Thursday, 19 January 2012

Moving words

Some time before Xmas Mark rented a film I'd never heard of – 2009's “Invictus”. This movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela (see above) and focuses on the year South Africa hosted (and won) the Rugby Union World Cup (1995). To be honest, not being much of a sports fan, I didn't even know about this particular part of South Africa's history, why it was important and so on. I'd never even heard of the team's captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon in the film), although Mark insisted that I have been in the room when he's been on TV (it's amazing what you can blank out... especially when it involves balls...).

Anyway, we watched the film and I really enjoyed it (even with all the running about and throwing of things). It's pretty hard not to enjoy watching Morgan Freeman though, isn't it? He seems to be one of those movie stars who you could watch doing just about anything. And it seems like he's even a nice guy too – when we were in Mississippi last year we visited the blues club he owns in Clarksdale (see back here). It was a great place – friendly and welcoming. We added our names to the wall (you were allowed to... indeed encouraged to).

But my subject this post is not really Morgan Freeman... it's poems in films/movies. I've written about other poems-in-movies before (e.g. a Sharon Olds poem being used in 2007's “Into the Wild”, back here) and it's strange because whilst often I don't really feel part of "poetry" in any sense (hence the no-go-to-poetry-festivals-urge discussed in last post) sometimes... when I'm watching a movie and a poem gets used (in a good way) I do feel a weird kind of what must be, at least in part, poet's pride. In “Invictus” much use is made of a poem that Mandela read in prison (and let's not forget he spent 27 years in prison – hard to imagine that perhaps... 27 years!). The poem is also “Invictus” (trans. unconquered) by a not-particularly-well-known-or-fêted-these-days English poet called William Ernest Henley (1849-1903 worth reading about him, the inspiration for Stevenson's Long John Silver, apparently...). How proud I felt (for some almost indescribable reason!) that a little old poem helped Mandela through the hardest of times! And how happy I was (ecstatic!) that it rhymed (have I bored you with how many people have started the response to my new writing project with “well, I don't really like rhyming poetry..?”). Still, suddenly I don't care any more! Mandela loved a rhyming poem! This very good movie featured a rhyming poem! Was I getting too carried away with this..? Losing sight of the movie itself..? And Henley wrote free verse too, you know (even way back then!). And "Invictus" has had some less impressive associations (see here and read down to "influence"...). Anyway, back to Mandela and the movie, here is Freeman reading “Invictus” (other longer clips with more of the film won't embed but there is one here if you want it):

And the text of the poem is below (though for some reason in the version Freeman reads “chance” in line 7 seems to have changed to “fate”... maybe there are different versions...):


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbow'd.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul. 

by William Ernest Henley

There is a webpage listing lots of movies that feature poems here (though it doesn't have everything by any stretch) but I wondered... do any of you have any favourite poetry-in-movies moments? And please don't ALL mention “Four posh weddings and a gay funeral”... (though I do like the poem they used... and they used it well... ). So..?



Anonymous said...

G.I Jane, where – in a remarkable turnaround, and as the point of the whole film – the main character, O'Neil, played by Demi Moore, realises that the Master Chief, played by Viggo Mortensen isn't the asshole she thought he was. The key to this discovery is Lawrence’s poem “Self-Pity”, which the Master Chief has made a motto out of:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Rachel Fox said...

Great one! I have seen that movie but years ago and had not remembered/noticed the poem reference.

Rachel Fox said...

Tiny clip of the GI Jane here


The Bug said...

I'm terrible - I don't have an answer to your question because I keep snickering at "'s amazing what you can blank out... especially when it involves balls..." I have SUCH a gutter mind - sorry!

Titus said...

Aargh, I can't believe someone beat me to GI Jane, and thoughts of Master Chief Viggo in the shortest shorts posssible for most of the movie. The film is almost an honorary Die Hard in my canon.

And Violette Szabo's 'The Life that I have', in Carve Her Name With Pride. Much dispute, I think, over the origin of the poem, but the film is very good and gives one version.
Szabo herself one of those people whose life, like Mandela's, leave you so awed there is nothing you can say.

From her George Cross citation:

Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April, 1944, and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities but each time managed to get away. Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south west of France. Resistance appeared hopeless but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten-gun and as much ammunition as she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement, she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, Bug, it was me what wrote it. My bad.

Didn't know "GI Jane" was such a popular one, T! And I've not seen the other film you mention. You are indeed queen of the old movies. I'll try to catch it somewhere.


swiss said...

you'll be in luck then with this, in which the film maker, instead of getting stuck in that like rhyme/don't like rhyme loop that, along with so much in poetry land just goes on and on and on and on (maybe it could be an energy source?) decided, and how he got the cash must be a story in itself, to make an entire film in couplets which don't feature anyone long dead (as far as i know). it looks great!

as for poems in films. well that'd be nick cave in the proposition. if it is poetry. and if not, who cares? brilliant language!

A Cuban In London said...

Brilliant post. And I liked your putdown on balls... Cheeky! :-)

I'd heard of Invictus, but not being a rugby fan I've put it on the back burner for now.

As for Morgan Freeman, he's the reason why I'm loving the current ad for More Than, an insurance company. They, basically, took his accent and intonation from Shawshank Redemption and reworked it. The result is pretty good, given that insurance companies usually do rubbish ads.

As for poems in movies, c'mon, you've been to Latin America, you know about culture. Just google up "El Lado Oscuro del Corazon" (The Dark Side of the Heart), the 1st part, not the rubbish second one. Poems by Benedetti, Girondo and Gelman. One of my favourite movies ever.

Greetings from London.

A Cuban In London said...

By the way, I meant to write "my" culture. Sorry.

Greetings from London.

Rachel Fenton said...

"The Life that I have" would have been the one I remember best, and "Leaves of Grass" - great Whitman lines in that. Few more eluding me for the minute...also, there's the "Captain" one in "Dead Poets...".....

Rachel Fox said...

I just read about the Godfrey thing this morning, Swiss (Guardian interview with Harry Enfield who's in it). Sounds really interesting. We saw "The Artist" today - also interesting!

I've heard of "Proposition" but not a Cave fan so haven't got to it yet. May do next time an opportunity presents though.

Cuban, I think you might like "Invictus". I've not seen that Argentinian film either - one to look out for.

Looks like "the life that I have" was in the film that Titus mentioned, R ("Carve her name with pride"). Is that the one you meant? I haven't seen "Leaves of Grass" (2009) but will look out for that. And "Dead Poets"... I see it's a PG so maybe girl and I will watch that again one day. I remember not liking it much first time round but that was years ago. It'll probably seem like a completely different film to me now... that I'm old!


hope said...

Okay, it's still Jan. 23rd in my neck of the woods (just barely) and I've been having computer issues. Now that I've fixed them (hopefully)I can now say

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! Hope it was a wonderful day!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Hope, I had a lovely day. Mark and I escaped to Aberdeen and saw "The Artist". It was lovely. And the night of 22nd we could see Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis from the bathroom window... some birthday present!

Rachel Fenton said...

Yes, it was the Titus film. And "Wit" - not sure if the film was called the same as the play - but that's Donne's poetry - and very sad film.

Rachel Fox said...

I've read about that one but had forgotten, or missed, the name. And Emma Thompson... one of the only posh-voice-actresses I really like. I loved her "Sense and Sensibility" too - miles better than your average Austin movie.