Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Julie Trimingham’s film triptych “beauty crowds me,” Introduced by R. W. Gray
Julie Trimingham’s film triptych “beauty crowds me”
Introduced by R. W. Gray
In Julie Trimingham‘s triptych of poetic short films, words become breath and thought, visuals flare into being, fall away, then return and hang and haunt. The films take Emily Dickinson’s poems as their source for inspiration, but the words are given to us as an intimate voice over, repetitively and meditatively delivered.
I have to confess a sort of skepticism about the clash / collaboration between art forms; such collisions seem to colossally fail more than find beauty. In particular, the danger of bringing film to poetry is that the moving image can easily literalize the words, or, conversely, the words can dominate the visual medium. Trimingham’s collisions work for me because they aren’t too grounded in one form or another.
The action is poetic, and by that I mean improbable, unrealistic, yet familiar. In “I heard a fly buzz,” the second film, the claustrophobic dance of the couple who can never leave their apartment, their bed, the tub, and their movements choreographed, both uncanny (in moments he seems like a fly on the window sill or on the tub) and sublime.
The films play with tensions. In the first film, we begin racing breathless with children, then the counterpoint found in the still, mythic moment of the two of them standing on pilings. In the second film, the tension between moments of quiet repose between two lovers, then the frenzy chase, the wrestling to connect. In the last film, the woman’s struggle with vulnerability and the ever present glaring light of grace looking over her and the other women.
There is the more obvious progression here, too, through the films from childhood to middle age, the journey of a life, but taken in this fragmented and glimpsing way, the journey becomes numinous, beyond words, and even a little haunting. These are moments only, glimpses of clarity, fleeting experiences of truth.
The three films follow this interlaced with Trimingham’s lovely liner / production notes for the shorts here as well. The intimacy of the films and the intimacy of the production experience collide here in powerful ways.
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“beauty crowds me”
a film triptych
by Julie Trimingham
“I was interested in the notion of an emotional narrative, exploring states of grace (ecstasy?). I chose the poems based on a kind of visceral tug, a recognition, with an eye toward triptych, or three acts. The films were always meant to be an exploration, a way of getting inside or looking at the poems, rather than an illustration or analysis. Dickinson’s words and images were launching pads, or diving boards. I have loved her poems since I was a little girl, and had once built a diorama of her hunched over her desk for a school project. I had copied some poems, or at least the titles, onto very tiny pieces of paper to put in her tiny cardboard drawers. Making this film felt like a way to talk to her, or at least wave, across time.”
JT: “The first poem was pure intuition: twins in the swamp lands. We were down in Florida shooting commercials. I had an image in mind of twins standing on old pilings in the water; the location manager knew of just the place.”
JT: “The fly poem took the most work: what on god’s earth was she talking about? How to enter? Hence the repetition of the poem. The repetition of the poem then pointed toward memory, how we remember things differently every time. A moment as a moving target. In that old house, were we happy? Were we in love? Was he angry? Was he bored? Was he she? Was he a fly, some mystery that buzzed by?”
JT: “In the last piece, many of the actors weren’t actors at all, but friends, or women who found out about the project and came to the old army barracks where we were shooting. It was a closed set, no crew allowed during shooting, except for the long-haired steadicam operator who had trained as a dancer. The women were naked, and beautiful. Some were pregnant, some were sick, some were artists, or students, or had regular jobs, they were grandmothers and just out of high school. They sat around in between takes wrapped in terry robes, laughing and talking, as if we had always known one another. We worked all day, with Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy” playing. I’m not sure I even did anything, or if the day just happened, as if the film had already been exposed to the action, and I was already watching the movie. The morning had been noisy, cold, clear. When we emerged from the set into the blue glow of dusk, everything was covered in heaps of quiet snow, the world made new.”
On the Music:
JT: “I worked closely with my composer (Bruce Leitl, no longer with us), guitarist Russ Brooms, actress Denise Clarke (for all voice-overs), and a string quartet. Bruce and I started talking about music and structure well before we ever shot a frame. The first piece, though recorded in studio, felt like sitting out on a porch in some hot place, in the thick of evening, with Denise and Russ (guitar) talking to each other. The second piece had to be highly structured, as the idea of repetition (and variation) was key; a string quartet seemed the only way to go. For the last piece, I asked Bruce to deconstruct “Amazing Grace,” and whether or not he did I don’t know, but in the end he came up with grace.”
Born in Montreal to American parents, Julie Trimingham was raised in Brazil, Arizona, Tunisia, Washington DC and State. After graduating from Yale, where she studied painting and languages, and then living in New York, where she first experienced a film set, she moved to Canada and started making her own films. Her work has screened internationally at festivals, has won various awards and has been broadcast in North America and the UK. One film has shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She now writes fiction and lives with her family on an island in the Pacific Northwest.
Okay, this is something else: sequence, progression, the Emily Dickinson poems, the introduction, the director’s commentary on the films. Like the Dickinson poems, they are grounded in this world but make a window onto the other one. Absolutely gorgeous image at the top, those two girls in robes on the concrete whatever they ares. They look like little angels on top of grave markers.
I wanted so much more time at the end of the first to study those cement whatevers. When it ended, I felt as though something has been taken away from me.
RW, thank you for posting these beautiful films. They are as you say, “glimpses of clarity, fleeting experiences of truth.”
And thank you, Julie Trimingham.
Thank you, RW. These are stunningly eerie and beautiful, a haunting pairing of poem and film.
Lovely, RW, the triptych and your commentary. Thank you.