Bright Star: at last a good film about poetry
Jane Campion's sublime Bright Star, about the love life of John Keats, is the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is this: movies about poets are boring! Even movies about poets who themselves were not in any way boring tend to be boring – deeply, harrowingly boring. You'd think, for example, that no one could possibly make a DOA biopic of Arthur Rimbaud, who packed more debauchery, drug addiction, omnisexual sport-shagging and absinthe abuse into his intensely lived 37 years than any real hookers and drug-addicts could manage if they lived to be 100. Oh, and he revolutionised modern poetry while he was about it. And yet Agnieszka Holland's Total Eclipse, detailing Rimbaud's tempestuous relationship with Paul Verlaine, is a snooze. Total Eclipse Of His Art is a better title.
Same goes for The Libertine, in which the lascivious life of John Wilmot, the bawdy Restoration poet who pioneered the strategic deployment of the C-word in poesy, is laid before us like the corpse on an anatomist's table. He shags for England, he cheats, he conspires, he boffs the bosomy women of Charles II's court, and treats them like dirt. Can't fail to entertain, right? Wrong! The movie is so lifeless, I actually fell asleep while interviewing John Malkovich about it (although, in my defence, he should never have given me that third Scotch).
Elsewhere, there's Sylvia, in which Gwyneth Paltrow, the Norma Shearer of our time (that's NOT a compliment), essays the suicidal first Mrs Ted Hughes. But since the second Mrs H also did herself in, perhaps the one they should be making movies about is Hughes himself – especially since they had a future James Bond (Daniel Craig) on hand to play him.
Given the high failure rate in these biopics, perhaps film-makers should cast their nets a little wider, since there's no shortage of nutters and perverts at large in the poetic realm. Good lord, any week in the life of Robert Lowell would have to include several alcoholic blackouts, pendulous bipolar mood-swings and several bracing doses of electro-convulsive therapy. An enterprising writer-director might even take it upon themself to film the Yeats-fixated John Berryman's confession letter to Alcoholics Anonymous, in which he itemised all his drunken depravity (shat himself in public, made passes at men or women, vomited on countless objects and individuals … ). I also like the idea of a Coleridge biopic, especially one covering his years of opium addiction ("Oi, De Quincey! Quit bogarting my laudanum!").
But until this happens, the greatest moment of poetry on screen in recent years will always be Kal Penn's sublime and heartbreaking recitation at the end of Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, a scene capable of raising more tears in just 90 seconds than any of the movies I've mentioned above can manage in 90 minutes.
Source: Guardian Online