Monday, October 16, 2017

Poet Malcolm Miller Brought to Life at Endicott College

Malcolm Miller

REVIEW BY    Caroline Moll

Too often, we see stories of poets work going undiscovered or underappreciated until they have passed. A variation of this cliche is reflected in the style of a documentary titled, “Unburying Malcolm Miller.” This documentary concerns the late Malcolm Miller, a Salem, MA. eccentric, and often homeless poet, who was well-known character in his native city. I attended a screening of the film, and was able to sit down with director Kevin Carey (a professor at Salem State University), along with writer and friend of Miller, Rob Kessler. Each showed obvious passion for the film they created, saying the poetry sadly was overlooked during his life. This particular screening of the documentary showed 45 minutes of the full 60 minute film.

Before the viewing, Kessler gave me some background on his relationship with Miller, and what inspired him to make the film. He told me that he had been receiving poetry in his mailbox, with a note attached reaching “send $5 if you like this”. His reaction was to send the money, but never thought to read the books. Later he took the time to read them. He mentioned feeling that his biggest regret around it was not reading them earlier. Despite a questionable mental stability, the poet’s talent stood out. On multiple occasions, he asked Miller to to speak to students, all of which he declined. His death prompted Kessler’s reaction to take Miller’s work and get it noticed on a wider scale.

The feeling of honesty and divided views of a single person really drives this film. With a dichotomy of modesty and vanity as traits, interviewees on screen familiarize the audience with Miller’s character, while also showing him in different lights. Before the screening, when I was able to speak to Kessler (recently retired as a professor of English at Salem State University), he mentioned that Miller never wanted to be a coffee table poet. It was always about the writing, it seemed, and not the profit. The raw format allows for the ones in his life to tell their story fully and honestly. The shots also visually went along with Miller’s work. His poetry is satirical in tone, but he focuses a lot on nature in his topics, describing its beauty. Especially during moments where poetry is being read, multiple wide angle nature shots are used. However, other poems are read on location and on screen, including my personal favorite entitled “Tea”.

One specific quote stuck out to me. It is subtle, yet I find it one of the most important lines in the film. “There is beauty in everything”. In retrospect, I wish this quote was emphasized even more. In a way, it encompasses everything the film stands for; it takes an unusual subject and through his legend, creates something beautiful. The beauty in the film exists in its honesty, ditching flashy cinematography or over-the-top drama. It is truly the good, bad, and ugly, of the life this man led. We, as the audience, see Miller as the sketchy man hanging around Salem, the talented yet humble poet, and everything in between. The readings of his poetry are not anything exceptionally hitting, yet are true to the tone of the writing. You can openly hear the words as he means them, in his own idiosyncratic way. Carey explained that there reasoning to filming the readings outside. He had been hoping to add a sense of authenticity, which this technique achieved. Often times music plays in the background of scenes, perfectly selected for a beautifully simple aesthetic.
We are typically judgmental culture. I find the angle this film took admirable, as it shows Miller from different points of views. Carey took a subject that the public may have viewed as crazy or absurd, and uncovered an idea of his true personality and the life he led. This Caulfield meets Thoreau type of character/writer’s story unfolds through his own poetry and other’s reflections of him. Mentally ill, or too eccentric for the world to relate to? This documentary subtly criticizes those who can not see past a person’s intimidating front, to admire the art they create. 

 Caroline Moll is a first year undergraduate student at Endicott College, studying marketing communications/advertising. She has a passion for writing that began as a kid, and has stuck with her ever since. Looking to pursue a career in advertising, she hopes to be able to combine her love for writing and visual art.

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