Here is a famous poem, called “The Red Wheelbarrow”:
so much depends upon
the red wheel barrow
the red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
That’s it. Sixteen words. Not much of an idea or theme. All the same, it’s a widely-respected poem, written by the American William Carlos Williams, in 1923, and often reprinted in literature anthologies. Williams could not support himself writing little poems like this, so he became a physician. “The Red Wheelbarrow” is short not because Williams was busy delivering babies and giving diphtheria shots. It’s short because Williams wanted it that way. He wanted you to read in. You can Google by “The Red Wheelbarrow” and find numerous interpretations of this poem, at once banal and brilliant.
Often, the longer the poem, the more explicit and less suggestive it becomes. Sonnets crafted by people like Shakespeare—all sonnets run to 14 lines—are wonderfully artful but more explicit than Williams’ barnyard perceptions. You don’t puzzle yourself so much reading into a sonnet. You read it in a different way. Walt Whitman wrote a very long poem called “Song of Myself,” which runs over 1300 lines. It’s pretty explicit. It’s about the self and nature and the Civil War. You can read into it if you like, and many critics have, but the need for reading in is not as great.
Many short films are like this too. Invariably the shorter the film, the more you have to read in. Here is a link to a two-and-a-half minute film. It practically tells an entire life story in the time it takes a pianist to play a short song. Yet despite its short length, You Tube viewers had varying heartfelt responses to it. Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZJDNSp1QJA&feature=related.
One You Tube viewer said it moved her to tears. Tears in two-and-a-half minutes. You don’t know how the pianist held up in wartime or what kind of relationship he had with the woman who for a time appears at his side. You don’t have to know exactly. You read in.
The famous illustrator Saul Bass made a short film which took an Oscar in 1968.
Actually, Bass’ film, “Why Man Creates,” is not so short, running to about 25 minutes in two parts. TV sitcoms are this long. But “Why Man Creates” lacks the rational, straight-ahead development and obviousness of a sitcom. You have to read in. It’s a combination of animation and live action which ranges from cave-man ingenuity to musings by Einstein about creativity. It’s fragmented and fun to watch. It makes a sitcom like “Friends” seem like a coloring book, without color. A link to Bass’ film: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/01/23/oscar-winning-saul-b.html
Filmworks is showing the five Academy Award nominees for short live-action films and the five nominees for animated short films on two nights, Thursday, March 10, and Friday, March 11.
This year Pixar has a place (as it usually does) in the Oscar line-up, an animated film about two ghostlike comic figures who are opposite in their tastes and outlooks, as the film’s title, “Day and Night,” suggests. They pull and tug against each other but finally reconcile at the end. What is captivating about this film is that the figures are like movie screens with a parade of life playing across them and suggesting why they are at odds.
While I am on the subject of the short film, let me tell you about our annual April three-day festival during which a number of short films submitted by filmmakers from around the world will be screened. I am told by the Filmworks committee that is looking at these films that this year’s batch is especially ingenious. As April draws near, visit our website for details. Happy reading in.