Wheatfield soul train

Wheatfield soul train


Toronto Eye Weekly


In the months since it opened, Atom Egoyan and Hussain Amarshi’s
Camera media bar near Queen and Ossington has attracted no shortage of
photo spreads for its chic design. Now they face a trickier task than
impressing the style mavens: establishing a consistent sensibility for
the programming.

While some Camera selections have been appropriate to the vanguard
nature of the space — and its one major limitation, the lack of a
35mm projector — others could have just as easily appeared at the
Carlton or a rep theatre. Of course, those places tend to discourage
viewers from slugging back vino, so Camera wins points there. But due
to its unusual combination of functions (cinema, bar, gallery) and
Egoyan’s rep as both auteur and cinephile, Camera can also afford to
be more adventurous than other venues and show work that defies the
conventions not just of multiplex fare but the middlebrow titles that
dominate the art-house circuit.

Opening this weekend for a seven-night run, Clive Holden’s Trains of
Winnipeg () is exactly the sort of movie that belongs at Camera —
idiosyncratic, independent and supremely inventive. Holden’s first
feature-length work, it’s part of a multidisciplinary project that has
already yielded a book of poems, a spoken-word disc and a website, all
with the same prosaic yet oddly endearing title. (Could anything be
more Canadian?) Consisting of 14 “film poems,” Trains of Winnipeg
juxtaposes the poet and filmmaker’s ruminations on landscape and
memory with a wide array of visual strategies, including home movies,
travel films and found footage, which are then goosed up with
hand-processing effects and digital treatments. The richly detailed
sound design incorporates eerie, loop-based music by Christine Fellows
and the Weakerthans’ Jason Tait and John K. Samson (Winnipeggers all).

As much as I love Holden’s movie — it’s one of the finest
non-narrative movies ever made in this country — I can understand if
you cringe at the phrase “film poems.” I did too. I imagined a
slow-motion shot of geese in flight and a wispy-voiced narrator
murmuring about the ineffable sadness of a beach at twilight — in
other words, something too pretentious to work in either medium, let
alone both at once. There’s also the larger question of whether film
and poetry really belong together. If the best poetry consists of
words arranged to create the purest, most indelible form of linguistic
expression, then film strives to speak entirely through images. The
ultimate ambition of each form is to negate any need for the other.

Yet the film poem has existed for nearly as long as cinema. Sometimes
cited as the first American avant-garde film, Charles Sheeler and Paul
Strand’s Manhatta (1921) used intertitles by Walt Whitman. Man Ray’s
L’Etoile de Mer (1928) is taken from a poem by Robert Desnos. The
surrealists’ flagrantly poetic school of filmmaking eventually yielded
such works as Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet (1930) and Jean Vigo’s
marginally more narrative-based L’Atalante (1934). The exquisite
collaborations between director Marcel Carné and poet Jacques Prévert
in the ’30s and ’40s (most famously Children of Paradise) also bear
traces of the French film-poem ideal. With Meshes of the Afternoon
(1943), Maya Deren fused her interests in poetry, dance and cinema to
establish a new mode of expression. The aphorism-filled essay films of
Agnès Varda and Chris Marker established another, as did the wild and
wordy fantasias of Derek Jarman. In Canada, the precise, haiku-like
short films of Philip Hoffman have greatly influenced the experimental
film scene.

Holden deploys many of these approaches in Trains of Winnipeg as he
explores and subverts relationships between word and image. In the
opening piece, “Love in the White City,” Holden’s wry examination of
urban dread is accompanied by the sight of his legs walking in the
four corners of the screen — the repetitiveness of the image and the
looping, crackly music enhance the effects of the poem’s subtler
rhythmic structure and sense of futile motion. In “Burning Down the
Suburbs,” a family of miniature figures watch a model car in flames,
dramatizing a scene that is not described in the poem but still
complements the ones that are. The grainy, distorted home-movie
fragments in “Nanaimo Station” seem as degraded as the narrator’s
falsely idyllic memories of his family in a time when “the food was
like magazines and the cars were all big.” In “Hitler! (revisited),” a
tribute to Holden’s schizophrenic brother Niall, onscreen text
replaces the voiceover, a stylistic tack that emphasizes the
interiority of Niall’s existence. In the title piece, the words
disappear altogether, replaced by the amped-up visual poetry of the

By the time the wheels stop moving, Holden has provided ample proof of
the film poem’s ability to engage and enlighten. Wry, wise and damn
near sublime, Trains of Winnipeg makes you wish there were more movies
just like it. Alas, the challenges of cine-poetry remain daunting, as
they probably should — when this stuff goes wrong, it can go
eye-bleedingly, teeth-grindingly wrong. Even so, I hope Camera’s run
of Holden’s mesmerizing work will inspire others to forego familiar
tactics and try dreaming in verse.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress


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