Frank O’Hara’s poem “To the Film Industry in Crisis,” appears as a poem glorifying the film industry as a great new form of art in the modern world. The majority of the poem is spent describing various old movie stars in a kind of superficial almost funny tone that is brought to a climax with his line,
“and may the money of the world glitteringly cover you as you rest after a long day under the klieg lights with your faces in packs for our edification.”
This less serious tone which dominates most of the poem is in great contrast to other lines which describe the industry as divine such as,
“with all your heavenly dimensions and reverberations and iconoclasms!”
This is a very interesting element present in the poem. I’m not sure if he is poking fun at the newly risen Hollywood celebrity culture, and how it may or may not conflict with the authenticity of the industry producing art, but this is something to think about.
Here is the first stanza to his poem.
“Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
With your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
Nor you experimental theatre in which emotive fruition
Is wedding poetic insight perpetually, nor you,
Promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear (though you
Are close to me heart), but you, Motion Picture Industry,
It’s you I love!”
It seems obvious that one would prefer film as an art over periodicals and other news media, for these industries seem to be more concerned with politics than art. In addition, O’Hara reveals his soft spot for the arts usually perceived of as being higher of Theatre and Opera, however neither of these “high arts” can compete with cinema for him. I wonder if Cinema’s ability to be so universal and accessible is part of its charm for him. This is incredibly interesting when thinking about contrasting poetic philosophies. For example William Carlos Williams’ attitude of condemning poets like T.S. Elliott for using overly high and scholarly language, and his preaching the use of everyday language in poetry. Even further this notion seems very Whitmanian, in his use of everyday language, and in his desire to have his poetry reach everyone and be of relevance and understanding to the common man. Whitman had big plans for Leaves of Grass changing the world, but in O’Hara’s day in age was it still possible for poetry to reach enough people to perform this function? Is this true today? It does seem that a filmmaker has a far bigger opportunity in influencing people these days as opposed to a poet, who in many cases is only read by other poets or academics.
O’Hara greatly separates himself from Whitman in language and form, and really characterizes himself as a modern day poet in content more so than anyone else we’ve read. Still the end of the poem seems very Whitmanian too, predicting the beautiful and mysterious future of film in much the same way that Whitman did with the future of America.
“It is divine precedent you perpetuate! Roll on. Reels of celluloid, as the great earth rolls on.”