Swoon is a Belgian poet filmmaker who makes films that try to blur the boundary between written poem and moving image. He mixes his own footage with found footage and sometimes mixes his own words with others. I like the quiet easy tone of his work. I like his manipulation of imagery. His work is a very difficult kind of work because it tries to make something new from two different things. Poetry is a perfect form all by itself. But film is never satisfied. It’s always looking for something to include within it. So it’s natural for film to go looking for poetry and try to bring it in. But poetry resists all alliances. Poetry seems content and willing to wait for centuries. It requires nothing. It doesn’t care what film wants. It will sit on a dry page in some crowded shelf somewhere waiting six hundred years for just a single pair of eyes to come along in boredom, open to the page, glance in, read half-way down and then slap the book shut for another six hundred years until someone decides to finish reading the goddamn thing. That’s patience. Film doesn’t have that. Film must be seen now or it withers. It begins to rot. Even if it’s digital. Digital films become confused and get lost in the forest of other digits. They may never find their way out again. So working with the two things and trying to get them together is very difficult but may actually make perfect sense.
This is a film poem triptych that is Swoon’s first work to include his own words. There’s a site for the film with more information.
This is a 1996 documentary by Noël Simsolo, featuring many interviews with Jean Cocteau himself, Jean-Luc Godard and actor Jean Marais. The great French director of films like ‘Blood of a Poet,’ ‘Orpheus,’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ was also an essayist, poet, artist, and playwright. When I was a kid I read the book he wrote about filming ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I understood little of it except that there was the general impression of someone working against constant hardship to attain a mysterious something. The book detailed his struggles with the subtleties of light, weather and performance in the pursuit of a mysterious quality that must be present in the fairytale. I knew that his efforts had worked because I had seen the film on television and understood that it was simply the most convincing fairytale I had ever seen. Another film with this totally mysterious quality is ‘Orpheus,’ which is Cocteau’s modern version of the Greek myth in which the great musician/poet descends into the underworld to bring his wife back to the world of the living. Cocteau’s telling of the tale is at once ancient and modern, always mysterious and always trying to get close to poetry. Whenever I see that film I feel that I am seeing an important picture of French artistic life in the late 1940s told through the prism of ancient Greek myth. The film sits in that fascinating period of artistic ferment and dawning of a new cinematic movement that was a reaction to the end of World War II. Possibilities in films of that period seem limitless. There is a calmness of the image, an almost casual approach to creating scenes. Things are becoming more fluid and less studio-bound. Films are beginning to lean toward poetry and art.
Even though I never really understood what was being said in the ‘Orpheus’ film, it is probably one of the most important influences on the little bits of work that I do in film and video. Various images and scenes from ‘Orpheus’ regularly pop into my head as I work.
One of the best things I think an artist can learn from looking at Jean Cocteau is to follow one’s own interests without worrying about being unqualified – pretending can eventually get you where you want to go if you do it absolutely.
Krystal Cannon (PersonTV) made this short documentary about the Beat Generation in which she not only narrates as Queen Elizabeth, but also plays various roles including Allen Ginsberg, Joan Vollmer, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, John Lennon, Edie Sedgwick and Abbie Hoffman. She gives a clear account of the Beat movement then moves into the general social reaction. She also makes some very interesting points about how women were sidelined even though many of them made great contributions to Beat culture. I think that what the Beats were working on is in very fine hands indeed with Ms. Cannon at work.