…and nobody knows it but me.
Unlike my recent espousing of the joys of Classical music during my review of Amadeus, I've never been able to find anything easily accessible in the realm of poetry. I realize that it is a vast and remarkable art form encompassing an untold multitude of styles and variations, yet ninety-nine percent of it simply flies right over my head. Today, I watched Poetry in Motion, the latest entry in what is now my Ron Mann trilogy (Grass and Comic Book Confidential), and my opinion was not altered. Granted, I have never been motivated to look that deeply into that writing form so I am truly a bit on the uninformed—or perhaps unenlightened?—side of the argument.
Ron Mann loves to make documentaries, and this is his third effort, but appears to be the first one to really take hold and grab an audience. In this digitally remastered version of his original 1982 release, Ron Mann followed around some of the biggest names in modern poetry and filmed them as they performed their works. Contrary to the mental picture you've probably formed—of a person standing in a coffee shop reading their poems in front of a smoke-filled room—this documentary is a lively, vibrant anthology of artists doing everything but simply reading their words. These poets bring their works to life by singing, chanting, and performing their pieces to their audience; their works are never simply read, for that is not how one experiences a poem. During the prologue, it is stated that poetry is an under-appreciated part of the literary experience as there are so few individuals who know how to perform the genre. To appreciate a poem, the reader needs to be an energetic individual who understands the work and can bring it to life, which is done admirably here. I have to hand it to the poets in this film; they truly know how to energize a performance. Unfortunately, it still doesn't work for me. The words just don't come together and move me; it still feels to be more of an amalgamation of thoughts than coherent stories. I am not inspired to want to read or hear more.
Regardless of my feelings, this is an excellent look at poetry, and anyone who enjoys this form of writing will be completely absorbed by this disc. Bringing together two-dozen artists, the documentary venerates the form and works to dispel the common notion that poetry is not accessible for the average guy. In some cases, my eyes glazed over, but a few of the poets did capture a modicum of my fancy, however fleeting that moment was. While I cannot intelligently judge the poems themselves, I can tell you that the transfers for this disc are just average. The full frame video transfer is a bit inconsistent as we go from artist to artist. The overall look of the film is on the soft side with a tad more grain than you'd like—though that grain does imbue the film with a haze reminiscent of smoke-filled haunts. Colors are a tad subdued but accurate, there's acceptable definition, and there are no transfer errors to jump out at you. This pure dialogue film (aside from the occasional song and chant) comes across well enough on the 2.0 Dolby Digital transfer; there's no hiss or distortion as the voices come across loud, clean, and clear.
Rounding out this disc are three bonus features, one of which adds incredible value to the DVD. On the lesser side, you get the trailers for Mann's three other released documentaries—Grass, Comic Book Confidential, and Twist—and an eight-minute interview with Mann as he discusses the genesis of the idea for the film. But the true highlight is the feature titled "Poetry in Motion II"; this little ditty is an additional hours' worth of footage by the artists. For the poetry fan, that's two and a half hours of performance pleasure.
As often as I've tried to like and understand poetry, I just don't; however, I can easily recognize the beauty of this documentary and thus recommend it for others. I'm not sure of the replay value of such a film, but I tend to think that the ease of selecting a favored artist's live performance will go a long way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
• Poetry in Motion II
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