Sunday, April 19, 2009

Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker directed by Cathy Cook.

In the artistic documentary Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker, director Cathy Cook lets, “Poetry tell the story,” of Lorine’s life. Niedecker was an objectivist poet from Blackhawk Island, Wisconsin who has been positively compared to Emily Dickinson. She lived from 1903-1970. Immortal Cupboard flowed like poetry and was visually rich and full of nature imagery of where the poet once lived. The camera shots were mainly close-up and medium shots which placed the viewer in Lorine’s place as she wandered her woods or as the audience followed the character of Lorine or the film maker. It was overwhelming at first for me to experience the scenes in close proximity through the close-ups without the ability to focus on other things in the frame. One image was of following the legs of an actress portraying Lorine as she left her house and went on a walk. The viewer could only see her legs and the area that she walked through and never saw the entire actress’s body. The uniqueness wore off after a short while and I stopped thinking about the closeness of the shots. Footage consisted of present day areas of where she lived, photographs of the poet, a recording of Lorine reading her poems, and of Lorine’s letters and books that were kept by friends, relatives and a historical society. What struck me most about the film was the lack of on screen interviews. The interviews in this film were entirely done off screen and the viewer heard their voices while images and scenes were displayed. This use of interviews added a level of storytelling as if the voices were weaving the facts of Lorine’s life together. I associate documentaries with interviews so Cook’s use of the interview as narration rather than an on camera interview was creative. The score was nature sounds including bird twitters and some percussion. Except for the percussion, the music was diegetic with the nature sounds fitting the screen images. This use of diegetic sounds expanded the realm of the story immersing the viewer in this natural world from whence Lorine drew her inspiration.
I would consider this a poetry documentary in that, besides the subject matter, there was a considerable amount of poetry that the viewer needed to read on screen. At this screening the film maker commented that she believed people who did not like reading subtitles would not enjoy this film. This is probably true. She hits upon a good point that the high amount of reading, compared to other films, may discourage some viewers from seeing it. I felt it was refreshing to read the poems and it seemed natural to read them, since we normally read poems rather than hearing them. The film would have lost the poet’s layout of the words on a page if all of the poems had been read aloud.
Cathy Cook has funded this documentary through grants and is passionate about the topic. This artist is objective in her re-telling of the facts of Niedecker’s life but she is subjective in how she presents Lorine’s work and her interpretation of the poems. Cook geared this film towards poets, artists, and nature lovers and has found Mid-Westerners also enjoy it. As a Mid-Westerner I had never heard of Lorine Niedecker until this film and one scene expresses a similar experience. A boat floated on a lake in darkness and went in and out of the camera’s sight as an interviewee explained that she never knew Lorine even though they had lived in the same area. Through Immortal Cupboard, Cook guides the audience in getting to know a female poet whose work is unfamiliar.

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