As part of this week's Target Free Thursday Nights at the Walker Art Center, Motionpoems Inc, a nonprofit poetry film company based in Minneapolis, presents its fifth season of short-film adaptations of contemporary poems. Emceed by MPR's Stephanie Curtis and Motionpoems' founding executive and artistic director, Todd Boss, the free screenings feature a wide variety of film shorts showcasing how poetry and film can work together.
City Pages took a sneak preview of a number of the films that will be shown, and it's an impressively diverse lineup.
When the Motionpoems work, they really work. Take "When the Men Go Off to War," a poem by Victoria Kelly adapted by Noah Dorsey, for example. Kelly's striking use of language fuels Dorsey's gorgeous animation to create a piece that is emotionally compelling and a wonder to look at. Writing about her own experience as a military wife, Dorsey's imagery utilizes a surprising amount of whimsy mixed with sadness, captured perfectly in Dorsey's swirling colors and surreal imagination.
Other Motionpoems take a more straightforward approach, such as Sam Hoolihan's adaptation of Sean Hill's "Postcard to My Third Crush Today," a self-deprecating ode to the multiple people he falls in love with on any given day. The poem is quite sweet, if slightly creepy, and the adaptation nudges out the vulnerability and breezy humor of the text. Following a dorky looking actor with enormous earphones who spends most of his day just wandering around checking out his surroundings (and the beautiful people who pass him by), the film acts as a character study of a lovable lecher. By the end, you kind of start to fall in love with him, too.
Some of the pieces don't turn out quite so well, such as "Talking Points"/"Eggheads," adapted by Rob Perez from John Koethe, in part because the conversation between the text and the video just don't really jive. While Koethe's poetry is smart, funny, and draws you in, it's also quite dense, so it's hard to concentrate on the words while also paying attention to what is happening with the actors, who are playing out a scenario that seems to be going off on a different storyline entirely. It's an interesting piece, but there's just too much happening, and it gets a little overwhelming.
In "All American," a poem by David Hernandez adapted by Richard Johnson, Motionpoem has switched the genders of the speaker, which isn't necessarily a problem -- especially given the poem's subject matter about resisting identity constraints and having a slippery worldview -- but somehow the meaning of the poem gets shifted because Hernandez's subtextual acknowledgement of his own identity constraints (of not having a perfect body, or of having male privilege, for example) are lost when you're listening to a woman's voice and watching her dance around half naked for much of the film. That's not to say Johnson's cinematography isn't well done, or that dancer Jasmine Morand's performance doesn't have merit in itself, it just doesn't quite go with the poem.
The great part about the series, though, is that these pieces really do try to push the limits and explore the art form of merging poetry with video. It's fun to see all the different ways they can be paired together, even if it doesn't always result in something brilliant. Who knows? Maybe there's space on cable for a Motionpoems channel?
IF YOU GO:
Motionpoems Free Screening at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, May 22 Walker Art Center