Lost in the Movies: Cinepoem: Verses From War (video)

Cinepoem: Verses From War (video)

Fair warning for those looking for light viewing and/or distractions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic: this video, whose coincidental premiere was planned months in advance (the video itself was created back in late 2018), illustrates a Walt Whitman poem about illness and death in a crowded hospital.

Usually, the videos in my Cinepoem series are relatively short; until now only the first was longer than three minutes. In this case, however, the Cinepoem runs past five minutes and incorporates two different poems; excerpts from Walt Whitman's 1865 "A March in the Ranks, Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown" (read by Denise Burns for the National Endowment for the Arts' "Poetry Out Loud") are sandwiched between the beginning and end of Herman Melville's 1866 "The Apparition" (read by Andrew Doig for LibriVox whose - no pun intended - voice I took the liberty of manipulating for effect). As the dates indicate, these are poems inspired by and dwelling on the Civil War. Melville's work abstracts the phenomenon, describing through metaphor the overwhelming sensation of a historical force tearing the country apart. Whitman's work goes in the other direction, delving into the nitty-gritty of stinking, dimly-lit medical quarters.

In some ways, the Melville poem was easier to illustrate because the abstracted imagery of the poem fueled abstraction of various clips I was using (which range from Andrei Tarkovsky epics to Mickey Mouse cartoons). With Whitman, I needed to strike a balance between departing too far from the very specific descriptions and, on the other hand, getting too literal - although I include hospital pictures from Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, for the most part I am not using Civil War films, and some aren't even war films at all. I really like the balance I struck, both within my treatment of that poem and between the two very different but similary-focused poems as well. The musical accompaniment varies between a slowed-down version of "11 Map Ref 41 Degrees N 93 W" by the post-punk band Wire, and Symphony No. 3/"Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" composed by Henryk Gorecki, which itself thematically overlaps with the poems and films.

The Cinepoem cycle will conclude (and renew) in a couple days with the final chapter picking up where this one began, as they all do...

This video is uploaded to Vimeo as well:


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