Alice Bernstein - Journalist & Aesthetic Realism Associate

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About the film, historian Howard Zinn writes: “ Ken Kimmelman ’s reproduction, on film, of Eli Siegel’s magisterial poem, is an extraordinary achievement. It matches, in its visual beauty, the elegance of Siegel’s words, and adds the dimension of stunning imagery to an already profound work of art.” Photographer-filmmaker Gordon Parks described it as “A beautiful mixture of poetry and picture and imagination....The poem is beautifully constructed and beautifully read.”

"Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana"
Thrills Cinema Audiences

By Alice Bernstein

Photographs by David M. Bernstein

The newly released film, “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana” [15:30, Imagery Film, Ltd.], based on the acclaimed 1925 Nation prize-winning poem by Eli Siegel, is thrilling audiences at festivals overseas and across the U.S.

The New York City premiere took place recently at the Donnell Library Center on West 53rd Street, the branch of the New York Public Library known worldwide for its film and video archives. On a lovely fall evening, hundreds of cinema and poetry enthusiasts attended two screenings, and greeted the film with rousing ovations.  


Produced and directed by the Emmy award-winning filmmaker Ken Kimmelman,Hot Afternoons,” is a dramatic, colorful montage combining photographs, live-action, and special effects, showing how a hot afternoon in Montana is related to the whole world: people, places, things, events—past and present.


The poem, recorded for the film by Eli Siegel, founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, is a deep and musical honoring of earth and humanity. The opening lines are:

            Quiet and green was the grass of the field, 
            The sky was whole in brightness, 
            And O, a bird was flying, high, there in the sky, 
            So gently, so carelessly and fairly. 

What affected the Nation editors eighty years ago: the poem’s “magnificent rhythms,” and “profound ,...beautiful vision of the earth on which afternoons and men have always existed”—is moving people today through this film. For example, we see wonderfully diverse images of people from around the world, affecting and being affected by each other, as we hear Mr. Siegel read these great lines:

            There are millions of men in the world, and each is one man, 
            Each is one man by himself, taking care of himself all the time, 
                        and changing other men and being changed by them;   
    

At the Donnell Library premiere I spoke with a woman, a poet originally from Greece, who said, “Eli Siegel’s poetry—it’s a gift. It was beautiful the way it shows the connection of people everywhere,… how a person can stand alone but they are also part of the whole and of history.” She was agreeing, through the years, with someone who wrote in 1925 after reading “Hot Afternoons” on the subway: “I was very tired. Somehow my Nation fell open at the prize poem …[and] I felt for a brief moment the exquisite fineness of the clear air and the hot afternoon; the blue sky and the sluggish sad brook and the hot grass.”

Years later, the noted American poet William Carlos Williams, wrote of Hot Afternoons: “I say definitely that that single poem, out of a thousand others written in the past quarter century, secures our place in the cultural world.”

About reading this poem in the 1960s in Mr. Siegel’s first volume of poetry, Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems (Definition Press), Ken Kimmelman said:  “It was as if I were being taken on a wonderfully meaningful odyssey throughout the world…of all time and space. I felt at last the world made sense!”

In an interview, the filmmaker told me: “When I first read the poem, I saw everything. It was very visual to me. I was taken by how so many things were described but they all seemed coherently together. I wrote to Mr. Siegel and told him how much I loved the poem and what a beautiful film it would make, and if he thought it right, I said I’d like to record him for the film.  He welcomed this. At the recording session in 1969, Mr. Siegel read it three and a half different times. What affected me is the way Mr. Siegel—it was like he was reading it in Yankee Stadium with the bleachers filled—as good as could be!”

For over thirty years, Mr. Kimmelman has been thinking about and working on “Hot Afternoons,” and the results are stirring people deeply.  

About the film, historian Howard Zinn writes: “ Ken Kimmelman ’s reproduction, on film, of Eli Siegel’s magisterial poem, is an extraordinary achievement. It matches, in its visual beauty, the elegance of Siegel’s words, and adds the dimension of stunning imagery to an already profound work of art.” Photographer-filmmaker Gordon Parks described it as “A beautiful mixture of poetry and picture and imagination....The poem is beautifully constructed and beautifully read.”

“Hot Afternoons” has won numerous honors including “Best Experimental Film,” Big Apple Film Festival; “Grand Festival Award in the Arts,” Berkeley Film Festival; “Best Experimental Short Film, 2005,” Long Island Film Festival; “Achievement Award for Mixed Form,” Putnam Valley Arts Film Festival. The programming director for Montana PBS television said: “This film will be running here for years.”

Screenings worldwide include France at the Cannes Short Film Corner, Africa at the Golden Lion Film Festival in Swaziland, Spain at Festival de Cine Internacional de Barcelona, and festivals in Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York—and by invitation it will be shown at Lisbon Independent Film Festival, April, 2006.

Ken Kimmelman & Robert Murphy at Donnell Library premiere of "Hot Afternoons" Mr. Kimmelman has made films for the United Nations against racism and apartheid, and won an Emmy for his anti-prejudice PSA The Heart Knows Better , and another Emmy for his contributions to Sesame Street. “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana ” is an Imagery Film, Ltd. Release; Produced & Directed by Ken Kimmelman; Executive Producer, Robert Murphy; Visuals by Molten Lava: Jennifer Basnyat; Sound by Bernie Hayden; and Original Music by Edward Green.

For further information, contact Imagery Film, Ltd. at (212) 243-5579; e-mail ifl@mindspring.com. To learn more about the poetry by Eli Siegel, visit the websites: http://www.definitionpress.org and http://www.elisiegel.net/poetry

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CURRENT EVENTS  |  THE ANSWER TO RACISM  |  LINKS  |  EDUCATION

© 2005 by Alice Bernstein. For permission to reprint please contact me by
email: Ajoybern@nyc.rr.com, or call  (212) 691-2978