There are poetic films (think Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet, pictured). And there are films about poets (think Il Postino, about exiled poet Pablo Neruda and his friendship with the milkman). Bright Star, Jane Campion's rhapsodic sonnet to John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne (which opens in Philadelphia on Friday) is both, a movie of evocative visual imagery exquisite as the poet's imagistic odes.
Campion's fresh-air naturalism is light years away from the suffocating-parlors of Sidney Franklin's The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), about the forbidden love of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Riffling through the mental rolodex, it's hard to think of other poetic films about poets apart from Blue Car (2002), Karen Moncrieff's story of an adolescent writer. Shakespeare in Love (1998), including sonnets by the Bard, and Poetic Justice (1993), with Janet Jackson as the beautician/poet (her lyrics courtesy Maya Angelou), and Smoke Signals (1998, with the words of Sherman Alexie), have their moments.
I also relish My Left Foot (1989), with Daniel Day-Lewis as Irish poet and artist Christy Brown, The Basketball Diaries (1995), with Leonardo DiCaprio as the late Jim Carroll and Shadowlands (1993), the moving story of C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) and his unlikely affair with American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger).
With the exception of the poetry-slamming hero of So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) and the doggerel-writing title figure in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), poets in films tend to be stormy, rather than sunny, figures. Consider the Charles Bukowski (Mickey Rourke) chronically drunk in Barfly (1987), T.S. Eliot (Willem Dafoe), saddled with an unpredictable spouse in Tom and Viv (1994) and Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow), battling depression and her husband's infidelity in Sylvia (2003).
My vote for the most preposterous movie poet goes to Cornel Wilde as Omar Khayyam (1956) -- a poet/mathematician who inspired the Antonio Banderas character in the distinctly unpoetical The 13th Warrior. Yours?
Favorite movie poet/poetic movie? Any takers for Leo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud in the 1995 Total Eclipse ?