CINETANKA

Intro
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As an introduction, I would like to outline the evolution of Cinetanka and point out some of its technical developments. 

 

I first encountered the tanka verse in Sergei Eisenstein’s Film Form.  The filmmaker’s comparison of this verse form with his montage technique seemed to provide an appropriate framework for the nonlinear exposition of themes I had been exploring with other experiments in cyberlit.  I was familiar with the haiku, but only knew that it consisted of seventeen syllables.  I was not aware that these verses were divided into three lines of fixed length because of the loose interpretations of the haiku form in popular culture.  When Eisenstein explained the 5-7-5-7-7 pattern of the tanka, I saw the basic rhythm.  And best of all, it was a rhythm that did not depend on regular metrical feet such as the iambic tetrameters and pentameters of English song and drama.

 

I particularly liked the final fourteen-syllable couplet because it gave more room for the development of an idea than the brief enigmatic images of the three line haiku.  The ballad stanza uses fourteeners, so the form was not entirely alien to traditional English phrasing.  The haiku/couplet combination also reminded me of the octave/sestet structure of the sonnet and the emblem/envoy devices of medieval heraldry.  This twofold form eventually extends to the signifier/signified structure of language itself and the underlying psychological revelation of the unconscious by the conscious.  The tanka functions as a hieroglyphic ideogram through dialectic synthesis.

 

The Alamo is a good example of dialectic form.  The first clause fits the three line haiku format while an ironic antithesis in the couplet generates a critical sythesis in the reader.  However, the first clause strains against the enjambment with incomplete phrases "purt nigh but not plumb" as Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick would say.

 

The American

Army is commanded by

Producer John Wayne

 

The concluding couplet has a more natural grammatical line break.  This stylistic polarity reinforces the contrast between "commanding" and "directing."  The results of a command are forced, while a good director like John Ford knows how to win friends and influence people by assuring that they know what to do when he gives the signal.  This difference occurred to me when I saw the movie again after watching a documentary on John Ford.

 

Not all tanka fit this haiku/couplet grouping.  Sometimes each line stands alone or dialogue can be enjambed to include all five lines.  Sometimes the first and second lines group to couple with the third and fourth lines and the final line wraps up with a coda.  The first two lines may link while the last three go together to form an antithesis.  Lines can link with rhyme in any sequence, although that final couplet has the most affinity.  There can also be internal rhyme when a lyric is enjambed, strugging to regain its original shape.  Any long form benefits from variety, so Cinetanka grows in an ever-mutating organic expansion.

 

My first experiment was to sort a list of words by number of syllables and arrange them in tanka form.  To impart a quasiAsian sound, I used stereotypical Japanese words from popular culture, especially brand names of consumer products.  I was please with the result and looked for other lists of words that could be arranged into tanka.  The index of a book is a condensation of its content, so I extracted words from indices excluding proper names of persons and places.  These experiments are published at http://cmcottrell.tripod.com/stocosmetrix.  A vocabulary building book called The Word Bank was useful in providing words grouped thematically.  My mother’s college spelling book from secretarial school gave me other thematic groups.  I even experimented with refrains such as “The Gangs of New York” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” 

 

All along I was writing original tanka that are collected at http://cmcottrell.tripod.com/deconscription.  I began accumulating several poems about comic books that eventually came together as Comicstrip.  Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art was a major inspiration.  These tanka are often ecphrastic descriptions of cover artwork reproduced on the internet.  I love William Blake’s combination of the verbal and the pictorial and admire Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems for Pictures.  I sought to attain the complimentary synaesthetic relationship between words and images.  I tried using lyrics from popular songs in Hollow Fame, but found it difficult to fit pop songs written in patterns of fours and eights into the tanka form based on five and seven syllable groups.

 

So I finally decided to go to Eisenstein’s own artistic genre—film.  Cinetanka became a project that has lasted over two years in composition.  I began with my own impressions of movies, but realized that my memory for dialogue is not that good.  I began using library books as references and this led to a wealth of material for paraphrase.  I just had to find the parts that fit the form.  My choice of what to select also reflects my interests, personality and sense of humor.  Some parts of Cinetanka are original impressions but most verses are paraphrases assembled into a constellation of interlaced motifs. 

 

Paraphrases of plot summaries sometimes read like the TV Guide in broken English.  Verbatim dialogue is better, but sometimes requires enjambment to fit into the tanka form.  I couldn’t pass up Sherlock Holmes’ line, “Danger just happens to be part of my business,” so I shortened it into seven syllables by compressing “just happens to be” into “is.”  I may have lost some of the rhetorical flourish, but I got the main idea intact.  Dropping too many syllables such as articles starts sounding like pidgen.  Sometimes the pronoun “that” can be inserted to fill out a line without being intrusive because it is implied as the introduction of a dependent clause.  But again, I wanted to avoid the kind of fillers that make much popular conventional verse of earlier centuries so stuffy.

 

My sources were often books compiling an overview of an actor’s career or books on film genres such as crime, horror, romantic comedy and science fiction.  These sources reflect not only my taste but that of the New Orleans Public Library.  But then, New Orleans is the gumbo pot of America combining the commonplace with the exotic into a robust blend of hearty ingredients enhanced by skillful seasoning.  Cinetanka is likewise a combination of discreet components from several sources.  Since the critical activity is often a Dismemberment of Orpheus, my cutup technique is often applied to themes from Frankenstein and its several sequels.  Sequels of The Fly are the source of the recurring themes of disintegration and reintegration as well as the irony that sometimes the recombination has unexpected results.  Reptilicus is an example of synecdoche in which a part is able to regenerate the whole. 

 

Hopefully, some of the cues given in the tanka will serve as stimuli for reader response in which the sound bites are enough to generate recall of the movies.  Humor is a good form of positive reinforcement and so is the memory of a familiar song. 

 

My intention was to create an assembly of movie memorabilia that will evoke the joy and wonder of the cinema.  It would be like a walk down Hollywood Boulevard recalling the highlights of each star’s career, but in a nonlinear, seemingly haphazard form.  The nature of search engines insures site traffic based on the curiosity generated in researching a movie title.  And the more obscure the movie, the higher up the list Cinetanka will be.  My site seeks to appeal to the connoisseurs of incredibly strange psychotronic films.  Cinetanka is like a pastiche of movie clips that combine to form a metamontage reflecting the nature of the cinematic medium itself and its relation to language and sign systems in general.

 

Cinetanka is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  This epic is less about the art of creation as it is about the process of the inventor learning his craft through a series of experiments as he celebrates the creativity of cinema icons.