Ten atypical poetry films

A new approach to poetry film

By Sigrun Höllrigl

The idea of my film collection was to leave behind the common definitions of what a poetry film means and offer in addition to other curators an atypical poetry film collection. In the Anglo-American definitions, a poetry film is based on a poem. As director of the Poetry Film Festival Vienna, I personally support a broader definition: A poetry film in my view is based either on a poetic experience or on a literary text. These texts can be experimental or spoken word or include letters and be in a abstract way close to fine arts (“Schriftfilm”). In some cases, text can be missing altogether when the film circles around poetry.Another aim was to present films which have been successful in established art contexts such as museums, exhibitions, or renowned short film festivals. I also included some examples of famous film makers who did films close to a text film, and I focused on the idea of changing the perception of the audience through the art work. Enjoy!

Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Sonnet 66

Robert Wilson with music by Rufus Wrainwright (2009)

Robert Wilson’s Shakespeare sonnets for Berliner Schaubühne became very famous. It’s a high level of visualizing a poem. Impressive threshold for every poetry film maker!

Tir’d with all these, for restful death I cry,
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

Lady Lazarus
(poems by Sylvia Plath)
Sandra Lahire, 1991

(the video has been deleted on vimeo)

Sandra Lahire was a leading feminist and lesbian film maker in Britain. Her film about Sylvia Plath can be described as a mixture between a poetry film and a documentary. The film shows a deep understanding and visualization of Plath’s dangerous views to face reality. Sandra Lahire suffered from anorexia and died in 2001.


Un Chien Andalou
Luis Buñuel, 1928

The film Un Chien Andalou from 1928 is a famous historical film – a manifest of Surrealism. Picture and story follow a dream logic. Even though the highest valued expression in Surrealism was writing, Buñuel and many surrealists did not want to use words in their films. Buñuel created his poetic experience in Un Chien Andalou without any dialogue. The poetic spirit is part of the visual expression. This understanding became the dominating credo of the film world: Let’s be poetic without using words.


Inga Fler Ord
Jerker Beckman, 2012

This film is also nearly without words, but also deeply poetic. The subject of the film is a female writer writing poetry. She fights against writer’s block and finds her inspiration in a dog’s barking. The film starts with a credo of Antonin Artaud: “I have told you: No works, no language, no words, no spirit, nothing. Nothing except for the scale where the nerves are weighted.”


coração (heart)
Marcello Sahea, 2013

During two months, some friends and other interested people were invited to participate by sending short clips of their naked bodies, filmed by themselves with any types of cameras. The video poem shows the fragility of the human body. Even though there’s some poetry included, the film works basically with picture and sound.


Giga Chkheidze, 2000

Brazil presents a superficial view of a fictitious protagonist as a kind of satire. It exposes the emphasis on reasonable behavior and the irrationality lurking beneath. The film is part of the MOMA collection NY. The real meaning of the words is unsaid — it comes up in between all the elements: language, picture and music.

The Alphabet
David Lynch, 1968

Schriftfilm — David Lynch offers in his perfect animation a way to experience the alphabet between a children’s view and a nightmare.


Peter Greenaway, 1974

Welcome to humor! Peter Greenaway shows a great reinterpretation of how we could tell a story. The film is about falling out from the window. Greenaway combines text and picture opening up a weird logic. Rational behavior is pretended, but the opposite — irrationalism — comes through. Outstanding, very funny, a great film and a pleasure to watch!


Blue (Part 1)
Derek Jarman, 1993

The director Derek Jarman was partially blind while he made this film, suffering complications from AIDS. The film is highly biographical and this seems to be a particularly strong aspect behind the lack of visuals, which offers us a radical and minimalistic approach to how to make poetry film. Watch the full film version (75 minutes).


Confessions 7
Ignas Krunglevičius, 2011

Krunglevičius’s films are minimalistic and radical too. This film belongs to  a collection of eight confessions, hand written and court transcripts, of convicted criminals. It is then reduced to only those sentences where the criminal is talking about his or her own emotions. The perpetrator’s personal landscape of guilt is revealed with no descriptions about the actual criminal act. The most extreme act of violence contains something that we can all recognize in ourselves; the inner psychological patterns of reasoning and justification, remorse and/or the lack of it.

The article was published on April 13, 2015 for David Bontas´ Poetry Film Magazine “Moving poems