I am a film junkie. Going to the movies -- or watching them at home -- is one of my greatest pleasures. I confess to being a slave to my Netflix queue. I won't lie to you: I'm watching more movies at home these days. Since films arrive on DVD just a few months after the theatrical run, in most cases I can wait. Among my friends, we have a new shorthand for a movie we want to see, but don't want the expense and hassle of seeing at the cinema: "That looks like a Netflix."
While my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia claims to be an "international city," the local movie houses sometimes miss a good indie or foreign film. Or if it does show here, it's for a week and then -- poof! -- it's gone. Thanks to home video, I've discovered films that I would have never had the chance to see. Movies continue to influence my poetry. When I was in LA last month for a series of readings, I was staying in a hotel near the airport and I could see the city stretching out before me. I also couldn't sleep. I was having a Lost in Translation moment, and that sleepless night led me to start a poem on a piece of hotel stationary. Sometimes I keep my notebook handy when I'm watching a film just in case a good line or quote or thought presents itself.
In some cases, the films themselves are poetry. The movie that comes immediately to mind is Sally Potter's Yes. The entire film is, literally, poetry. The dialog is written in variations on iambic pentameter and is absolutely compelling. Only Sally Potter (who helmed Orlando and The Tango Lesson) could have written this script...she's a genius filmmaker. Joan Allen plays an Irish-American woman (known only as She) having an affair with a Middle-Eastern man (Simon Abkarian), who is just called He. The affair evolves into a confrontation over religion, politics and sex. James Joyce's Ulysses is evoked in the story, especially Molly Bloom's closing, orgasmic soliloquy (...I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.)
What is really fascinating on the DVD is the documentary called "Finding Scene 54," which the entire film hinges on - a devastating confrontation between She and He in a parking garage as they hurl insults at each other: terrorist, imperialist, pig, bitch. The emotional intensity of Joan Allen is really something to behold as she transforms into this stateless character, having left the troubles of Belfast as a young girl, growing up in America and now living in London. The final day of rehearsal for this scene took place on the day American invaded Iraq, and Sally Potter's despair over the news is raw. The film takes on a whole new urgency. I watched Yes twice and was mesmerized. A stunning achievement in poetry and film.
An even more obscure film is Jill Godmillow's Waiting for the Moon, a fictionalized account of a few months in 1936 in the life of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Their life and work at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris -- as well as a camping trip with Picasso's lover Fernande Olivier and poet Guillaume Apollinaire -- are rendered in delicate, quiet scenes. Stein (Linda Bassett) and Toklas (a perfectly cast Linda Hunt) are at a crisis in their relationship, as Stein discovers she might be dying of an incurable disease, but refuses to share her fears (or the doctor's prognosis) with Toklas. The film is full of spare, beautiful moments: Apollinaire's riveting campfire tale of eating wild, and possibly poisonous mushrooms, with Jean Cocteau and sitting up all night watching the stars, waiting for their death; Stein's touching attempt to say good-bye to Toklas with a tale of an Irish stable worker whose only wish is to return to Dublin; and Ernest Hemingway's (Bruce McGill) drunken rant to Stein about how she takes Toklas for granted. After a decade of being out of print, Waiting for the Moon was finally released on DVD. Add it to your Netflix queue.
Finally, there is Wim Wenders' masterpiece Wings of Desire. This is my favorite film, and like Yes, the dialog is poetry. Wenders was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's work and poet Peter Handke provides most of the dialog, including the recurring poem "The Song of Childhood":
When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child, everything was soulful, and all souls were one.
Set in Berlin in the mid-80s when the city was still divided by the wall, the film follows two angels -- Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) -- as they roam the city, unseen by the populace except for children, listening to the thoughts of myriad people. They are unable to interact, to touch or change anything, and Damiel grows increasingly melancholy about this lack of interaction. When he sees Marion (the glorious Solveig Dommartin) performing her trapeze act at a circus, he falls in love with her instantly and begins to follow her across Berlin, listening to her thoughts. Lonely Marion, unlike most mortals, senses that someone is shadowing her and coming into her dreams. Damiel, literally, decides to become a fallen angel so he can be with Marion.
This hymn to the divided city of Berlin remains Wenders' crowning achievement (although Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World are a close second and third). The performances -- especially by the late Dommartin -- are mostly improvised, riffing off Handke's poetry. Dommartin created much of her own dialog, including her closing monologue after she finally meets Damiel face to face. Wandering through the film is Homer (Curt Bois), who like the ancient warrior in The Odyssey, is searching for an "epic peace" as he wanders the bombed out ruins of his old neighborhood, Potsdammer Platz. Peter Falk, as himself, adds some levity to the story as he reveals that he was also an angel who fell to earth.
So, VRZHU readers, what are some of your cinematic inspirations? We'd like to hear from you.