Finding Poetry in Movie Subtitles—and Plays

By Jack Limpert

In a post last week about Genius, the 2016 movie about legendary book editor Max Perkins, I wrote:

After seeing Genius the first time, I rented the movie from Netflix and watched it at home, this time with subtitles so I could focus more on what was said. It turns out that reading John Logan’s screenplay was more interesting than watching Jude Law overplay Thomas Wolfe. . . .

Berg’s book about Max Perkins was inspiring and a great read and won a National Book Award. The movie? Probably no Oscars but I thought the words were worth reading once you got past all the shouting and acting. And the subtitles had some poetry in them.

From a post yesterday by playwright and filmmaker Ian MacAllister-McDonald on the Los Angeles Review of Books website about the pleasures of reading plays and finding the rich language of poetry:

Yes, there’s something a little strange about reading plays—they tend to be pretty talky, comparatively slow-paced, and require the reader to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of imagining how the scene actually looks and moves. But there’s also a special joy to reading plays that you’re not going to find in a novel, short story collection, or book of poems. At their best, plays marry the probing characterizations of a novel with the rich language of poetry—so much so that it’s become common practice for playwrights to break up their dialogue into fragmented stanzas. And then there’s the time element: because plays are intended for performance, brevity is generally of, at least, some importance. Creatively-speaking, this tends to force the work to find its narrative and linguistic essence, which heightens the poetic effect.

About screenplays: I searched on the web for the screenplay of Genius—not finding it, I wrote out parts of the screenplay by copying the movie’s subtitles onto a legal pad and then including them in the September 22 post.

There is a website of movie screenplays: — — but as yet  it doesn’t include Genius.

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