I recently enjoyed watching Words and Pictures, a 2013 film about a male English teacher and a female art instructor who form a rivalry that ends up galvanizing students in a competition to decide the most effective way to communicate, using words or pictures. This battle between mind and heart, ideas and feelings, is also about self-discovery, expressing one’s creativity, and the blocks that get in the way. Cleverly written by Gerald Di Pego, a one-time English teacher, and faithfully directed by Fred Schepisi, it stars Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, and Bruce Davison. Visit the film’s website for more info: http://wordsandpicturesthemovie.com.
I especially liked the quotes about writing and art, the word vs. the image. A poem by Mary Oliver was supposed to be featured in the film. They never said which one, but kept waiting for permission to use it. By the time the answer came in, no, it was too late, and they had to come up with a replacement. The pressure was on screenwriter Gerald Di Pego. Being a poet himself, and seeing how this was his screenplay, the muse inspired him and he wrote this very vivid and appropriate poem, just in time. Juliette Binoche liked it, which came as a relief to him and the director. I found it online and wanted to share it with you. The poem plays a central role, but you’ll have to see the film to find out who wrote it and how it’s used.
WHO ARE YOU?
I am a small poem
On a page with room
Share with me
This white field,
Wide as an acre
Of snow, clear
But for these tiny
Markings like the
Steps of a bird.
This is the trough
Of the wave, the
Slice of silence
As music ends,
The freeze before
The melting. Hurry.
Lie down beside me.
Make angels. Make devils.
Make who you are.
As you can see, the poem invites you to create and become who you are, from that gap, the transitional point of possibility, and to share in the experience with another. Here’s a poem I wrote after a special painting class that seems relevant: ArtWords—poem about a creative awakening.
Interestingly, the Special Features part of the DVD revealed that Juliette Binoche, an artist in her own right, offered to do all of the paintings herself, which thrilled both writer and director. Because her character is dealing with physical challenges due to her medical condition, she had to paint in different styles, from portraiture to more abstract. Binoche enjoyed the added challenge and it possibly influenced her own future work.
Here is the official Words and Pictures – International Trailer (2014) HD.
The featurette also confirmed for me where they had made the film. The story is set in a New England prep school, but was actually shot at St. George’s School, an independent boarding and day university-preparatory school for boys in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a.k.a., Hollywood North.
I recognized the location, and it reminded me of a story I had heard on a local CBC radio talk show during my stay there. The guest was an English teacher who taught at St. George’s School. One of the topics being discussed was meeting famous people. Listeners called in to share their stories and the teacher related an unusual event that had recently happened to him.
He had gone shopping at a well-known store for comfortable walking shoes. He settled on a particular pair and the sales clerk told him it was a popular item. She said someone famous had been in that morning and purchased a similar pair. She left to find out the name of the celebrity, but got sidetracked, so he left.
He put on his new shoes and, as was his routine everyday after lunch, he went for a walk in the forest next to the school property. While walking along the path, looking downwards, ahead of him he saw a pair of shoes just like his coming toward him. He looked up and saw someone he never would have expected walking in the woods. He pointed at him in surprise trying to say his name, but it came out as gibberish. The person mimicked him sputtering his name. It was Robin Williams! I think he was in town at that time filming Jumanji.
They had a wonderful walk and talk together. Robin had asked him what he did for a living and where he worked, something he could identify with having played an English teacher at an elite boys prep school in Dead Poets Society. When they reached the edge of the forest, there was Robin’s stretch limousine parked on the street waiting for him. He invited him into the car saying they would drop him off at the school.
Now this man was not the most popular teacher at the school. When they pulled up, he got out of the limo, and all heads turned to look at him. Then Robin lowered the darkly tinted window, stuck his head out, and thanked the teacher for a wonderful time. All the kids’ jaws dropped! And from that day on he was the coolest person at school. Thank you, Robin! You knew what you were doing. God Bless you, wherever you are.