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Poets in Film 2

written by the Judge

Oh, Daniel Radcliffe. I do not envy you. Well actually I do envy you, at least as far as your bank account goes. I’m just being rhetorical for a moment, so please humour me: it must be hard to claw your way out of the well that JK Rowling tossed you into some ten years ago (I forget). Once you were down as Harry Potter, that was it. You tried to get out of it and recast yourself as an actor by making that goofy horror flick that about twelve people went to see (and which includes a poem in the trailer, perhaps prefiguring your upcoming career move), and then you must have realised that Kristen Stewart gathered some decent attention when she went from playing the girl who is cursed with Robert Pattinson (aren’t we all?) to the sixteen-year-old in the American Novel You Read in High School (R). So you followed suit (hopefully not in that you too banged the director of your movie… magic wand, my ass) ( ß Not a directive).

And that’s how I found myself, minutes before enjoying Clooney’s attempts at winning an Oscar by talking to himself inside a helmet, watching a trailer in which you play a tormented schoolboy and his whiny best friend. Harry Potter 9! No wait, it’s about Allen Ginsberg. Unicorns in this one? Considering how much that guy tripped in his time, I wouldn’t be surprised.

(Light that magic wand) ( ßVery much a directive).

Anyway, while we all wait for the release date (by building trenches), I thought it would be a good occasion to continue a series I began a long time ago, when I had both time & beer. Last time I analysed the representation of fictional poets in film. Today I will investigate the representation of real poets in film.

Of course, it would help if I had seen the fucking films before I started writing about them, but I’ve got about seven hours before we’re off schedule and I’ve just stepped off an Easyjet flight in which the captain literally followed the trajectory of a Chinese dragon before landing and I feel like a pair of eggs after they’ve been scrambled. No films right now. Especially not about poetry.

I’ll have to go by what I remember, rather than what I have diligently revised. And we might as well start with the biggest name of them all: William Shakespeare, who stars in the much beloved Shakespeare in Love. I guess a commentary on this one is kind of redundant because there must be about twelve people in all of England who haven’t already seen it (probably the same idiots who went and saw Radcliffe’s The Woman in Black…). I actually quite enjoyed this movie, in spite of its Americanism (that whole thing at the end about her leaving for the new world and thus being his inspiration was as LAME as the Handsome Stranger character in The Villain). It was certainly better than Anonymous, which messes things up because of its overambition – it’s an outlandish enough story without trying to make it into an actual Shakespearean tragedy. At least SIL kind of gets the fun about making a movie about such a universally famous character, and that’s why it is sprent with little references to other people and events from the time. Also, Judi Dench as the Queen rocks. Also also, Gwyneth Paltrow also rocked. Also also also, the guy who played Shakespeare also wasn’t too bad.

To be completely honest I think that’s half the success of the film – that it showed Shakespeare as this handsome young man (certainly more appealing than that goose, De Vere). It gave people what they wanted to see. Of course they’d like it. And in a film like this – in which it is impossible to actually represent The Truth because we’ve got jack on Will in the first place – I think that’s forgivable, and even smarter and more respectable than most of the fictional films about poets.

See what I mean?
On the topic of Gwyneth Paltrow – and it’s usually one of my favourite topics, but she kind of spoiled it by making a film about Sylvia Plath, going by the extremely original title of Sylvia.

I must confess I gaped throughout almost the entire thing because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that Sylvia Plath here was *blonde*, while I’d spent my entire adolescence imagining her as a brunette. WTF? Then there’s Daniel Craig playing Ted Hughes (leave it a couple of years and we’d have seen Daniel Radcliffe in the role), before he bench-pressed and girls started saying he was handsome, that is (seriously, what kind of trajectory takes Bond from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig? Who’s going to replace Johnny Depp in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the lizard from Spiderman?). The whole film struck me as linear and unimaginative – a bit dull, even – and the only scene that really stuck with me was the one where they (Paltrow and Hughes) are on a rowing boat and they seem to get lost. It stuck, I mean, because I too was lost as to what the devil that scene was doing there – it really goes nowhere, just like the characters. But maybe I’m not remembering it correctly. I look forward to seeing the flipside when they make the companion film, hopeful as I am that they will give it a more original title. (God forbid I see Craig’s face on the poster: Ted. I’m almost grateful to MacFarlane for having copyrighted that.)

But execution aside… what happened to Plath’s poetry? The whole film revolves around the relationship between the two poets and so rarely do we actually get a sense of what Plath (or for that matter Hughes) is writing and why. I understand they may have trouble rendering the literature in a film about Dickens (what do you do, read a chapter from Great Expectations?) ( ß I am *this* close to making a joke about why Americans shoot each other in cinemas and getting permanently radiated from the British poetry scene, not to mention arrested… thankfully I’m not drunk enough this time around) but why not a few lines of poetry here and there?

You’ve just never been this handsome, Leo. Live with it.
I suppose it was inevitable they would make a film about Rimbaud. If you haven’t seen it, it’s called Total Eclipse. It stars – no less – Leonardo Di Caprio as the unruly French genius, and some other guy with a moustache playing Verlaine. I must say, watching Di Caprio’s early films is very illuminating. He always plays the same part, that of the young, rebellious genius. I thought it worked in Romeo + Juliet, while it got a bit tired in The Basketball Diaries. By the time you get to TE though you can tell that Di Caprio’s young ego was wetting itself all over and this is the whole problem with the film – it’s just Leonardo all over the place, Leo Leo Leo Leo Leo, so dominantly that there is no space for Arthur at all. Like in Sylvia, there’s barely any of his poetry read out. I almost wonder if the actor read any of it, before committing to the part (ok, I’m being insulting, but if Leo read it, he didn’t bring any of it into his performance, or none that I could discern).

On the subject of stars, eclipses, etc. the other inevitable film about the young Romantic poet is Bright Star, about John Keats. I saw this film in bits and pieces in the middle of a holiday in southern Italy, so I was busier eating mozzarella than concentrating on the movie, but I seem to recall this one a bit more affectionately. At least, there’s quite a bit of Keats’ work read out loud, which gives you a sense of what made him so appealing (it may not go in great depth with respects to the content, but it does let you appreciate the lyricism).

What else? Well, there’s Howl, but I haven’t seen that. I’m sure it’s good enough to give Radcliffe a run for his (lots of) money.

Oh what the hell. I’ve done a thousand words. Let’s close it here.


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