~ Mark Pellington ~

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Talk About the Money”

Talk About the Money
Poem by Wanda Coleman
Directed by Mark Pellington
From the PBS series The United States of Poetry, produced by Bob Holman and Josh Blum, 1995

I found Talk About the Money intriguing. Wanda Coleman recites her poem as a seductress, enticing and luring the viewer into believing her, just like any good sales person. As her presentation becomes more aggressive, she insists that we need to talk money to understand the currency of our time. I take this as a warning that unfortunately has more truth than this reviewer wants to handle. The gap between the haves and the used-to-haves or have-nots is rapidly growing.

The opening image is of one of Barbara Kruger’s works: We’ve exploded because they’ve got Money and God in their pockets. Kruger worked in advertising and her art is politically/feminist based. Her work is very powerful and a good opener to this video poem. The flashing on and off of advertising slogans is a nice touch. It appears pretty chintzy, which is a welcome addition to the message Coleman is very effectively getting across. The fact that it appears to be cheaply made adds to the impact. It reminds me of one of those late-night infomercials (they will even throw in another one if you act now!) for something you don’t really need but are now lured into buying. Then whatever you bought breaks or isn’t what you thought it might be and you’re out $19.95 plus shipping.

Money is a systematic theory that we all need to adhere to, like it or not. I think by collaborating on this video, Wanda Coleman had the foresight to warn us of what is happening economically today—though unfortunately this is a pattern which has been repeating throughout time.

I love the rotating piggy banks. All the imagery is perfect and matches the meaning of the poem. It’s shoddy, ugly and presented in such a way that whoever sees it will never want to watch another infomercial ever again.

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy”

Poem and performance by Leonard Cohen
Directed by Mark Pellington

See also the music video.

I have only known Leonard Cohen as a singer/songwriter. To my surprise I came across his video poem titled Democracy.

Cohen is an outstanding poet and I have been a devoted fan since my adolescence. However I have never seen or heard him just read his poetry, not without musical accompaniment, which was and remains the perfect blend by which Leonard Cohen presents himself. Neither genre supersedes the other. He is indeed an icon and has influenced an entire generation.

Visually, with the exception of the backdrop (flag changing into a bar code at the end), Democracy reminds me of a static poetry reading. Not much movement going on. Perhaps all we need is to watch Cohen stand there, and be the spoken-word artist. He does it very well. There is something to be said for letting purity be the platform and downplaying the drama. The camera plays a significant role in this by switching to close-ups of Cohen, zooming in and out, silhouetting, and coming back in while respecting the graphic element of the piece. This works well, and as we know, his words carry the weight. His voice is juxtaposed, rough but smooth, and he reads with feeling. The bar code provides the perfect ending to this political statement. The background music in my opinion is as important as the visual, which makes them combined vehicles that work well together. I only wish I knew what he is fondling.

This video poem was part of a series called The United States of Poetry, produced by Bob Holman, Josh Blum and directed by Mark Pellington for PBS. Sixty poets were featured, among them, Allen Ginsberg, Lou Reed, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Ruth Forman.

An interesting bit of information that I learned is that former president Jimmy Carter became the first U.S president to write a book of poetry: Always a Reckoning and Other Poems, published by Crown in 1995 and illustrated by Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko. (Crown also published Jimmy Stewart and his Poems, which I happen to have illustrated.)

Bob Holman’s website will give you more of an idea of the series.