A Filmic Map … Discussions of Cinéma Vérité

A Filmic Map

[Discussions of Cinéma Vérité]


In writing, my tendency has always been to work in sets, suites, or groups. Ideas in my head swirl in groups. I never see one; I’m always looking beyond the one. Two reasons: a decade immersed in the poetry of T.S. Eliot – “The Hollow Men,” The Waste Land and, in particular, Four Quartets – as well as the first time I watched rashomon-storiesAkira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, a film that has left its imprint of form and story in me. Kurosawa once said something to the effect of drama should always be viewed in threes. The premise of Rashomon is recognized in threes. The purpose, apparently, is a certain tension that is created, sustaining the work and the connection between story and viewer. That makes perfect sense.

A poem – a small suite – I once brought to a writers’ group (small band of three) bore the name “Cinéma Vérité,” and carried the theme of personal politics, having nothing to do with cinema – though the title, of course, originated with French New Wave film. As I recall, I successfully finished two of the set, and they were published separately. The title stayed in my head. The ms of poems has had several titles (A Glass That Falls and Lost fo-jeanne_dielman-608Connections, Hidden Intentions … are two that come to mind) before settling on Cinéma Vérité – the title poem, connected to Chantel Akerman, herself a product of French New Wave filmmaking, and her great work Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975).

My work in the poetic project “Tales of Brave Ulysses” – ekphrastic writing – consuming years of writing and thinking, eventually found or created (I’m sure which is true) the need to focus on films. The poems, which began to grow, became a large mass, without clear direction or center – a bit out of control. Considering Rashomon, or more correctly, Kurosawa as the center point – I began to understand the poems in groups of three. This led to organizing the ms into three major sections: The Way the Story Begins, Spaces Between the Words, and A Scribbling on the Walls – each of the titles coming from poems connected to the French New Wave … respectively, “Games of Persuasion” [L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961 ), Alain Resnais, dir.], “False Windows” [Ma Nuit chez Maud (1969) Eric Rohmer, dir.], Cinéma Vérité Front Cover 2and “A Scribbling on the Walls” [La Jetée (1962), Chris Marker, dir.]. Each section was comprised of fifteen poems – but the form and, more importantly, the “story” each section carried – seemed too static, so I added a poem to section three, with the slightest of altered ordering. This addition gave, at least to my mind, a real balance to the ms as a whole.


The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger always create a strange, compelling place or world that doesn’t powell and pressburgeractually exist, yet does, and in many ways is more vital – certainly more lasting – than the people who are found there. Their stories … The Red Shoes, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I’m Going! … show how place changes people. Michael Powell made several films before and after his work with Pressburger, but those works – notably, The Edge of the World, Peeping Tom, and Age of Consent – never stray from a primary focus on place. Reality and fantasy coexist in these films – and I think that may be the secret to their lasting success . The stories are universal, but strongly grounded in a specific and real world.

Black Narcissus, one of their best films, embodies the struggle – the tension between body and spirit, flesh and reason, self and other, freedom and repression. The story, in terms of its visual and Black Narcissus 11narrative force, makes this conflict direct and clear. Coming to terms with truth is never easy, is often horrific, and is nearly always transformational. A Powell / Pressburger film always moves toward transformation, but it’s a change that is only possible with and through loss. This is the type of journey everyone knows about but wants to avoid at all costs.

The setting of Black Narcissus – the strange, remote, deteriorating Palace of Mopu, black-narcissus-373high in the Himalayas – is a perfect fit for a journey to find the self, and creates the necessary tension that will force the issue. The look of the film – exotic, haunting, disturbing – is, according to several sources, heavily influenced by the paintings of Caravaggio and Vermeer. There are several films that have impacted me to such a degree I carry them in my head – always. This is one of them.


It was inevitable that I write in some way about the works of Powell and Pressburger. The visual world of their films is one I immediately connect with. The characters in their stories are compelling and unforgettable – at least to me. When considering writing a poem connecting with their films, I felt a bit overwhelmed – unable to decide which film should be the focus. Once I give up the notion of only one film, the writing became easy. “Michael Powell’s Women” was the result. Here’s a link to a wonderful reading of the poem by Nic Sebastian at Whale Sound. Her voice elevates the words, and makes the lines visual.

Cinéma Vérité is a collection of poems published by A-Minor Press, 2013.


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