Poetry film in the wild: Ford ads cancelled for frightening public with poetry, and a Hollywood movie that commissioned work from top-notch poets

Ah, consumerism! Nothing makes you want to buy a new sports car like a famous villanelle about death.

Or maybe not.

Adverts for three major car makers have been banned as advertising regulators have ruled that a Dyland [sic] Thomas poem encourages angry driving.

Adverts for Ford, Nissan and Fiat Chrysler will not be shown again after rulings by the [UK] Advertising Standards Authority.

Two adverts for Ford, seen on the carmaker’s YouTube channel and in cinemas, featured a voice-over that stated: “Do not go gentle into that goodnight… Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage. Rage against the dying of the light.”

After seeing the commercial twelve viewers complained that they depicted driving as a way of relieving anger.

Ford argued that the aim of the advert was to contrast the “everyday frustrations of work life with the freedom of driving a new Ford Mustang”, with viewers left to imagine how they would feel driving the car instead of experiencing in the daily grind of office life.

It said the voice-over quoted the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and its reference in the adverts suggested that a Ford Mustang could be the antidote to a dull life.

The ASA said the advert showed the Mustang being driven in an “abrupt manner” as on-screen text read “Don’t go quietly” and characters were depicted releasing their anger while driving the car.

The ASA said: “We therefore considered that the ads suggested that driving was a way of releasing anger, which put the driver, other motorists and pedestrians at risk.”

Ford said: “Our intent is never to encourage unsafe driving and, while care was taken during filming of the ad to show the car driving safely and at no point exceeding 15mph, we will no longer include the ad in our future marketing communications.”

Now I know how John Lennon fans must’ve felt when “Revolution” was licensed to sell sneakers. It’s a cold comfort that the ads were only nixed because UK bureaucrats thought consumers would be too dumb to understand the poetry.

In a less depressing sign of the rising currency of poets and poetry film, The New York Times‘ Alexandra Alter has a very interesting article about The Kindergarten Teacher, a 2018 movie by Maggie Gyllenhaal, just released on Netflix in the US and Canada, in which poetry features prominently. Three contemporary American poets—Dominique Townsend, Ocean Vuong and Kaveh Akbar—were tasked with writing new work (or adapting pre-exisiting work) to fit the script. I hope the movie’s good, but even if not, it’s great to see poets getting a pay-out that doesn’t involve selling their souls to planet-destroying auto companies.

Akbar said writing poems for a character in a movie was weird, but not so different from using a writing prompt or a formal constraint.

“It was almost like working within a received form, like a sonnet or a villanelle, to write into the context of the script,” he said.

The bizarre nature of the exercise didn’t sink in until he went to the film’s New York premiere last month, which “was wild,” Akbar said.

“It’s not often that a poet gets to see their words on a movie theater screen,” he said. “So much of being a poet is very isolating, sitting in your pajamas over a notebook for 14 hours on end, so it’s cool to get to do something with poetry that’s very collaborative.”

The collaboration between the poets and filmmakers also shaped the movie, especially Gyllenhaal’s performance.

The poems that Townsend wrote for Lisa gave Gyllenhaal new insights into the character, she said, and helped her refine one of the film’s core themes — the question of why some budding artists are nurtured and celebrated, and others are ignored. She began to see Lisa not as a mediocre poet, but as a woman whose creativity is stifled because no one expects her to produce anything worthwhile.

“The movie is so much more tragic and more interesting if Lisa’s poetry is compelling,” Gyllenhaal said. “If it’s worth paying attention to and it isn’t paid attention to, that’s a tragedy.”

Read the rest.

Dave Bonta

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.

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