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And in Other Cringe-worthy Momements in Film History

By Harriet Staff

Yesterday at the Huffington Post John Lundberg was wondering “when does quoting poetry in movies work”? He’ll tell you one instance where it doesn’t work: here. Check it out:

About three-quarters of the way through the joyride of explosions and witty deliciousness that is Skyfall, it happened: Judi Dench’s character M, called before a committee of Parliament to defend the actions of MI6, punctuates her case by quoting a Tennyson poem. I cringed a little.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Now, I like the closing lines of “Ulysses” a lot, and they certainly fit with one of the movie’s central themes: mustering the strength of tired, old warriors. And I get that the lines are probably new to a lot of Bond watchers. But Tennyson’s grandeur — the suddenly elevated language — struck me as glaringly out-of-place. The quote comes shortly after Bond makes a quip about scotch, and guns down a half-dozen people. I’d argue that the Scotch scene is more appropriately poetic. It’s a Bond movie, for God’s sake.

So when are poems used appropriately in movies? They tend to work in two cases: when the grandeur of a scene is already elevated, or when a scene brings the grandeur of a poem down to its level.

Lundberg goes on to give a few key quotes from poetry in film. Make the jump to read them.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.