Alan Morrison on
The Cinephile Poems
The High Window Press
Poems from Picturedromes
I declare a liking of Alan Price’s clipped, aphorismic poetic style, having previously contributed the Foreword to his excellent The Trio Confessions (High Window Press, 2020) and published his slim collection of filmic cut-up poems, Restless Voices (Caparison, 2020). Perhaps unsurprisingly given the title The Cinephile Poems is another filmic collection but with, as is always the case with Price, a unique selling point: it comprises 39 prose poems which each distil the poet’s original impressions of a film which made a particular impact on him at first viewing (often in childhood or adolescence at his local Liverpudlian ‘flea-pit’). These exquisitely evocative compact prose poems aren’t entirely paeans to favourite films since Price’s selection is based mostly on the power of first impression and the mark it left on him at various significant moments in his life as much as it is on personal taste. Price explains his method in his compendious Introduction:
So, what does this have to do with the ‘art’ of poetry? Perhaps nothing. Maybe everything. I remember watching a TV documentary on classical music where the pianist Alfred Brendel said something to the effect that the highest compliment you could make about a work of art was to call it poetic. That this was the summit of artistic depth. Beethoven and Shakespeare certainly had it. But did jazz, popular music and the movies give you real poetry – that frisson of pleasure providing deep insight to change your life a little?
Many of the films, in my contents list for The Cinephile Poems achieve this aim. A few films don’t have such pretensions to greatness but they are still films that I love. Yet all manage to convey an epiphany. They woke me up to perceive the world in a different light. And I wanted to convey, through the prose poem, the insight I had on my first and subsequent viewings. (The only exception being was to include one truly bad movie Mesa of Lost Women where trash triumphed over art.)
Undertaking to write The Cinephile Poems I felt it best to drop the distinction between art-film versus entertainment-film. The more I wrote the more I wanted to illustrate their mark on my personal history. It was very hard to ration my choice of films to 39 poems as hundreds, even thousands, of films have affected me for good or ill…
A little further on he comments on the choice of poetic form:
My selections were conceived as prose poems. I didn’t want them to be seen as solely ekphrastic pieces but a hybrid of forms. Prose poem, film review, autobiography, a ‘letter’ to a director and sometimes an actor.
The poems do indeed achieve a hybridity and there are moments when some of them could quite seamlessly pass for the compact aphorismic critiques of David Thomson (whom Price cites in his Afterword), almost prose poems themselves, in his ground breaking and constantly revised Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975 et al).
Price’s selection of films is, as one might expect, eclectic: Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946), The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938), The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942), Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1959), Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1954), Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1958), The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), La Belle et la Bette (Jean Cocteau, 1946), Spione (Spies, Fritz Lang, 1928), Boy (Nagisa Oshima, 1969), A Canterbury Tale (Powell and Pressburger, 1944), Pick Up on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953), The Wind (1928, Victor Sjostrom), Summer Interlude (Bergman, 1951), The Gospel According to Matthew (Pasolini, 1964), The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952), Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953), Sansho Dayu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954), The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946), The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Bunuel, 1952), The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957), Mesa of Lost Women (Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos, 1953), It (Clarence Badger, 1927), Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1947), White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949), Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), The Time Machine (George Pal, 1960), The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1954), Marnie (Hitchcock, 1964), Vivre sa Vie (Jean Luc-Godard, 1964), Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1956), It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1964), Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011), City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931), Ordet (The Word, Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955), L’avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960), Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988).
It shows just how subjective taste is, as is the impact something has on one, which could be as much to do with some other significance of the moment when one is exposed to it and the subsequent association; not to say the old ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ nostalgia factor (though one which in the age of DVDs, streaming and Youtube, holds much less weight than it used to): of Price’s 39 films, only four of the 14 of them I’ve seen might make my own 39: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Matter of Life and Death, The Night of the Hunter, and It Happened Here. In his Introduction Price namechecks those directors whose films have all missed out on his selection:
I could have gone on indefinitely writing film poems (already I see that I’ve forgotten to include the pleasures of Jean Renoir, John Ford, Roberto Rossellini or even Kenneth Anger…
I’m sure if Price continued on this track of thought he’d also possibly cite Francois Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky, Roman Polanski, David Lynch and many others.
I’m an admirer of the films of Ingmar Bergman (and have previously written an extensive long poem on them, ‘Autumn Cloudberries’ in The Tall Skies, 2013) although much of my admiration is for the exquisite chiaroscuro cinematography of his cohorts Gunnar Fischer and Sven Nykvist as it is for the deep psychological narratives and philosophical anguish of Bergman’s scripts. Personally, I regard the Bergman masterpieces to be Wild Strawberries (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963), Hour of the Wolf (1968) and Cries and Whispers (1972). I part emphatically with the critics in the case of the overblown and whimsical Fanny and Alexander (1982) which to my mind is almost a travesty of everything Bergman had built on beforehand. And I also didn’t take to Persona (1966) which I found pretentious and exasperating even though I was initially struck by its central conceit on the nature of individual identity and the disintegration of human personality (itself arguably a precursor to David Lynch’s equally exasperating, pretentious and exhaustively lauded Mulholland Drive (2001)). But Price’s compact poetic take on the latter film certainly picks up on its thought-provoking aspects—here it is in full:
Psychoanalysis in a run-down art house / sex cinema
Aged 18 I didn’t understand what this meant, Ingmar.
You split open my physical, mental and spiritual defences.
Alma and Elizabeth caressing each other’s luminous faces:
silenced actress and talkative nurse of vampirish moods.
The psychiatrist’s letter, a foot injured by shards of broken
glass, self-immolation of a Buddhist monk on TV, a monologue,
ravishment by the sea, the fights, babble of words: the merging
of identities. Alma climaxing on nonsense speech, uttering,
“A desperate perhaps.” Then the projector broke down
in the movie (not the theatre one whirring on that day)
and a skeleton danced for the beginning and end of cinema.
Speechless I escaped to a freezing street. I stared at the jigsaw
image poster. It was snowing. Catharsis perhaps.
There are some marvellous impressionistic descriptions of the film and its impression on the poet and this first prose poem sets the tone and template of this collection which I read in one sitting (always a good sign). On 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Price picks up on perhaps one of the most famous jump-cuts in cinema: ‘Your dawn of man’s/ bone thrown into the sky - cutting me right to the quick’—the bone, of course, cuts to a spacecraft. And on the incongruity of spaceships drifting to classical music: ‘I’d never imagined waltzing in space before.’ As to the lasting impact on the 19-year-old Price:
… Exhausted from
tripping I bussed home wrapped in Cinerama 70mm.
Next day I was re-born (no relaxation for a star-child.)
Dragged out of my deep-freeze youth to realise one day
I might end up old, alone dying in bed: faked objects
of Western civilisation all around me.
From Kubrick’s existential mindwarp to the metaphysical courtrooms of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger sublime A Matter of Life and Death (1946):
Pilot Peter Carter, so English a fighting poet. One moment
in a three-strip Technicolor village, the next on a staircase
to a monochrome beyond…
Price closes on a wonderfully epiphanic moment:
… AMOLAD determined
my fantasy after-life. I was born premature three years later:
taken out of my pram; nurtured in a cinema, entranced by
black & white pearls with an option for wide screen rainbows.
Hovering betwixt and between, knowing I’d never starve.
I confess I’ve yet to see The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and am more intrigued from Price’s elliptical take on it:
Orson’s bass-baritone voice intoning thwarted love,
family decline and the birth of the motor car for
the state of Indiana. …
… Agnes Morehead hysterical in
the kitchen as George drank milk and gobbled shortcake
to forget his social comeuppance. Mag-nificence,
I’d repeat it to myself creating sacramental syllables.
Price’s response to Luis Bunuel’s Los Olvidados (1954) begins with an aphorismic flourish: ‘Bunuel, you were born to disregard Freud - never interpret/ our dreams only render them brutal, incomprehensible’—he later evokes Bunuel’s most notorious shock-shot: ‘And before this came an eye and an Andalusian/ razor.’
Price juxtaposes his hard-up parents with the eponymous Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde (1967):
… Despite all the chatter
in their flea-pit my parents (who were never in any money)
stuck with the stalls: watching kids rob banks and healthily
shoot at rednecks.
Price waxes lyrical on The Maltese Falcon (1941) with something of the staccato delivery of Dashiell Hammett's private detective:
“You’re good, you’re very good.” Sam Spade weighed
up Miss Wonderly (her back facing him) as she poked
the fire, lit a cigarette and fussed: allowing time for
a further lie. … The falcon remained a leaden fake covering
no diamonds and precious stones. Nothing but a MacGuffin.
Causing the fat man, the punk who shadowed and the one
of perfumed handkerchiefs, to consider looking elsewhere,
possibly Turkey. … Bogart, touching stardom, all gritted teeth
and intense cold eyes…
Poetic pearls aplenty on Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bete (1946): ‘Recoiling then approaching, ceremoniously taking hold/ of his paw: cupping water in her hand for a weeping Bête’, closing on an epiphany: ‘Back home from my first date I still glimpsed Belle shedding/ diamond tears for her dying father.’
Price views the silent espionage intrigues of Fritz Lang’s Spione (Spies, 1928) from the vantage of our 21st century surveillance state:
This oh so casual shrug of betrayal and sleaze.
Spies getting everywhere. I exposed myself to a universe
of evil. Inside the trap the nightmare went on forever.
All those theorems, madness and fate. But your labyrinth
held dark pleasure: shadows, design and abstract montage.
Now we live in such a broken down spydom; watching
each other more suspiciously than traitors in films in case
romance sneaks in and disarms.
Price’s evocation of A Canterbury Tale (1944) certainly makes me want to watch it—there’s a great play on the provincial and metropolitan, esoteric and popular cultures:
An American soldier wanting to love the English and meet
his buddy. In the blackout a Kent magistrate pours glue
on young women’s hair. The cinema organist longs to leave
tanks alone and play in the cathedral. The American wood
-cutter’s anxious for his special girl. And the shop assistant
weeps on opening her fiancée’s moth-ridden caravan.
Three pilgrims and a patriarchal avatar fated to find
coins on the old Roman road, converge their blessings.
Out of the church comes permission to play Bach or even
Tin Pan Alley.
Price’s rather pessimistic but perennial view that life lacks the sense of wonder and magic of cinema
Emeric and Michael’s vision congregates in our heads: a halo of technique - hiding,
behind the sun. Transcendence can happen in the movies.
But in life, the other side of the camera, I find it much less.
for some reason brings to my mind the despairing line of alcoholic Kirstie Clay in the devastating Days of Wine and Roses (Blake Edwards, 1962): ‘the world looks so dirty to me when I'm not drinking’—in this context, intoxication as a metaphor for the immersion in cinema.
Price’s highly evocative take on Pickup on South Street (1953) crackles with alliteration:
A necktie selling woman licked her pencil, informed the cops.
Fifty dollars – last instalment on a Long Island burial plot.
“I have to go on making a living so I could die.” Plonked on
her bed the shoes of a communist: gunning for a microfilm.
A pickpocket throwing a beer to a sweating detective:
dishing out bucks and hating routine. How on a summer day
a thief unclipped the commie’s girlfriend’s bag in a subway
train; groping behind tissues, makeup, ID, looking for money:
scarcely registering the cops, the system, a dame’s bruised face
and transformative love so sticky on arrival.
Price closes on a striking aphorismic flourish: ‘I never met a Red./ Nearest I got was the SWP, gassy lager and an overdose/ of American imperialisms.’ The Danish silent The Wind (1928) sounds intriguing from Price’s haunting evocation:
“The wind makes folks go crazy – especially women.”
declares the womaniser on the train. Lillian Gish knows
all about craziness. An Indian ghost horse bucking
through the sky. “Old Norther” spirit galloping into
Lillian’s tempest mind…
Bergman’s Summer Interlude (1951) inspires an aphorismic, almost stream-of-consciousness response in Price:
Touring Sweden I wasn’t disturbed by the colour
of nature draining away – for summer will always be
Bergman’s in black and white. The ballerina wipes
greasepaint off her face, removes false eyelashes,
goes to the door to meet Dr. Coppelius who declares
that life is futile. Her summer innocence has gone.
Nothing makes sense in the Autumn. Returning
from an island of crows and gusts where she stood
hard by a cold handrail tackling a malign uncle that
mailed the diary of her dead lover who’d eaten wild
The assonance and alliteration of ‘handrail tackling a malign uncle that mailed the diary’ particularly striking. Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) inspires Price to express the furiousness of this particular messianic characterisation which sounds as if it bears similarities to that of Dennis Potter’s controversial television play Son of Man (1969):
Good Friday’s blistering gospel from a Marxist unbeliever.
"You will be hated by all, because you bear my name.”
Jesus rebukes, attacks, hectors and spits out his message;
knifing the Pharisees, bursting open the moneylenders,
stealing nets from fishermen. “Abandon family and friends"
Jesus demands that their darkness can only receive his light.
Armed with ecstasy and palms they dash towards Christ…
Note the semi-end rhymes of those last two lines. Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) has palpably had a powerful impact on Price:
Oharu's brief pleasure is not theirs; slipping down
from courtesan to concubine, shopkeeper, prostitute
then labelled 'goblin cat'. …
…Oharu won't be bought
as she sires a son that’s pulled from her arms.
Slapped like a fish on a chopping board she flops,
despising law and order. When old they rent her
a gaudy dress and underwear but Oharu returns
to claw and hiss. Each movement of Ohura's hand,
touching her veil, cries out disdain, holding intact
a huge sad grace. They'll not abuse what's deepened
inside. She fainted inside me, shaming us all
for our looking on. I retreated from the screen.
Meanwhile, the same director’s Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) elicits from the poet a domestic juxtaposition:
Once I watched my mother mend a pair of trousers
and argue with father till each forgiving stitch was outed.
Now Mizoguchi’s camera tracks down all evil spirits
intent on destroying fired earthenware and any belief
in the humility of sewing.
And on the same director’s Sansho Dayu (1954) Price begins eerily: ‘Zu-shio An-ju, Zu-shio An-ju, Zu-shio An-ju, Zu-shio An-/ Cry of an aristocratic woman spanning time and space.’ Then the intriguingly ambiguous:
A parallel fate was the savage breaking of Tamaki’s tendon,
her blindness, chanting and collection of mute seaweed:
asking to be banished by the embrace of mother and son.
This poem closes with a nice filmic conceit: ‘I wanted to rescue this family from a life of beautiful compositions.’
Exposure to Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase (1946) as a mere baby held by his mother as she watched the film at The Cameo cinema in Liverpool in 1950 understandably had something of a traumatic impact on the infant Price (detailed further in an additional postscript in this book):
In the hotel an eye watched at the back of a wardrobe
till a body blacked out, hands clawing at strangled air.
Babies in arms are not permitted read the bare regulation.
Held tight by mother I was bundled in to disturb the rules
of their dark. If she’d turned for a second, made me choke
on projected light then the sound of a theremin and an old
dark house would have recharged their menace, fixed me
about-face in the Cameo cinema …
… his flickering, re-emerging to scrape at her throat.
Once again I love the assonances and alliterations in Price’s poems, as in his response to Bunuel’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1952):
This thirsty son who went to sea was quickly shipwrecked;
hallucinating his father wasting water by scrubbing a pig.
Bunuel sipped much Hungarian red directing his Crusoe
who drank rum and imagined harmonising with shipmates:
only to sob long and hard when they suddenly vanished.
Father drowned and his dog Rex died in the pouring rain.
When Crusoe shouted psalm 132 and heard his echo
taunt Robinson: all he’d left to master were insects to feed
unleavened bread or let them devour one another…
The details, images, descriptions are all first rate poetically speaking. The poem closes on another nice filmic conceit: ‘I returned to the book to discover/ a hoarding Crusoe who couldn’t befriend this screen/ Crusoe singing to his crops of Eastman-colour stock.’
Price enters the sublime with his take on Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), which is clearly much more than just a B movie:
When the cake crumbled in your hand you gave up
old hunter instincts. The circle of the incredibly small
and incredibly vast consoled. Such infinity of nature
and God’s plan, on your side, for further shrinkage,
driving every molecule with a greater urge to exist.
Price picks at the fairy tale roots of Fritz Lang’s The Secret Beyond the Door (1947):
More than enough Freudianisms to have delighted Siggie:
keys, doors, corridors, lilacs, a stone lion spouting water,
wax cut from a candlestick, a duellist’s knife, church bells
and a secretary’s long-held pretence of a scarred face
bristle in the light and shadow of an obsessed husband
who collects and furnishes rooms, aching from murders,
committed by others, then pushes away any suggestion
that he has a Bluebeard complex to one day confront…
George Pal’s H.G. Wells adaptation of The Time Machine (1960) was a visually impressive film for its time—it’s only a shame in Price’s descriptions that he doesn’t emphasize the striking appearance of the Morlocks, all glowing red eyes, blue skin, fangs, claws and long white manes:
In 802,701 the Eloi played in the sun, ignored old books,
crumbling to dust, and metal rings you could spin
to speak of conflict and disaster; the Morlocks took all
the blonde Elois calmly underground to eat them up,
making the cruel point that a species must always grow
Charles Laughton’s exceptionally photographed The Night of the Hunter (1954) is well-placed in this collection since it has to be one of the most hypnotically poetic pieces of cinema ever put to celluloid—Price captures some of its most arresting and lingering images particularly well:
The priestly husband tilted back his head, raised up an arm
to the window of the high-gabled bedroom as if to sing an aria
for the Devil, his legal employer. The message was the falling
blade: then a drowned wife, hair streaming with the seaweed,
sat upright in her Model T. Auto…
The latter image is particularly memorable from the film (Shelley Winters seems to often encounter deep water, see also The Poseidon Adventure). Price closes the poem on some lasting imagery:
Escaping down the river watched by a frog, owl, rabbits, and us,
through a spider’s web. Never seeming to sleep he chases you
on horseback. A shotgun’s fired. When arrested a stepson beats
his sister’s doll against the killer’s chest bursting out the stuffed
dollar bills so craved. Hands tattooed with Harry’s Love and Hate;
once gripped tight for a monster’s contest, now helpless, as lambs,
handcuffed to the reverend wolf.
There’s no mention here, though, of how Mitchum seems to squawk and flutter like a cockerel when he’s shot at, which only adds to his evident psychopathy.
We head into French existential angst with Jean Luc-Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1964):
Faces are hidden, save for reflections out of focus:
camera eavesdropping on the backs of two heads.
In a wintry Paris Nana talks to Paul of how to end
this thing called a relationship. Her soul is confined
in a coffee bar…
Karina’s stark tableaux in twelve parts –
a journey through “bad faith”, prostitution, B-picture
crooks, and a left-bank philosopher…
Price concludes: ‘At eighteen/ I embraced all things existential, adopting Karina to/ face the indifference of the world.’ Alain Resnais’ Night & Fog (1956) elicits a vivid description from Price:
In autumn light, developed as if the grain of film stock,
I walked the few kilometres from Auschwitz to Birkenau
discovering a railway track loosely handcuffed by weeds:
the end of a journey begun in your document shadowing
my footsteps; its camera tracking through deserted huts,
latrines and crematorium. Incinerator, cold in my presence,
burns raw inside the heart: hard to touch rust and iron
or even recoil from celluloid…
I would certainly include It Happened Here (1964) in my own selection of films—it’s a low-budget but thought-provoking cinema verité-style slice of filmmaking from the distinctive talents of Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo who also produced the gritty and historically authentic Winstanley (1975), which was also filmed in a crisp black and white. IHH depicts an alternative history in which Britain is occupied by the Nazis following the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940—this theme was continued and expanded on in the equally superlative television serial An Englishman’s Castle (1978) which depicted contemporary Britain under a collaborationist fascist government following Germany’s invasion in 1940 and victory in the Second World War. IHH is a thought-provoking drama, the main protagonist sympathetic yet pragmatic and to some extent amoral in her adaption to the situation she finds herself in (it is also notable for a rare appearance from Sebastian Shaw whose fame came late as the dying face of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi; another cast detail is the cameo appearance of amateur actor Miles Halliwell who later played the eponymous Winstanley, his rather effete vocal delivery, however, unfortunately undermined his performance of the Digger leader). Price manages to encapsulate much of the most important aspects to this distinctive film in another compact prose poem which however is among the longest in this book:
It happened once again: moving to London in 1980,
seeing 14 Belsize Square, NW3 (Now Garden Flat 16a)
filmed in 1964, to be crushed by an imaginary 1945.
I stood outside the long-gone doctor’s surgery,
remembering the actor inside who’d said that fascism
could only be defeated by the use of fascist methods.
Pauline recoiled: a nurse who’d escaped a massacre
by the partisans; trying to keep active, apolitical:
joined Immediate Action Operations and came to hate
both their salute and solutions – the staff rest-room
with racists talking of the weak and unnecessary
and the sleepy country hospital where she was given
a needle to prick the disease of ‘worn-out’ workers
from the Eastern front…
Price cites a controversial component to IHH: a scene in which real life blackshirts are given an opportunity to vent their vile Malthusianism and Mendelist ideology. The most iconic shot in IHH is of the German soldiers goosestepping past Westminster, something which Price picks on:
In the city a cosy Englishness still occupied
the heads of citizens: shoes cleaned, buses driven,
trains departing, an army chatting up the London girls,
kids doing a cheeky goose-step, a soldier photographing
his mates outside the Albert Hall: with flaming torches
a Nazi anthem was sung by a gang, so solidly British,
for their murdered comrade: with widow and son
now to be nursed by a comfortable Reich.
But IHH ends on a new hope of rising resistance against the Occupation—as does, interestingly, An Englishman’s Castle.
Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) is given the Price treatment:
“You?” says the former blind girl, now an all-seeing florist.
A tentative Chaplin nods his head. “You can see me now?”
(He’d been a swanky destitute playing at being wealthy.)
Girl nods back - widening the gulf, freezing the moment.
She gives a rose to a tramp, which he puts in his mouth;
smiling with his longing, her waiting: silent deception
and a live orchestra sprung for tragedy.
I’ve never got round to viewing Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (The Word, 1955) and after Price’s pellucid description I’m certainly more inclined to:
One hundred and fourteen shots – long takes, tracks,
pans and wipes: on average measuring ninety seconds.
A slow journey to resurrection. Everyone talks much,
not giving direct eye contact: distracted and waiting
for the word to be spoken: a conflict of love, madness
and faith for a Jutland family at their farmhouse.
A kitchen glowing with utensils, constant drinking
of coffee, and the opening and closing of doors by
a priest and doctor. That holy fool, convinced he was
Christ, now calmed down, assisted by a child, to bring
Mother, who died in childbirth, back from the dead.
All that spent passion, anguish and grief. All that talk
about the truth of miracles. And then she rises up from
her coffin; to kiss and mouth her husband’s cheek,
hungry for him and her baby (He’s told her it now
lives in the house of God.)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) also sounds fascinatingly metaphysical and numinous:
A rich Italian party: bodies, looks,
gestures, an island, rocks, the sea,
a church, a piazza and a rooftop
holding on to a continual ache
in an exquisite design of loneliness.
Anna went missing on the island.
She was already about to vanish;
made invisible by her friends’ boredom.
Her body never found. No one’s ever found.
The camera as Anna’s ghost watching
others failing to see her or themselves...
Price resolves at the close to ‘let the film fall/ into my mind, validate my melancholy,/ unable or unwilling to deflect this other/ time and place.’
Finally, we have Price’s treatment of Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988):
“We shall not gather by the river but in the beautiful pub.
We’ll have a sing-song to praise, then quickly batter down,
our bringing up. Our religion’s Catholic yet we prefer beer
and candles to wine with that brute our father in the cellar.”
Two daughters fighting against the blows of a broom.
A son conscripted to the army; returning to light a fag,
swear, marry and escape. Lives desiring to escape tyranny.
If you knew Susie. Buttons and Bows. Taking a chance on love.
Voices joined with neighbours over an ale-drenched piano.
This leads to a resonant epiphany of Price’s which closes this evocative and disarming collection of prose poems on a beautiful note:
…I heard my dead brother
crooning loud and raw. I caught myself, a young shipping
clerk, in a Liverpool long vacated: all its celebrations eclipsed
There also follows an Afterword, the first chapter from a memoir-cum-novel on the theme of formative cinemagoing, and three prose snippets on a trio of films which had a particular impact on Price, Persona and The Spiral Staircase again, and A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1963).
The Cinephile Poems is a compulsive read and one can sense from each compact prose poem-cum-filmic appreciation how this hybrid poetic form and topic became something of a compulsion for Price—any poet reading this book who has an interest in cinema or even television may well find after reading this collection of finely sculpted poem-appreciations that they’re inspired to compose 39 of their own.
My own 39 choices would be The Hill (Sidney Lumet, 1965), The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), The Bofors Gun (Jack Gold, 1968), The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (Paul Newman, 1972), Ryan’s Daughter (David Lean, 1970), Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov, 1962), Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964), Breaker Morant (Bruce Beresford, 1980), Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959), Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961), Inherit the Wind (Stanley Kramer, 1960), Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Tunes of Glory (Ronald Neame, 1960), Black Narcissus (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1947), Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971), Becket (Peter Glenville, 1964), Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli, 1956), The Heart of the Matter (George More O'Ferrall, 1953), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966), Days of Wine and Roses (Blake Edwards, 1962), Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut, 1966), It Happened Here (Andrew Mollo, Kevin Brownlow, 1964), The Hireling (Alan Bridges, 1973), Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1962), The Rebel (Robert Day, 1961), Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965), The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976), The Four Feathers (Zoltan Korda, 1939), Equus (Sidney Lumet, 1977), A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (Peter Medak, 1972), Rembrandt (Alexander Korda, 1936), East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame, 1969), The Gorgon (Terence Fisher, 1964), Heavens Above (John Boulting, Roy Boulting, 1963).
But I’m already thinking about it in relation to my long-standing love of vintage Seventies television drama. And, as Oscar Wilde said, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… Price has hit on a poetic formula ripe for replication, what one might term cinepoems.
Alan Morrison © 2023