Tag Archives: film

Poetry on the screen

28 abr

Yesterday I visited the dusty part of my bookshelves and scavenged the books about Anglo-American literature, a subject I taught at Federal University of Paraiba for so long. I took out the dust and reopened the pages of William Carlos Williams, a major poet I so much admire.

The one responsible for this late and guilty visit is actually the moviemaker Jim Jarmusch, with his “Paterson” (2016), now showing at a local theatre. I am familiar with Jarmusch´s short filmography, but this movie came to me as a surprise, not to say it caught me. It is a gracious “mimetic” homage to William Carlos Williams, very well done.

Would it be possible to make a movie the same way William Carlos Williams made poetry? Jarmusch faces the challenge and comes out quite well, very well indeed.

In the same objectivist style of the poet (“Say it, no ideas but in things”), the movie tells the simple life of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, and does it on seven days of the week, from Monday to Sunday. Having the same name of the city (and, don’t forget, also the same name of William Carlos Williams´ famous collection of books), the young driver leads a life without surprises, with his young wife and an English bulldog. Driving during the day, taking the dog for a walk during the evening, and having some beer at the corner bar – these are repeated actions… So repeated they remind us of the Portuguese title of an old movie by Japanese moviemaker Ozu: “Routine has its enchantment”.

The enchantment in Paterson´s routine consists of writing poetry on his secret notebook. It all begins descriptively with the vision and remembrance of a match box, and then grows on and on, to “explode in a ball of fire”. As he writes on his notebook, his handwritten words are transported to the screen, as if the screen were a page on the secret notebook.

Between Paterson and his wife, Laura, there are no conflicts. She cooks cupcakes and longs for a guitar, but this is no problem. On the bus, driving, Paterson listens to the strange conversations of the passengers; at the bar, he witnesses melodramatic scenes among the customers, but nothing does alter his routine. On Friday, the bus breaks, but this is not the end of the world. To be frank, this would be a movie completely without conflicts, if it were not for the denouement, when the family dog, assuming the villain role missing in the story, simply tears up Paterson´s poetic notebook, which makes him deeply sad.

The poetic license comes up in the shape of a Japanese gentleman visiting the city, a reader of William Carlos Williams´s poetry, who, mysteriously and providentially, gives Paterson a blank notebook, possibly for a new poetic adventure, to take place some post-screen time.

A bus driver who writes poetry? Well, when his wife says he should publish his poems, Paterson asks her if she is trying to scare him. The modest sincerity of such reaction is, however, doubted when we see, all over Paterson´s room, the amount of literature books he has – from Baudelaire to Poe, and, quite visible, William Carlos Williams´ among them.

I mentioned poetic license about the apparition of the Japanese gentleman, but, actually, the whole film is a big and delicious poetic license, in which banal things mix up with fantastic ones, to bring to the whole the lyricism the author seems to aspire. And all this without much care for verisimilitude.

On second thoughts, that teenager who recites her poem about the rain while waiting for her mother and twin sister on the sidewalk, had already something of a poetic license. The repetition, by various characters throughout the movie, of the expression “explode in a ball of fire” has this same effect, as well as the apparition of twin brothers or sisters all along Paterson´s everyday comings and goings – all motivated by a dream his wife had had.

This audio-visual procedure of mixing simple things and fantasy comes, evidently, from the poetics of William Carlos Williams, a poet who, by his turn, was deeply engaged in Paterson (I mean, the city) whose streets, buildings and landscape he eternalized in his books.

I wonder if the moviegoer who is not familiar with William Carlos Williams´ poetry – or who is not particularly fond of poetry – may lose part of the pleasure in viewing “Paterson”. I hope not. And, probably influenced by Jarmusch, I here risk the “critic license” of supposing that this moviegoer, after seeing the film, will get interested in poetry.

If, by any chance, this was your case, please come to me, and I will lend you some of my William Carlos Williams anthologies, the ones covered with dust and guilt on my bookshelves.


In the fountain, with Anita

20 jan

Besides Fellini´s “La Dolce Vita” (1960), what other Anita Ekberg movies have you seen?

I asked friends and none had seen any. Some cinephiles were able to mention “Intervista” (Fellini, 1987) where, anyway, the recently deceased Swedish actress appears as herself, old and fat, with nothing of her once astounding beauty.

And, however, Anita is one of the most worshipped divas of the cinema.


The truth is: to be a diva a single role may be enough.

And hers was that one, I mean, the big tits and hoarse voice sensual Sylvia, the gorgeous blonde who invites Marcello into the waters of the Fontana di Trevi, in Fellini´s 1960 masterpiece.

One funny thing was, some of my friends confessed not even “La dolce vita” they had seen, and, nonetheless, (they could not explain why), they seemed to remember the Roman fountain scene.

Actually, the fact can be explained. The cinema, or rather, cinephilia, is not necessarily made of entire movies, but also of single images or scenes that sometimes impose themselves as recurring intertexts. That which elsewhere I once called “beloved images”.

For instance, recently two movies showed the Fontana di Trevi scene, by the way, not just showed, but made it the core of their fictional universe. They both told the romantic adventure of this old lady who dreams of meeting her perfect valentine and with him travel to Rome, just to recreate the emblematic fountain scene – if possible, including the little white cat and the glass of milk which is served to it.

An Argentina production of 2005, the first movie is the original one; a Hollywood production of 2014, the second one is its remake, both with the same plot and title, although not with the same artistic quality: “Elsa & Fred”.

Not to mention that, a couple of decades ago, in “Intervista”, the very same scene had been (re)exhibited, when a real Mascello Mastroiani, along with the whole film stuff, visits Anita´s farm house, and there, in the sitting room, with a fellinian magic power, reproduces the Fontana di Trevi scene, on a white sheet used as screen.

Anita and Mastroiani in Fellini´s masterpiece.

Anita and Mastroiani in Fellini´s masterpiece.

The fact that moviegoers do not recall other Anita Ekberg movies is understandable.

Although she was in 63 movies, very few, besides “La dolce vita”, are worth mentioning, “War and peace” (king Vidor, 1956), where she has a supporting role, is almost an exception.

I myself could only remember her in “Boccacio 70”, a film in four episodes, and in that also episodical bittersweet comedy by Vittorio DeSica, “Seven times woman” (1970), in which, anyway, the repeated woman is not herself, but Shirley MacLaine.

Only in checking over her filmography could I identify some of the her movies I had seen in the past: two comedies by Frank Tashlin, with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, “Artists and models (1955) and “Hollywood or bust” (1956), and the film she was making when Fellini found her in Italy: “Sheba and the gladiator” (1959), you know, one of those void Italian epics which were so often produced at that time, leading nowhere…

But, who cares? Anita Ekberg is the eternal diva whom we shall forever worship.

In the fountain, with Anita.

In the fountain, with Anita.