“It’s a bit like when your team wins the league” – Filmmaker Martin Earle on Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer
On December 10, 2011, Tomas Tranströmer will receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in his hometown Stockholm. On this occasion we are not only able to present Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry on lyrikline.org, made possible with the help of our Swedish lyrikline.org partner Ramus. but also got an interview with the young British filmmaker Martin Earle about his short film A Galaxy Over There (2009), based on Tranströmer’s poem Schubertiana.
Watch A Galaxy Over There on vimeo:
Martin Earle was born in London in 1984. He is a graduate from the Royal College of Art were he studied a Masters degree in Animation. Through his animations he wants to evoke the wonder of everyday things – to find the galaxies hidden in the pots and the pans; to travel a long way while sitting very still; to show that ordinary life is sacred and great. His short film A Galaxy Over There was selected for the Competition at the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in 2010.
And here is what Martin said about bringing Tranströmer into motion.
lyrikline.org blog (LB): Martin, how did you come to make a poetry film?
Martin Earle (ME): I was studying animation at the Royal College of Art in London and A Galaxy Over There was my graduation film, which I directed over the course of about ten months.
LB: How did you get in touch with Tranströmer’s poetry? What attracted you to it?
ME: A Swedish friend showed me one of his poems. What struck me was the amazing visual sense of his poetry – his talent at creating luminously clear images. And then there is his deeply religious or mystical response to things, to nature, to people, to art and to every kind of mundane experience. In Tranströmer’s poetry there is this sense that being alive is actually something a bit peculiar, that reality is an enigma and a great mystery! ‘The endless ground beneath us’ as he puts it.
LB: What made you pick his poetry for your film?
ME: It was his quite surreal use of simile that made me get thinking about basing a film on one of his poems. It seemed to resonate with images I’d tried to create in earlier animations. Simile is an amazing thing. We use all the time to describe things we don’t have a name for, and poets use it to inspire us to see familiar thing as if for the first time; from a different angle. I love his description, for example, of a newspaper lying on a kitchen table ‘like a big dirty butterfly’, or the way he compares a cherry tree to a ‘bell of colours… chiming with sunlight’. And his poetry has a gentle humour which prevents things from become too heavy – as experimental video often is! Someone wrote that ‘angels can fly because they take themselves lightly’…
LB: And why Schubertiana in particular?
ME: For one thing it came ready with a soundtrack! And it is a very rich poem, packed to the brim with images and ideas. In particular I enjoy the games it plays with scale, switching between panorama and close-up. The opening of the poem, a long shot of New York as a ‘spiral galaxy seen from the side’, is already incredibly filmic.
LB: Do you think poetic images are of another quality than images in film?
ME: There is this very obvious difference that we normally read poems in books and always watch videos or films on some kind of screen. And in our culture the screen has become the all pervasive and restless mediator of information and entertainment – most of which we consume inattentively and forget after a few minutes. I don’t know if we’ve found a way to use the screen or the internet to take things in slowly and chew over them… as we can when we read a poem in a book.
LB: How did Tomas Tranströmer’s poetic images become Martin Earle’s filmic images?
ME: I started by creating drawings and loose storyboards based on lines from the poem. From these sketches I made small models and sculptures and began to look for different objects that I might be able to use in the film. A lot of the excitement in stop-frame animation comes from various practical restraints; working out ways to realise specific scenes or effects without using the computer too much. In this quite free process the images developed, sometimes moving away from the text and becoming mixed with more and more with my own experiences. The setting, for example, moved from New York to North London. And in the final edit some of the most compelling lines of the poem are left out of the voice-over, to prevent things become too rich and to try to create a conversation between voice and image.
LB: Does Tranströmer know your film? Did he let you know if he likes it?
ME: I was in contact with Monica Tranströmer who was very generous with her time and in arranging contracts and things. They both seemed to like the animation although Tomas Tranströmer wasn’t keen on the translation of the last word ‘djupen’, which we’d translated as ‘abyss’. He thought that ‘the depths’ would have been much more appropriate… and this seems to me very revealing of the attitude to the world that permeates his work. There is very little sense of alienation or existential tragedy that the world ‘abyss’ might suggest and which is not hard to detect in much modern poetry (and in much ancient poetry too). No, for Tranströmer behind and in everything there is a tremendously positive ‘something’, a great ‘yes’ – ‘the depths’. It’s really a shame that it was too late to rerecord the audio track.
LB: What did you think when you heard that Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize in Literature?
ME: It’s a bit like when your team wins the league… also quite surprising as his entire collected works can be fitted into a modestly sized book! And interesting because this very, for want of a better word, ‘mystical’ poetry has emerged from one of the most secularised countries in the world. Awarding the prize to Tranströmer could be seen as a recognition of something like the spiritual vocation of art and poetry. As he puts it himself in Schubertiana – ‘the many who buy and sell people and believe that everyone can be bought, don’t recognize themselves here.’
I also began to think about my graduation film, and regretting the way I’d made most of it…
LB: Do you think there ought to be a Nobel Prize in Film? And who would you give it to?
ME: Yes, why not. Give it to Werner Herzog!
To see more of Martin Earle’s work, visit his channel on vimeo.
The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony with Tomas Tranströmer can be watched as a live Webcast on Nobelprize.org, 10 December from 4.30 p.m. CET.
All images courtesy of Martin Earle