Film Review: Three Poems (Australia, 2014)

Three poems

“And then man created time, and spent eternity trying to outrun it”

From this opening piece of text set before a cascading cosmic landscape, it’s quite clear that Three Poems is no run of the mill short film. The debut effort from writer director Jake Houston Harris is exactly what it says it is- three poems, set to visual interpretation. The opening celestial footage with dripping fluid overtones recalls the iconic opening of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and suitably enough, Lynch serves as perhaps the most recognisable touchstone for comparisons. This is a big call for someone’s debut short film, yet Harris deserves it.

The first poem, That Ominous Water, is the most lyrical of the three, and certainly the right choice as an opening gambit. A woman lying lone in a boat slowly pulls a rope towards her only to find a lynch noose at its tail. The poem itself draws on themes of regret and despair- perfectly encapsulated in the face of the lady upon finding no hope at the end of her efforts.

Rose Arcadia, the second poem, is the most abstract in terms of visuals, and where the often overwrought term that is ‘Lynchian’ is perhaps best applied. Two people, a man and a woman, lovers perhaps, lay next to one another heaps handfuls of soil and dirt upon each other. The poetry here is an examination of futility and the distance between us all- yet it’s somewhat difficult to even recall the language employed here due to the beautifully stark visuals. Harsh close ups and one solitary gasp from the woman create a sense of unease for the viewer- should we really be seeing this? It all seems a little too personal for our voyeuristic eye.

Finally, The Grey serves as the most pointed and clearly meaningfully crafted of the eponymous poems. An examination of European and Aboriginal race relations, the poem deserves particular mention amongst the trio. The poem is a stand-off, with the visuals representing the same. The sound of crashing waves builds and builds as the poem goes on, looking at change and lack thereof on both parts. The final shot of the poem (and film) an agonisingly long held wide shot of two men, black and white, staring at one other, separated by rocks, their glares punctuated by increasingly booming static.

Cries of ‘pretentious’ are likely inevitable when any even vaguely experimental art is first unveiled – as if an artist needs a pretence to try and articulate something using tools the audience is unfamiliar with. Three Poems is a masterwork of a short film – made all the more impressive that it’s Harris’ first. All three pieces employ recurring themes of memory, regret and the passing of time- yet stand up as unique explorations of ideas on their own. The loose, pulsing noise soundtrack from Zayd Thring too – is a thing of beauty unto itself. The cinematography is wonderful enough to make one forget about the actual poems- which is saying something considering that each poem would certainly stand by itself as a written piece. Whether an aching close up of an old man’s greying hair or the dripping of soil onto pale skin, the footage is entrancing. Harris should be proud of this work, as should we all, as Australians, to see this calibre of experimental work being released from young filmmakers. This is likely not going to be a piece for everyone, though those that give it a chance will find absolute beauty and treasures here.

Review score: Four and a Half Stars

Three Poems had its premiere at Fitzroy’s ReelGood Film Festival, April 13, 2014, where it won the Audience Choice Award. It also secured the Gold Remi at Houston WorldFest for Best Dramatic Short.

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Run Time: 12 Minutes, 47 Seconds


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