Basic banalities of meta-art notwithstanding (and why exactly wouldn’t I want to dance about architecture? Why is that more absurd than, say, voting about politics, when it would surely be more fun and involve fewer dead civilians?), it’s puzzling why one would make a film about poetry. Or at least why one would make a documentary about the New York School of Poetry, and then show it in New York, where dazzling readings from multitudinous traditions, New York School included, happen every night.
The answer, one supposes, is that film can reframe, montage, and maneuver in revealing ways, or access daily intimacies we might not otherwise glimpse. Hollywood trickeration, or French(-sounding) vérité—them’s the tickets. But Lars Movin, Niels Plenge, and Thomas Thurah’s Something Wonderful May Happen: The New York School of Poets and Beyond takes two passes, offering instead some Scandinavian design: a spare hour of history, angular and fractional, with a couple contemporary flourishes. This New York School is minimized down to current John Ashbery, very recent Kenneth Koch (shortly before his 2002 death), and vintage Frank O’Hara (but alas! only a puff of his pleasureboat paean “To the Film Industry in Crisis”). Mysteriously, key original Jim Schuyler is barely named, and appears neither in word nor image; the film’s loss, whoever’s decision. The remaining redoubtable whizzes are regularly annotated by talking heads, mostly those of tradition inheritors David Lehman and Charles Bernstein. School sometimer Barbara Guest, per usual, goes unmentioned. But of course, beyond a charming reminiscence by Jane Freilicher, the doc is wall-to-wall guys—and still entirely suppresses the profligate, playful band’s queenly tradition (unless “curator” is some kind of slang I don’t know about). Perhaps it wouldn’t match the somber tone invoked: Shot before 9-11 but presumably edited after, the flick opens with shots of the WTC and features the Lehman poem “Twin Towers,” as well as an abjectly arbitrary image of a low-flying passenger plane interrupting the Manhattan air.
So what’s luring you to the Pioneer Theater for this mini-festival of po-vids? Maybe the sharp shock short visualizing a single poem by dadavian Ernst Jandl with 25 mouths and a defunct computer (Eku Wand’s Poem by Ernst Jandl), or Tim Webb’s 15th of February, a methedrinated U.K.-style take on a Peter Reading poem. But most likely, it’ll be because nothing’s shaking at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and the Bowery Poetry Club is dark, and the great certainty of a film about the New York School is that you’ll like the actors.