C. K. Williams bio pic “The Color of Time” panned by Vogue

A film critic at Vogue, Nathan Heller, didn’t think much of the latest feature-length poetry film starring James Franco. It sounds as if it suffers from some of the same defects that mar poetry shorts made by conventionally minded directors. One of the poems interpreted in the film is “My Mother’s Lips“:

The subject of the poem—the transmission of language—is nowhere evident, and neither is the poem’s supple specificity. Whichever of the film’s many writers and directors was responsible for “My Mother’s Lips” gives us, instead, lots of banalities: a mother and child in a field, a mother and child in a wartime kitchen, a mother and child in what appears to be a bathhouse. […] The Color of Time is less a transmutation of Williams’s poems than the illustration of a vague and naïve idea about what Poetry means—dreamy, moody people murmuring tender lines out of their hearts as treacly music plays. The effect is of a Vermeer reproduced with crayon: It’s all there (kind of), and yet everything that makes Williams’s work surprising and distinctive has been blurred, effaced, and smeared over in Goldenrod.

Heller ends on a prescriptive note for poetry film in general:

Many people say that poetry today gets too little attention. They are right. And yet the way to honor poetry seems not to dumb it down or dress it up. The strength of the art is its powerful exactitude of language and perception. The finest tribute to work like Williams’s—sadly, one the makers of The Color of Time missed—is just to let the poem be itself.

Read the whole review.

I enjoyed Howl, but I’m not sure I’ll go to this one. Its rating so far on Rotten Tomatoes, with 16 reviews, is an abysmal 6 percent. On the other hand, a Hollywood movie based on the works of a poet as austere as C. K. Williams is a pretty unique cultural occurrence. It might be worth getting a bunch of poetry friends together to see it in the theater, especially if everyone stops at a bar first. Hilarity would likely ensue.

At any rate, here’s the trailer:

(Hat-tip: Thomas Zandegiacomo Del Bel on Facebook.)

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