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Can Film Serve Poetry?

posted: 4.29.09 by archived

In this week’s edition of New York Magazine, actor James Franco (Milk, Spider Man) shows that he knows a thing or two about poetry. Even more interesting is that as a student he made films inspired by the poetry of Anthony Hecht and Frank Bidart.

New York Magazine writes, “At a Gucci-hosted cocktail party for an art film called Erased James Franco, Franco said he discovered Bidart while studying poetry at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. ‘This teacher brought it into class, and everybody was kinda shocked. It’s very dark and it’s about this guy. He’s a murderer, a necrophiliac, and it’s in a poem, right?’ said Franco. ‘What struck me is that it’s a kind of a confessional poem, or a dramatic monologue. It’s as if the poet is using this crazy man as a mask to express certain feelings and go to an extreme place where those feelings could be felt.’ ”

Franco, who has literary aspirations, will star as Allen Ginsberg in the soon-to-be-released movie, Howl, named after Ginsberg’s break-out poem.

Still the question remains, can a film inspired by a poem effectively serve that poem? After all, the visuals in the readers’ mind are very personal. Can a film do justice to that experience? Here’s a YouTube movie of Langston Hughes’s “Weary Blues.” Decide for yourself by watching the movie below, and answering the questions that follow.

For discussion:
1. What does this mini-movie add to your understanding of Hughes’s poem?

2. How do its images complement or challenge your own images of this poem?

3. Does the movie change your understanding of the poem? How?

4. Draft a “screenplay” of a poem you like. How would you represent, in film, what is captivating this poem? (Will you chose literal or abstract images? Will you have characters speak the poem, or have a voice over? How long will the film be?)

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching with Technology
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