Alan Price

Film Poems

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) directed by Terence Davies

“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 avoid tyranny.

If you knew Susie. Buttons and Bows. Taking a chance on love.

Voices joined with neighbours over an ale-drenched piano.

This was their opera, romance, ballad and M.G.M. musical.

Ceremony. Rituals. Cry of the camera. Cutting of ambition.

I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks

your heart. A family in time and space. A street’s existence

under the stars. I heard my brother’s life crooning loud

and raw; caught myself, a shipping clerk (like the director)

in a Liverpool long ago vacated: all its celebrations eclipsed

by time.

Los Olvidados (1954) directed by Luis Bunuel

Bunuel, you were born to disregard Freud - never interpret

our dreams only render them brutal, incomprehensible.

Pedro’s slow motion filmed mother (how daintily she held

up the sides of her nightdress.) The son asks why no love

and kisses. She says her hands are tired from washing

and reveals a lump of meat. Jaibo, Pedro’s rival, comes up

from under the bed, grabbing at meat timed to the sound

of a thunderclap. Soon a legless dwarf would be thrown

from his cart “One less. One less just like that and they will

continue to drop. They should kill them before they were born"

says a blind man, trying to molest a girl. Luis, you mellowed

later in France for a bourgeois Piccoli. And before this came

an eye and an Andalusian razor. But this dead boy in a sack

on a city waste dump. I sat chilled in my seat, unable to cry

Redemption gone missing: pushed outside of the frame.

Pick Up On South Street (1953) directed by Samuel Fuller

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.

The lady’s head blown off. Sweet Mademoiselle loudly sings

her record. For Sam life is terrible for ‘dopey’ looking agents.

On a waterfront hangs out a three-time loser: pickpocket

throwing a bottle of beer to a sweating detective dishing out

crumpled 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 for money: scarce

seeing the cops, arrested by abuse, the system, a dame’s

bruised face and transformations of love sticky on arrival.

I never met a Red. Nearest I got was the SWP, gassy lager

and an overdose of American imperialisms.

The Gospel According To Matthew (1964) directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

What cinephile succour could I offer nuns and children

enduring a film approved by the Pope? Timid souls fidget.

One shields a little girl’s eyes. Had the Vatican blown it?

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"

demanding that their darkness can only ever receive his light.

Armed with ecstasy and palms they dash towards Christ.

Hand-held camera running as if a panther by their side;

then prowling caged behind the backs of soldiers, witness

for a rough-hewn Passion. Pasolini casting his own mother

as the aged and rejected Mary. Her lost Messiah, born to fight

immaculate, returns to disobey: resurrected with a sword.

Boy (1969) directed by Nagisa Oshima

“It’s the end of Japan. We can’t go any further.”

says the stepmother. “Grandmother won’t want

to see you” says the father. “We went to Hokkaido”

says the son to the police. A journey of scam accidents

right up to the snowy North. Boy learns how to fall;

extorting money from drivers; faking bruises on arms,

taught how long and when best to cry. A ten year old

with a brother, only three, and a Mother pregnant with

maybe another boy (snowed in) to hear the screech of

brakes. A snowman, red Wellington boot and a dead

girl. “Men from outer space will come to save the world”

Boy assures his veteran father. As a child I too believed

in cosmic forces. But a new wristwatch, that told you

the date, and to be always on the move wasn’t for me.

It all belonged to Nagisa and his boy.

White Heat (1949) directed by Raoul Walsh and acted by James Cagney

A gang member scalded by steam from the mail train

then bandaged up and left to die waiting for the doc.

Now if ever I burn myself badly at my kitchen stove

indifference returns in the form of Arthur Cody Jarret

snarling from his pain and lust in mother’s open arms

till his girlfriend enters, spits out her gum and demands

a fur coat, shivering treacherously in their hide-out.

Those ‘tops’ of Jarret’s world kept peaking in madness;

a routine killing whilst gnawing away on a chicken leg,

‘epilepsy’ as a manic protest in a prison dining hall

and firing your gun at the chemical storage tank

exploding with a blast to ape your psychotic torment

and meltdown the riveted audience for an atomic age.

“All I ever had was Ma.” She was the gang’s engineer.

Her son - the ruthless driver despising the rest of them:

plagued by headaches from hell and incurably in love

with Mom, especially when she was shot by Cody’s gal.

All the punk gangsters, that came after Cagney, merely lit

the fuse he’d already planted in our brains.

Alan Price © 2019