Review: All Movies Love the Moon
All Movies Love the Moon by Gregory Robinson. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press, 2014. 96 pages. $14.95 paperback.
Silent movies. I never gave them much thought until reading Gregory Robinson’s All Movies Love the Moon. Now, I’m slightly obsessed.
All of Robinson’s prose poems take their titles from noteworthy silent films. Each poem directly reflects a particular movie and ties some aspect of the film to the real world. For example, in the 1902 movie, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, a man believes that the images before him are real and he responds with excitement and anger. Those watching the movie find humor in Uncle Josh’s actions and Robinson’s readers also laugh at Uncle Josh’s antics, because they know better. “Everyone imagines at least one person who is dumber, worse off, or more miserable than they are,” writes Robinson. Unlike Uncle Josh we know that what’s on the screen isn’t real. Or is it? What I love most about movies is the way they stay with me long after the theater closes. I think about them—relive them in my mind. The images and the story—though they may be make-believe—stay with me and become real. I’ve connected with them and found some truth there. Through Uncle Josh, Robinson address permanence, a theme that runs throughout the whole collection and not just this particular movie and poem. “Underneath the buffoonery, Uncle Josh gets the final laugh. The would-be boob knew too well that movies are not part of time but images of time itself, how cats that die in movies haunt us as real cats do.” The silent movies of the past become permanent—withstanding trend. They are a history for filmmakers and film watchers alike.
Not only is Robinson informative about a topic that is obscured by time and constant advancements, he also presents his subject matter beautifully with straightforward prose poetry. Robinson plays against the historical aspect of the work by mentioning current cultural icons, such as Burger King, McDonalds, Sylvester Stallone, Netflix, and Justin Timberlake. His direct approach doesn’t shy away from language that exposes his love of the film genre, the movies he’s writing about, and the individuals who lived in the world of silent films. In “Orchids and Ermine (1927)” Robinson describes Pink Watson, the ever-daydreaming telephone operator, “There is too little time to suffer, to pine, to feel unfulfilled, too many possible lives in her elsewhere eyes.” It only takes one look at actress Colleen Moore to see those very dreamy eyes. Robinson chooses movies of diverse nature and creates a collection where they all seamlessly belong by giving the readers glimpses of images or moments particular to either the movie, or those involved. In the French silent movie, A Trip to the Moon, noted as the first science fiction film, Robinson addresses the myth of persistent vision against the actions of Georges Méliès, the director who ended up burning his own film reels, “It is a rare kind of monster up there, roaming the moon, ghosting the screen. It is the product of daily sacrifice, where flames sear and claws tear and eyes forget until eventually, the dead stay dead.”
As viewers of film, we are voyeurs of a sort, privy to scenes and interactions in which we have no place. It’s delicious, isn’t it—being part of something so outside ourselves? We see things from another perspective. We take on personas not our own and experience something and somewhere new. My favorite line from the collection comes from the poem “Underworld (1927)”: “There is an aesthetic to trespassing, a beauty in being where you should not.” The movie was nominated to the American Film Industry’s Top Ten Gangster Film list and Robinson’s corresponding poem situates the reader in a dark and dangerous place—perfect for a gangster film or for a person who dares to venture where they should not.
Robinson’s voice is conversational and personal and it makes the entire work feel welcoming. Robinson augments the historical bits, the on-point writing, and universality of the emotions expressed throughout the work with beautiful representations of title cards from the movies. Some funny, some serious, they allow the reader a moment in the past and make the distant art form accessible. For fans of the silent film, Robinson’s work, though not historically in-depth (wouldn’t that take volumes?), will be a fresh, creative way to view the art form. For a neophyte, such as myself, he makes the silent film world very enticing, real, and relevant. It seems to me that part of the charm of this collection is the connection it creates between a reader, the text, and film. Connection is often what we seek in this world, what we search for and sometimes miss. Robinson draws the connection between the past form of art and present day entertainment. Robinson’s collection is classic and timeless—very much like the silent films that his poems honor.