A Poet Gets The James Franco Treatment

by Dish Staff

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In May, we featured the poetry of Spencer Reece, who worked at Brooks Brothers clothing store for nearly a decade before his first collection of poems won The Bakeless Prize and subsequently was published as The Clerk’s Tale. The title poem from that volume begins this way:

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped–
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.

James Franco recently released a short film, seen above, that’s based on the poem. In an interview about the project, Franco reveals what he was trying to convey:

Despite this lack of explicit dramatic action, there is a deep despair and intensity underneath the surface of the poem.

But it is also difficult to trace that effect down to any single line—it’s more of a cumulative effect. That’s what I wanted to achieve in the film: a seemingly mundane atmosphere that will accumulate into a sense of weight and depth.

As far as the look of the film, I was very influenced by the cover of Spencer’s book, which is a Sergeant painting of a young man. I thought that it had the right qualities of stasis, sorrow, and depth. I looked to the Dardenne brothers for their fluid shooting and blocking style, although I eventually broke this up by using a very powerful zoom lens. In the opening scene, I played out a full scene of the Clerk fitting a customer. This scene was inspired by the section of the poem that describes the interaction with the straight and married customers. I didn’t want the dialogue to address these issues too directly—instead I wanted to feel the tension through behavior and shot composition.

All that happens in the scene is a man buys a suit, but the shifting focus and size of the frame makes it feel like something bigger is happening. The fluidness of the dolly combined with the rough feeling of the zooms and the shifting focus contrast and blend with each other in the same way that I wanted the material and staid surface to contrast with the depth of the character’s feelings.