I know I won’t be the first to say it, and I hope I won’t be the last, but Tongues Untied was not at all what I was expecting. When I wrote my previous post, I was looking for a dry, PBS style documentary with smooth voice-over and light muzak in the background. What occurred instead was a revolutionary video with more ties to Dziga Vertov then Ken Burns.
When I thought of poetry, I assumed it would be in an older, calmer, rhythmic style designed to put the viewer into the trance of documentary, which generally lets one think everything said is the undisputed truth. Everyone who has watched a documentary critically knows that verity shaped by a filmmaker should be taken with a grain of salt, lest we slide down the slope to believing Triumph of the Will is a conveyor of truth.
By jarring us, Tongues Untied makes its voice heard in a manner anything but traditional. The poetry is not about buttercups, but rather takes the form a series of self-portraits mixed with personal narratives and pointed vignettes. This is not Shakespeare, these words are alive.
And again, this word “alive.” I’m never quite comfortable watching and listening to the dead, even to the point that I have deliberately avoided films with Robin Williams as of late. Their words are their immortality, and reckoning with the forces of primordial truth and mortality at that the same moment is too much for me most times.
Suffice to say, Tongues Untied has changed the way I view video art vs. cinema. If I had to choose one to enjoy, it might be cinema. But if only one could survive for the good of humanity, I would choose video art every time.