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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Poetry In Motion (1982)

"Aware Aware wherever you are No Fear No Fear
Trust your heart Don't ride your Paranoia dear
Breathe together with an ordinary mind
Armed with Humor Feed & Help Enlighten Woe Mankind"

- Allen Ginsberg

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: August 12, 2002

Stars: Helen Adam, Miguel Algarin, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, Charles Bukowski
Other Stars: William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Jim Carroll, Jayne Cortez, Robert Creely
Director: Ron Mann

Manufacturer: Stream Inc.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong language)
Run Time: 01h:29m:42s
Release Date: July 23, 2002
UPC: 037429169322
Genre: special interest

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The realm of spoken-word artists and poetry readings are often lampooned in modern culture as a kind of retro-beatnik social clique where bongo drums and thin, black cigarettes are practically required entry fees. In retrospect, the genre does indeed seem ripe for parody, but it is also one of the purest forms of artistic entertainment that anyone can likely experience. Going to a run-down, dimly lit coffee house, buying a drink, and sitting down to enjoy a tapestry of words being woven in mid-air is inexpensive and, most of the time, a tremendously rewarding experience. From completely unknown 12-year-olds to established veteran writers, the realm of open poetry readings is, for the most part, blissfully uncorrupted by commercialism, despite not being quite as popular as it once was. Filmed in 1982, Poetry In Motion is an anthology of contemporary poets doing what they do best: reciting their work as they see fit. In a sense, it can be thought of as a concert film highlighting some exemplary talents of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s.

Occasionally interrupted by brief interview segments, Poetry In Motion is simply various clips of poets reading their work to either live audiences or just to the camera of director Ron Mann. The sizable roster includes: Helen Adam, Miguel Algarin, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Jayne Cortez, Robert Creely, Christopher Dewdny, Diane DiPrima, Kenward Elmslie, Four Horsemen, Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Michael McClure, Ted Milton, Michael Ondaatje, Ed Sanders, Ntozake Shange, Gary Snyder, Tom Waits, and Anne Waldman. While some of the poets are content to simply read their works, others mix them with music or combine them with performance aspects. Each poet has their own style and certainly come across as uniquely talented, and that seems to have been the general point here. While names like Ginsberg and Burroughs may be instantly recognizable, perhaps the most enjoyable facet of this project is that all the poets are on a level playing field; no one is billed above anyone else or given more running time—each segment lasts around 3-5 minutes. While Charles Bukowski appears in multiple interview segments, he by no means gets "special treatment" in the documentary.

Anyone who enjoys the realm of spoken word should feel right at home here. The diversity of artists is quite nice and balances the styles all the way through. The words lull into an eventual trance of lyrical skill; a kind of music with only the human voice as its instrument. Whether it be the monotone, often-humorous storytelling of William S. Burroughs (as he reads from a Cowboy Kim story), or the animated tirades of Anne Waldman, or the quiet, subtle, and calm wordsmithing of John Cage, the entire film is quite a ride. I suppose the draw to poetry for many people is the fact that it seems so amazingly simple, but when performed and given a stage on which it is in the spotlight, the artform takes on this weird, mesmerizing effect; as if gathering around a fire to be told an old tale about forgotten people. Like any truly good concert film, Poetry In Motion doesn't spend time on trivial matters, nor does it pay much attention to the audience. The technique is "in your face," sometimes uncomfortably so, but it puts the art right at the core, focusing little on the personalities themselves.

If I had any complaints with the film, it would be the obvious: it's too short. Of course, that would be a greedy complaint because, if it were up to me, Poetry In Motion might very well have been 5 hours long, but that isn't practical. Working within 90-minutes, director Ron Mann has created something of a modern masterpiece that draws attention to an extremely vital form of human expression, and one that seems to fight tooth-and-nail to stay alive. While the film is 20 years old, by the standards of writers who've come and gone, it's still an essential tool for either the newcomer or the veteran of the spoken word to understand the roots of the art, where it was and will go, and just how diverse it can really be.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The age of the film and the fact it was primarily shot on handheld cameras means it obviously has grain, slight damage, and general wear-and-tear. The transfer does a good job overall, however, of minimizing the problems and making sure it doesn't effect the overall presentation. A very high bitrate was also used, which seems to have helped avoid making the compression artifacts and print speckles any more serious than simple age-distractions. The raw look to the project does seem to be quite intentional though, and very effective.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is mono and, obviously, the majority of the disc is purely dialogue. It is recorded and rendered well, though, with vocals being easy to understand (the performers own styles not withstanding) and no instances of distortion or damage. A few performers use music, which is surprisingly good quality with flexible frequency range allowing the track to sound as good as it should, without limitations of age getting in the way.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Grass, Twist, Comic Book Confidential
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Additional never-before-seen feature: Poetry In Motion II
  2. Interview with Ron Mann
Extras Review: The most important feature is the included "sequel" to Poetry In Motion created for the DVD, presumably by Ron Mann. The additional feature, which runs about 1 hour, is put together from footage not used in the original 1982 feature. It features more poems by many of the artists featured in the original, as well as a few additional faces. It is identical in style and presentation to the original Poetry In Motion, it's just different poems and settings. The video and sound quality is comparable to the original feature and there are chapter stops for each poet. It makes an excellent add-on to an already enjoyable movie.
Also included is a 12-minute interview with director Ron Mann (filmed in 2001) about his experiences making the movie, how it got off the ground, and what he learned while shooting it. Again, this makes another good companion to the film which, because of its format, really wouldn't work well with a commentary track. The disc rounds off with three trailers for some of Ron Mann's other films, including Grass, and Comic Book Confidential.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Who says poetry is just flowers and daffodils? Poetry In Motion is both beautiful and angry, charming and insulting. For those who never experienced the works of the "Beat" authors or modern word experimentalists, it may very well be a radical exposure to what some people do with pen and pad. I personally would love to see Ron Mann revisit this genre with a new project featuring some of the "old guard" in spoken word, along with newer faces like Genesis P. Orridge, Michael Gira, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, and a litany of others. Perhaps the most important lesson here is to tell people to get out and write, recite and, as W.S. Burroughs might say, become infected with the word virus.


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