I wish more filmmakers today had the courage to create with the mind of a poet. I agree with Miller about film being a poetic medium not properly exploited. Using film only to tell a story efficiently is like using an organ or symphonic orchestra only to play monophonic tunes one can whistle; it can be a nice, memorable tune, but our brain expects more from an orchestra and so it should expect more from a film screen.
Which narrative filmmakers working today do you consider as explorers of the poetic force of cinema?
Henry Miller (from the Paris Review interview, 1961):
What I deplore most is that the medium of the film has never been properly exploited. It’s a poetic medium with all sorts of possibilities. Just think of the element of dream and fantasy. But how often do we get it? Now and then a little touch of it, and we’re agape. And think of all the technical devices at our command. But my God, we haven’t even begun to use them. We could have incredible marvels, wonders, limitless joy and beauty. And what do we get? Sheer crap. The film is the freest of all media, you can do marvels with it. In fact I would welcome the day when the film would displace literature, when there’d be no more need to read. You remember faces in films, and gestures, as you never do when you read a book. If the film can hold you at all, you give yourself to it completely. (…) In the cinema, sitting there in the dark, the images coming and going, it’s like a rain of meteorites hitting you.
I agree that filmmaking, at its finest, has more in common with poetry than with prose. Most feature films carry at least the faintest of narrative threads, however, in order to secure financing/distribution. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive though. Terrence Malick has made a career out of it.
Other current filmmakers with the mind/soul of a poet? David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Kim Ki-Duk, Wim Wenders, Dario Argento, Godfrey Reggio, Wong Kar-Wai, Peter Weir (each to different degrees)…all mainstream or relatively mainstream filmmakers off the top of my head. If we look at experimental cinema there are tons more. If we look at shorts, and not just featues…
One of my favorites is Neil Jordan. He is very hit and miss, but when he is on, like in “The Company of Wolves”, the result is audio-visual poetry.
I agree. Poetic expression in film is in my opinion strongest when the viewer is within a story-world. The story invites you to enter another world by relating with the characters and the problems they face. Once you have immersed yourself in that narrative world the poetic magic of cinema becomes is in my opinion stronger than any avant-garde or experimental will ever reach.
Some great film poets of today: Terrence Malick, Bela Tarr, Aleksandr Sokurov, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Steve McQueen, Darren Aronofsky, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Carlos Reygadas, Jan Troell, Roy Andersson, Lee Chang-dong, Emanuele Crialese, Naomi Kawase, Andrei Zvyagintsev.
Surprised neither of you mentioned Andrei Tarkovsky. I just watched Stalker for the first time and it is as beautiful and impenetrable as the most obscure symbolist poetry. The same is true, of course, of his other films, but Stalker, of the ones I’ve seen so far, is the most difficult to parse head on. Just like a poem.
Tarkovsky of course, but the question was about filmmakers working today; that’s why he and many others were not mentioned.
I don’t think the poetry comes to mind to a hell lot of filmmakers now a days, besides the contemplatives i cant recall anyone.
So you’re defining poetic directors as those who eschew placing the crux of the film on narrative?
That’s an interesting question. It reminds me of something Kubrick (one of the greatest narrative film poets) said in an interview about the importance of plot :
“There is no doubt that a good story has always mattered, and the great novelists have generally built their work around strong plots. But I’ve never been able to decide whether the plot is just a way of keeping people’s attention while you do everything else, or whether the plot is really more important than anything else, perhaps communicating with us on an unconscious level which affects us in the way that myths once did.”
I’m not sure about this either.
Working today: Lech Majewski, perhaps. I also just saw The Mill and the Cross, which is a stunning work visually. I know Majewski is literally a poet, as well, so that may explain his being drawn to the material and this striking way of filming it.
PS: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, certainly. Also Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Jim Jarmusch. Azazel Jabobs. These are directors whose images contain cantos.
“[Stanley] had a contempt for narrative, I was hooked on narrative. But he said to me: forget it, all you need for a movie is 6 or 8 non-submersible units.”
Non-submersible units are fundamental story pieces, the irreducible core of a narrative when all the non essential “padding” has been stripped away. According to Brian Aldiss, Kubrick’s collaborator on the scipt for AI, “One of the many sensible and perceptive comments he made over the years was that a movie consists of, at most, say 60 scenes, whereas a book can have countless scenes. So, he said, it’s very difficult to boil down a novel to make a film, as he found with The Shining. Much easier to take a short story and turn that into a major movie. ‘All you need is six non-submersible units. Forget about the connections for the moment […] once you’ve heard this, you see how 2001 was constructed.”
Horror is particularly poet friendly. It uses primarily the language of the unconscious (archetypes), considers mood, emotion and ambience at least as important as waking logic and audience expectations are not tied into a structured narrative. It’s also the most critically shit upon genre and considered vulgar, crass and, at best, low art>. Go figure.
Sadly there are very few poetic horror films being made nowadays.
Harmony Korine, Jodorowsky, Charlie Kaufman (especially Synecdoche, New York), Eric Warheim
I don’t agree. Saw 1-27 certainly don’t meet the criteria but Japanese and Korean horror has been very strong since the mid 90s. Even amidst the dreck that is extreme french horror there are occasional gems.
Speaking of recent poetic Horror films: (WARNING: Extreme and disturbing images abound)
Definitely Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov, Fellini, Herzog, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. And many short experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren and Nathaniel Dorsky.
But I’m surprised so many people mentioned Terrence Malick. His films certainly scream “poetry” but in my opinion the poetry in it is way too heavy handed. In fact, I think it’s the actual words… the voice-overs… that take them over-the-top from poeticism to over-poeticism. It’s a little cringe inducing to me. For me, good poetry doesn’t draw attention to itself as such.
Johnson : What about 964 Pinocchio ? :)
I love poetic horror: The Night of the Hunter, Eyes Without a Face, Antichrist, The Shining, Possesion, Onibaba, … I once made a list: http://mubi.com/lists/poetic-horror-and-the-sublime. Feel free to add some titles. I just saw “Take Shelter”. I think I’ll add it. “The Mist” also qualifies as poetic. Just as many other poetic films it expresses a deeply felt emotion (fear of losing everything) with a powerful metaphore.
Whenever I hear the word [poetry], I bring out my checkbook.
My favorite poetic filmmakers: Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Don Siegel, and the guy who directed Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
All you have to do is see Malick’s The Thin Red Line and your initial question will be answered.
And Boorman’s Point Blank.
And the better westerns.