. This is when you see the meter on your recording device go red and means that your gain setting is not right. A clipped audio file will distort and sound noticeably poor. It is not possible to fix clipping in the edit as it’s part of the original recording. To avoid clipping, if possible test out your source by either asking them to do the loudest part of their performance or, in the case of field recording getting as close to the source as you are likely to get in the recording. Adjust your gain level so that you get a good, strong recording level but make sure that it’s not too close to the red. Always anticipate that when recording a voice or performance, the performer will be more animate, and therefore louder, during the actual take than they are when you ask them for a test run.

Sculpting.

The language we use for sound is a physical one. When we talk about sound we talk about its texture, shape, size, weight and materiality. Try to think about your sonic composition as if it were a sculpture. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How does one substance meet another? How and where does it entwine with the image and the poetic object?

Practically speaking, it’s useful to think about the frequency spectrum and where the sounds in your work sit within it. If you have a speaking voice as part of your work, introducing other sounds that are in the same range of the spectrum can muddy the mix, making it difficult to hear both the voice and the other sounds no matter how much you adjust the volume of each. A broad palette of textures and frequency ranges will give colour to your mix and also allow you to experiment with different audio-visual relationships.

The {sound-image-language} object.

This is a term I use that helps me think about the rhizomatic, dynamic structure of film, what Umberto Eco might call a “complex interplay of motive forces”1. The sound, image and language of film are in a state of constant flux, vying for attention and continually impressing their agency on each other and you. When you are constructing a {sound-image-language} object, it makes sense to be as responsive as possible to the unexpected ways they might meet and change each other.

As such, I’d advise being flexible with the film and audio editing process. Don’t just edit the film to ”completion”, and then make the sound, or vice-versa. Try to be editing each at the same time. You might find that there are moments in your editing process where the poetry and sound really connect to say something that contradicts the image at that point in the film. If so, change the film. Similarly, with the sound or the poetry. Let each part of the process inform the construction of the other.

Make a decision.

When you do something, make sure you know why you are doing it. This seems obvious, but when you are working with recording devices, cameras or DAWs it can be really easy to let the technology make the decisions for you. Knowing what you want to record and finding the right sound is great, but equally so is just hearing something you like and going with it intuitively. In both cases however, you can say to yourself that you got that sound because you wanted it. Your choices are what give your recording character, and are where you can make the sound of your film poetry insightful, artistic and personal.

Richy is a sound artist, filmmaker and academic. He makes films about the way we listen to film, and writes about the language we use to talk about film. You can see some of his work or get in touch at www.richycarey.com.

1 Eco, U., 1989. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Eco was speaking about graphic scores, but the field of interplay which he talks about is as applicaple to film as it is to the open scores he is discussing here.

‘Then film is absolutely immaterial as it is seen. It’s light moving in time.’ Bridget Tempest: My Aesthetic

Still from ‘Nostos’, Bridget Tempest, 2016.

Bridget Tempest is an artist based in Skipton, Yorkshire, where she lectures in Printmaking, Film Studies and Contextual Studies at Craven College. Specialising as a printmaker, she has in recent years made film another central component of her practice, in works which combine prints, moving images, text, music and voice. These quiet but exquisite works, playing on the tension between the rhythms of art and the rhythms of nature are, she says, a way of making images ‘ambiguous and subjective’, and of exploring the relationships between landscape and the self. We asked Bridget a few questions about what motivates her work, the role that film plays within it, and the ways in which it might be considered ‘poetic’.

1) Can you say a little about your printmaking practice, and how it relates in your work in film?

The way that all works on paper are framed (mount and glass and frame) seems to be unavoidable: I suppose I was looking for something else. As an artist, if you want to get your work into a show or a competition, you have to submit the image online. Already it’s dematerialised, having become data on a screen.

Actually it’s more of a story, how it came about, my dalliance with film. Freddy, my 18 year old nephew had just come back from rehab again. That was the routine. He’d come back and he was funny and clever and looking really well. We had lunch at Whitechapel Gallery and I took him to see John Stezaker’s haunting collaged photographs. Over a cup of tea, I showed him photographs of some work I’d recently finished, a series of over 40 monoprints, the topic of which was Addiction. He’d really liked them and asked if he could show some friends and we left it at that. It was the last time I saw him because a month later, the lad was only a puppet, barely able to function and then he was dead of an overdose.

After his funeral, his sister helped me put the pictures into a film using Imovie with one of Fred’s beautiful songs as a soundtrack and it was played at his wake.

This ignited my interest in film as an adjunct to print for its capacity for narrative and its economy of space. I liked the possibility of a vertical narrative alongside a horizontal sequence of events.

However, I knew that I wasn’t interested in animation, the obvious route. Film as a language or a medium has so many different aspects that the more these are considered, the richer the creative potential becomes.

Still from ‘Blueprint’, Bridget Tempest, 2014.

2) Following on from that question, what are some of the challenges of making films, as compared with making prints?

This is an interesting question because the obvious answer would be technical. Film is now a digital medium and you have to learn the editing programme. That was really difficult for me but I had a student who showed me the basics of Final Cut Pro. Then I experimented using YouTube videos and Dummy manuals. Mostly everything went wrong or I couldn’t do what I wanted so had to invent ways of getting there. Accident and chance were my most faithful accomplices!

The more important answer is the challenge of moving out of a spatial medium into a temporal one. Print is a process that is dependent on materials. Your matrix is lithographic stone, or copper, or zinc or wood. The different textures, the feel and connotations of the substance you are working with and into, exert their own presence on the character of the marks you make. It’s a sensual experience working with materials that carry all sorts of connotations, especially considering they are materials from the natural world: stone, wood, copper.

A print is an object and possesses subtle textures, from the velvet depth of black of a drypoint to the palest washes of a lithograph, and these are acknowledged and exploited by the artist printmaker.

Then film is absolutely immaterial as it is seen. It’s light moving in time (to borrow the title of a book on experimental film by William Wees). The spectator can only respond to its ephemeral array of moving light through recognition, through the way that photographs register time. We must relate the images portrayed as shadows to previous experience in order to make sense of it (ideas which follow from reading Henri Bergson)

Tarkovsky memorably described film as ‘sculpting in time’. When you edit film, you engage with something more to do with music or words, finding rhythm and timing in your composition. It’s completely different from organising marks in space.

There are similarities in the way you can layer disparate images together in quite a random way within the editing programme. When you are making a print, you lay the paper over your printing plate so you can’t see what will happen. That’s the exciting part. I do the same with film, layering footage with scanned prints in quite a haphazard way. I heard the American experimental filmmaker Leighton Pierce talking about the excitement he got from film being similar to his practice as a ceramicist, taking work out of a kiln. As soon as I can predict what will happen with a print, I have lost interest. Not quite being in control of a medium leads to all sorts of unexpected collisions so that suddenly you find the image embodies exactly the idea you had wanted to convey.

Recognising the specifics of your medium doesn’t curtail your engagement with it. For example, for a poet, whose medium is the word, (which includes sound and performance), film can be used as a means of recording the event or it could be something else The challenge would be to let the visual imagery complement the power of the words rather than distract and unnecessarily complicate that impact.

3) Your films encompass some or all of prints, footage, music, voice, and text. Using one of your films as an example, can you talk us through how you assembled these various parts, and why you made the decisions you did?

I’ll talk about Seclude, since I made that film with a specific outcome. I had been asked to make a painting about a house, Kirtlington Park, which belonged to my great aunt and where I lived as a child. I found I couldn’t do it at all. Nothing seemed to convey the sense of timelessness and the peculiar position of a place that hasn’t really changed over time when everything else has. I was thinking about Yves Bonnefoy’s The Arriere Pays, which represented some territory beyond, a place that may have been dreamed about or may not exist at all. My father spent his war years based at Kirtlington and he is part of a sheet of time that’s almost disappeared. I used his voice for the connotations of the elegiac timbre as he describes the lake. The music is from Arvo Part’s collaboration with Gerhard Richter at the Manchester Festival a couple of years ago which I recorded on my phone and the other music is from a friend’s record player and I have no idea what it is but it seemed to fit. Contrasting montage filmed in the kinds of alien places where I might have been thinking about Kirtlington seemed to evoke its particular peace.

4) Are there any lessons you have learned in your experience of making films which you would like to share with our readers?

I do feel I’m just flailing around in the dark with my films! I’d say to your readers that it’s been very helpful for me to understand a bit about film and there’s plenty of critical theory around. The specifics of a medium are a good framework. (Rosalind Krauss writes about medium.)

Digital programmes like Premiere and Final Cut are pretty easy to work but they’re easy for anyone. The problem is to find your own voice. I’d imagine that for a poet, used to words and not images, it’s a different symbolism and you have to be careful that the word and the image enhance each other or play against each other but not fight each other.

Ian Hamilton Finlay found a wonderful synthesis working across media with his concrete poems, even using nature herself as his palette at Little Sparta.

5) We at All These New Relations are obsessed with the idea of the ‘filmpoem’ and how ‘poetry’ might be realised outside of its conventional ‘habitat’. While you don’t describe yourself as a ‘poet’, I wonder if you have any thoughts on the ‘poetic’ qualities of film-as-medium?

I think there are many examples of films that are already poetic, from Tarkovsky to Antonioni. What you would be doing, is making something that is as succinct as a poem and includes all the elements that make it a poem but in visual terms. I keep thinking about a film I saw by Sean Martin called Koan 2. It’s absolutely everything that a poem is but in film.

6) What has been your experience of viewers’ responses to your films, as compared (perhaps) with responses to your prints? Are viewers’ expectations different, and if so, do you work with that in mind?

When people see my films, they are included within installations, so they are seeing the prints at the same time. On the whole, as a new experience, I haven’t had to explain much. They seem to get them. Reactions vary. One lady was furious and said she’d never seen anything so ridiculous in her life, whereas a few minutes later, someone wept, saying she didn’t know why she was so moved. Part of one installation is feedback people are invited to write with coloured pens on prepared card and these are then incorporated into the work. I must admit, I never really consider the viewer when I’m making the films. I’m afraid I’m only trying to get it right for myself!

7) Where do you see your work in film developing in future?

I’m a bit obsessed with finding a way to integrate the print with the film in terms of how to show them together. One thing that always bothers me is the apparatus that film requires for it to exist. The print as an object is so simple – it’s just there and you bring your attention to it, whereas the film needs you under its own time. You also need sockets and projectors and bulbs and health and safety and technicians and it’s never ending……

I’d like to be able to set up a way of using light and mirrors or lenses so that the film and the print can exist together autonomously.

I found Miriam Hansen’s article “Benjamin, Cinema and Experience: ”The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology” very interesting for many reasons, one of which was the implications of apparatus.

Still from ‘Nostos’, Bridget Tempest, 2016.

8) Can you recommend any poets and/or artists working in film that our readers might enjoy?

Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, for a start!

Zata Kitowski brought a PoetryFilm project to Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick in 2015 and she showed a selection of films celebrating and exploring this genre.

Maryam Takafory makes beautiful contemplative films that include text about own experience as an Iranian exile and as a woman. Sean Martin’s short films are poetic meditations with poems as soundtracks.

There’s the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick every year and the Artist’s Film Biennale at the ICA where many filmpoems are shown, though not necessarily labelled as such. You’ll probably find some experimental filmmakers protest that their films are already poems.

I don’t spend that much time on the internet so am not really the best person to ask, but more and more artists are crossing and mixing media so it’s an exciting new territory to explore.

Ripened Eyelids: the Cinepoems of Benjamin Fondane

Benjamin Fondane

Each issue we’ll focus the lens on a poet of the past whose work, though perhaps overlooked in its and our time, paves the way for the spirit we wish to capture in All These New Relations. Here, academic and translator Andrew Rubens introduces the innovative work of the early modernist poet Benjamin Fondane.

‘With a miraculous suppleness the letters come apart to form words half-intelligible half-absurd’
Horizontal Bar (Cinepoem no. 2), Benjamin Fondane, translated by Leonard Schwartz

Romanian-French Modernist Benjamin Fondane’s turn to cinema was precipitated by a crisis of language. (Dis)affected by the turbulent culture of the early 20th Century, his faith in the redeeming power of poetry was shattered by the catastrophe of the First World War. Like the Dadaists and Surrealists he associated with, from the ruins of art for art’s sake he began to explore different media, including photography, theatre, word games and philosophical essays. Language could no longer be taken for granted, but he began to reconfigure its broken pieces into new kinds of poetry. His jobbing work as a screenwriter and his encounters with the filmic experiments of acquaintances like Germaine Dulac and Luis Buñuel perhaps made his engagement with cinema inevitable. But it was also the respite from language offered by silent cinema, ‘totally free from rational discourse and the norms and limits which it engenders (Michel Carrassou) which attracted him.

An interest in media is an interest in translation, in the capacity for events, subjective states and concepts to be approached through different modes. As with many ‘avant-garde’ poets and artists, Fondane’s mistrust of the capacity for one set of forms to fully reach what they seek to express led to a breakdown of the boundaries. Finding freedom in the averbal outlet of film, he produced a paradoxical response, engaging with it through writing. His Three Scripts: Cinepoems, published in 1928, comprises three ‘unfilmable’ screenplays, presenting around 180 scenes apiece, each running into the other in a sequence impossible to realise – except ,that is, as the silent film they project on the ‘screen’ of the reader’s imagination.

The book included illustrations by his friends Man Ray and Alexandru Brătășanu, emphasising both the overlapping of expressive genres and the interrogation of their capacities. This critical scrutiny in the midst of artistic practice also informed the draw of film for Fondane the poet: he declared cinema to be ‘the only art that was never classical’, shackled neither by tradition nor doctrine. He wrote several essays on the form, and in 1929, at the behest of Victoria Ocampo, travelled to Argentina to introduce South America to Dadaist and Surrealist film with a series of screenings and lectures.

To his annoyance, his experimentations with the poetic energies of cinema began just at the time talking pictures were making their grand entrance. Synchronous sound, in Fondane’s ears, reduced film to a conservative, conventional medium. Silent films demanded an active, imaginative engagement from the audience. Talkies generated passivity and received ideas. This rejection paralleled Fondane’s disillusionment with his former notions of poetry as clear and pure, distilling essences and revealing truths, a perspective he came to find facile and hollow. In his encounter with Dada, he came to acknowledge the opacity and indeterminacy of words, both the limits of language as communication and its endless possibilities for play. As he wrote the highly original works which came after his cinepoems, his understanding of the reader’s engagement with the poem was informed by the relationship between the cinema audience and the silent screen.

Of course, even ‘silent’ films are usually accompanied by a soundtrack. Music is communication of yet another kind, more or less free of rationalising signifiers. Given his comprehension of the absurdity and abstraction present even in the most ‘concrete’ uses of language, it is perhaps unsurprising that, frustrated by the dawn of the sound film, Fondane sought to harness the power of music when he came to actually direct his own feature. Tararira, produced by Falma Film and shot in Argentina, centred on the burlesque adventures of a group of lutists, played by the celebrated Aguilar quartet. Their adventures were entertwined with the music they arranged for the film, mixing Mozart, contemporary composers like Ravel and the Yiddish folk music of immigrants to the Americas. The film is now lost, and we can only hope that Fondane went some way to achieving his goal. ‘If I was free’, he wrote in 1933, ‘truly free, I would make an absurd film, on an absurd subject, to satisfy my absurd taste for freedom’. Perhaps there is a contradictory freedom to be found in the impossible quest for absolute freedom itself. Fondane’s exploration of the poetry which exists between different creative modes, and at the places they overlap, offers ways to pursue connection and expression. This neverending pursuit is at the centre of all artistic practice, and Fondane’s methods remain inspiring today.

from ‘Ripened Eyelids’

1        along a poorly lit wall runs the shadow of a hand and parallel to it runs a white hand with a pointing finger
2        another shadow on the same wall the pointing finger turns the other way
3        the head of a streetlamp with two candles and two flames whose human gaze
4        lunges desperately into the night: illuminating dim forms with a reflector moving right and left. signs windows hesitating over
5        a long stretch of sidewalk on which
6        a hat rolls
7        the arc of a punch
8        a dangling hand gloved in white
9        another punch
10        a pair of trousers with an impeccable crease sags
11        overalls standing in a boxer’s stance
12        a bloody nose
13        a cap on a silk scarf seen from behind
14        a black eye
15        a flaccid hand tries to catch the end of the scarf grasps nothing but air
16        a sledgehammer falls
17        a hand digging through a pocket on the ground
18        the streetlight, leaning so far that it almost falls, considers
19        the blood-drenched hat demolished by violent kicks
20        an explosion of mangnesium
21        a store window with a pale mannequin
22        wildly applauds

Andrew Rubens is an academic and translator from Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a founding member of the Association Benjamin Fondane and one of the contributing translators to Cinepoems and Others, NYRB Poets, 2016.

Five Filmpoems: Curated by Susannah Ramsay

A still from Colour Poems by Margaret Tait, 1974.


Susannah Ramsay is a filmmaker and researcher based in Stirling, Scotland. She is currently working on a PhD at the University of Stirling on the subject of ‘Experiencing the Film-Poem; Touching the Landscape, Tasting the Film: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Film-Poem through Practice and Exhibition.’ We at All These New Relations are big fans of her work (be sure to check out her meditative and lyrical West of Dalabrog). Here, she shares five of her favourite filmpoems. Together, they constitute a fine introduction to this most neglected of genres, and a remarkable showcase of poetic beauty as realised on the screen.

Some of these comments are taken from my research on the phenomenology of filmpoetry (2014-2016). To contextualise briefly, the filmpoem’s long and complex existence has manifested itself from the European avant-garde film movement of the early Twentieth Century through to the development of experimental cinema of the 1940’s, segueing into the contemporary context of artists’ moving image. As the filmpoem genre becomes increasingly prevalent we are not only seeing more sophisticated interpretations of this unique medium, but also more creative ways to screen these films, for example through site-specific exhibitions. My top five filmpoems are as follows.

L’étoile de mer (Man Ray, 1928)

L’étoile de mer (1928) by Man Ray is an early example of the symbiosis of film and poetry using visual metaphor to interpret a poem by Robert Desnos. In the tradition of both surrealism and experimental cinema the abstract images in L’étoile de mer allow the viewer time to reflect philosophically on what is being perceived. The majority of the film was shot through molded glass creating a haptic quality to the visual experience. The blurred images of two people, which are seen behind textured glass becomes a mediator of truth and provokes the viewer into imagining what is being hidden from them. This film exemplifies haptic visuality, a film theory introduced by Laura U. Marks in her book The Skin of The Film (2000). In terms of contemporary artists’ moving image, I think Man Ray’s film continues to translate the key elements that define filmpoetry.

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943)

When I discuss filmpoerty, it is difficult not to mention Maya Deren’s classic offering. Originally shot without sound, this film embodies the philosophical devices we can now attribute to the filmpoem. By the mid to late 1930s the European avant-garde movement was in decline, and the Second World War prompted a shift in interest to American artist filmmakers. The American avant-garde of the 1940s onwards became increasingly retrospective regarding many of the early Twentieth Century European traditions of fusing poetry with images. In Meshes of the Afternoon, Deren herself channels philosophical concepts through visual metaphor and film form. Reversing the film, repetition of images and changing camera angles are visual tropes Deren employs to create a poetical montage and unconventional narrative. The tonal qualities of the black and white film add to the mysteriousness of this conceptual masterpiece.

Colour Poems (Margaret Tait, 1974)

Margaret Tait was known as a filmpoet and experimental filmmaker. Her approach to filmmaking was remarkably similar to the ethos of the avant-garde, generally self-funded, non-conformist, uncompromising, non-commercial, with distribution and exhibition being select. I think Colour Poems (1974) depicts some of the more thought provoking images within her oeuvre. There is a wonderful poetical moment, which begins with the poppy fields where Tait questions the true essence of the image through juxtaposing shots of the Scottish oil industry and related capitalist iconography and a sequence of images relating to a return to the earth. Nature is brought into being through spoken word. The narrator willing the viewer to look beyond what can be seen, to ‘look into all that is illuminated by the light’ […] ‘the own person’s own self perceiving the light and making the music’ suggesting that we are the beholders of (our) true vision.

Mile End Purgatorio (Guy Sherwin & Martin Doyle, 1991)

This is probably one of the best examples of both poetry-film (words on-screen) and filmpoerty (spoken words and images that create connotation). Sherwin is an exceptional experimental filmmaker, who continues to create meditative compositions, which the viewer is prompted to reflect on. His series of films entitled Messages (1981-4) exemplify this. Mile End Purgatorio has a great sense of humor, and reminds me very much of John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum (1976). Short in length, this film delivers both content and concept beautifully.

Poem and Stone (Maryam Tafakory, 2015) Trailer

Iranian film artist Maryam Tafakory displays a more direct approach in terms of filmpoetry through her profoundly personal and evocative films. I first saw this filmpoem at the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in 2016 and was completely intrigued by her work. Poem and Stone is beautifully shot, as are all of her films, and incorporates both the personal and poetical qualities one would expect to see from a filmpoem. Themes relating to tradition, culture, and human experience come into being as Tafakory’s film reveals what it is to remember. Tafakory’s work displays familiar filmpoetry tropes, for example combining on-screen text, spoken word and images. Her powerful visuals juxtaposed with uncompromising text is a timely reminder of why the filmpoem genre is still relevant and can create a platform for subjective thought, monologues and discussion.

Sources: MARKS, L. U., 2000. The Skin of the Film. Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham and London: Duke University Press. NEELY, S., 2008. Stalking the Image: Margaret Tait and intimate filmmaking practices. Screen, vol. 49, no. 2, Summer, pp.216-221. RAMSAY, S., 2014. Articulating the Avant-garde. Exploring the Reliability of Memory through the Filmpoem Genre. MLitt dissertation. RAMSAY, S., 2016. PhD, Literature Review. Films DEREN, M & HAMMID, A., 1943. Meshes of the Afternoon. DOYLE, M & SHERWIN, G., 1991. Mile End Purgatorio. MAN RAY., 1928. L’étoile de mer. SMITH, J., 1976. The Girl Chewing Gum. TAFAKORY, M., 2015. Poem and Stone. TAIT, M., 1974. Colour Poems.