Movie poem time again! This time the subject is what happens in those moments of consciousness transitioning between life and death, and the medium of education is Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation of Macbeth. After losing his wife and unborn child in one of the infamous Manson Family murders a few years earlier, I cannot fathom how he could have made this film. Was it the catharsis of work, or of working out a vicarious murder of a Macbeth who looked vaguely like Charles Manson?
There’s no need to get into the particulars of Polanski’s later foibles, the film is an artifact of time and place and the imagery a film, any film, provides is worthy if it sticks with you your entire life. It was a cold, late night in the spring of 1977 when I saw this movie, and I can remember this image as clearly as if I saw it last week.
if godard is right
and movies deliver the truth
then polanski clarified that death
isn’t always instantaneous
climbing the stairs in vain
knowing fate had come to collect
on his misdeeds
but the lasting indignity
to losing one’s head by broadsword
was remaining conscious long enough
to be spat on and mocked
carried through the courtyard
on the end of a stake
held aloft, cheers softly fading
in celebration of death
that the brain could remain
conscious for those fleeting moments
was more horrifying
than what might come after
shakespeare would have approved
of these unspooling truths
while my parents would reel in horror
at what the movies taught me
had they known
What Jean-Luc Godard is famous for saying is “Film is truth at 24 frames per second, and every cut is a lie.” And if we wanted to drop Susan Sontag in here and talk about how photos (or in this case movies) make reality real to our memory, then I have no doubt that what I saw was the truth. Yes, I know no actor was beheaded in the making of the film, but the emotional psychology that follows the action, that I know to be real. The movies made it so.
Fridays mean Poetry Friday, and out there in the Interntiverse there are people sharing all sorts of poems where, hopefully, no one is losing their head. The roundup is at Dori Reads and it looks like quite a collection.