John Scott: Ten Favorite Cinépoems

I’m a filmmaker not a poet. So for me the word “poetry” means something different I think than how poets might see it. For me the poetry part of cinépoetry is not the written part, it’s a kind of magic that can suddenly bring alive an enchanting correspondence between words, sounds and images. Given this definition, here are my current favorites put into categories.

Category 1: The Interior Dilemma Comes to Light


Once

Written and directed by Lyn Elliot, 2000

Lyn Elliot must surely be America’s most underappreciated filmmaker. Her work is so smart, so simple and often times uproariously funny. What more do you want? Ok, how about short and to the point too. I love this film. I wish I was this smart.


On Loop

Directed by Christine Hooper, 2013
Poem by Christine Hooper and Victoria Manifold


I went to the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin in October of 2014 and I saw many great cinépoems. This was my favorite one there. I still don’t fully understand how she did it, but I think she perfectly captures that moment where we are trying to sleep but our mind seems instead to dissect us into multiple fighting personalities who churn things over endlessly.


Having Intended to Merely Pick on an Oil Company, the Poem Goes Awry

Directed by Joanna Kohler, 2010
Poem by Bob Hicok

Are all the best cinépoems directed by women? Sheesh, third in a row. I think what I really love best about this one is how it finds a way to create an enchanting dialogue between the interior voice of the poem and a kind of external visual journey of the ruminating man. Also, projecting on chest hair is a genius visual idea. I wish I’d thought of that.

Category 2: Opening up New Worlds


Closed Wounds

Directed by Lanka Haouche Perren, 2014
Poem by Michael Harding

I saw this at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in 2014. It’s haunting. A brilliant and troubling juxtaposition of images and sounds with words. Some might call the film exploitative, but all I saw was its humanity. Also, I never would have thought of putting this poem with these images. It’s a surprising confluence of words and images that would at first seem entirely inappropriate, but here, somehow, this piece elevates both the words and the visuals to levels I’m not sure they achieve on their own.


When Walt Whitman was a Little Girl

Directed by Jim Haverkamp, 2012
Poem by M.C. Biegner

I think this film takes us down a rabbit hole into an Alice in Wonderland style visual universe that’s enchanting in way that’s both completely its own thing, but also perfectly suited to the tone of the words. I also like that I don’t think it tries to be impressive – like so many calling card short films. It just makes the original work sing again with spirit and soul, transposed into a new key.


Never Too Late

Director uncredited, 2013
Poem by Michael London


I love the poem and how it sounds when read. I think the words work cleverly to open up the difficulties, paradoxes and the potential for change in what I take to be life in inner city Chicago. Also, for me at least, it feels like I am invited to feel the breathing spirit of a personal, family space and understand its value to the poet, and to all of us. I know the piece has affected me when all the natural sound drops out at at the end and I can still feel and hear it in the poem and what it describes.


Heliotropes

Directed by Michael Langan, 2010
Poem by Brian Christian


I think the sequence from :52 to 1:09 in this film are my favorite 17 seconds in cinépoetry. It’s perfect. I’m sure there is some kind of eternal punishment for being perfect, even if it’s just for 17 seconds — maybe door to door electioneering for Donald Trump(?)


Cars Will Make You Free

Written and directed by Lyn Elliot, 1997

I don’t guffaw, or make giant snorting sounds while watching this piece (like I do while watching certain scenes from Trailer Park Boys) but I do laugh throughout it, and you can’t really wipe the stupid grin from my face. It’s simple, fun and smart.


Massacre at Murambi

Written and directed by Sam Kauffmann, 2007

I think this is a cinépoem masquerading as a documentary. One could could characterize the words here as simply poetic, rather than a poem onto itself. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I guess I don’t care either way. But for the purists, I urge you to hang with it until its conclusion before you cinch any final judgment here. While at first the words may seem like a conventional documentary voice-over, the poetry is revealed soon enough, and the whole movie turns on a few well chosen words and their devastating reveal.

Category 3: Masterwork


La jetée

Written and directed by Chris Marker, 1962

Well, who am I to add anything more to the volumes written about this movie. It’s an acknowledged masterwork that deserves your undistracted attention for its duration. Actually, imagine you didn’t have a phone or a computer or any devices and you were in a dark cinema in Paris in 1962. It’s still great though even if you do glance at your devices once or twice. I don’t believe it has been surpassed really — an astounding blend of visuals, sounds and words. It’s a one of a kind work that, if not a cinépoem must be instead a grandfather to the genre.

John Scott

John Scott

John D. Scott is a filmmaker and professor who teaches in the Media Arts Sciences and Studies department at Ithaca College. He is currently working towards making a feature length documentary on poet Elizabeth Bishop and has to date created four cinépoems that feature her work. To follow the progress of the doc project we welcome you to like its Facebook page.

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