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Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World  /  The Face of Genius

Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World (1963)
March 14, 2013 - 7:30 pm
Alfred R. Kelman, Robert Markowitz.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World (1963)

Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World (1963)
Read UCLA Today's article on director Shirley Clarke -- "Archive Rekindles Interest in Once-Marginalized Filmmaker"

"An effective, moving document of a man in the last few months of his life, a man who appeared much in public (as the semi-official poet laureate of the Kennedy Administration) but whose private side was not well known.” -- Film Quarterly

Directed by Shirley Clarke, Robert Hughes

“The artist, however, faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the lost champion of the individual mind and sensibility, against an intrusive society and officious state.”—John F. Kennedy

The opening remarks of President John F. Kennedy’s speech on the occasion of Robert Frost receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in March of 1962, also forms the epigraph for director Shirley Clarke’s powerfully human portrait of Frost, shot just months before the iconic poet’s death in 1963. Clarke follows through on Kennedy’s theme by intercutting footage of Frost out in the world—speaking to students, touring a naval vessel, delivering a talk at Sarah Lawrence College—and scenes of his purposeful, solitary puttering around the house and grounds of his rural home in Ripton, Vermont. Clarke captures the rhythmic flow of the poet’s life, from gathering up calm to vibrant engagement. Ever one to challenge convention, Clarke allows her subject to comment on her approach. Speaking to his audience at Sarah Lawrence, Frost indicates to the cameras on stage with him: “What you’re seeing here, this sideshow, this is a documentary film going on…but it is a false picture that presents me as always digging potatoes or saying my own poems.” The audience bursts out laughing, caught up in the whimsical spell that the 88-year-old literary giant casts on everyone he encounters, including Clarke. 

Though born and raised in San Francisco, Frost came to prominence in the first half of the 20th century as a poet of rural New England where he made his home. In poems such as “The Road Less Traveled,” “Mending Wall,” “Birches” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost deployed everyday language—what he called "the sound of sense”—to describe encounters with the natural world and scenes of farming life that resonate with a distinctly American melancholy and joy. As poet and critic Randall Jarrell wrote of Frost, “No other living poet has written so well about the actions of ordinary men.” Clarke’s visual style rises to meet the colloquial power of Frost’s work with handheld intimacy and grace. Originally produced for WGBH, Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World won the Academy Award for best Feature Documentary.

Paul Malcolm

WGBH-TV. Producer: Robert Hughes. Written by:  Robert Hughes. Cinematographer:  Terence McCartney Filgate. Editor:  Charlotte Zwerin. With: Robert Frost, John F. Kennedy, Randall Jarrell, G. Armour Craig, Louis Untermeyer.

35mm, b/w, 51 min. 

Preserved by the Academy Film Archive and UCLA Film & Television Archive from two 35mm acetate prints. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, and NT Picture and Sound. Special thanks to Joe Lindner, Robert Gitt.

Preservation funded by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Face of Genius (1966)

The Face of Genius (1966)

“Producer director Alfred Kelman turns in a masterful job of melding narration, script, stills, film and music into a first rate production.” - Variety

Directed by Alfred R. Kelman

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1967, The Face of Genius pays, perhaps fittingly, somber tribute to the life and work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

The first and still the only American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Irish Catholic O’Neill was born in 1888 to a theatrical family (his father James O’Neill was a frustrated Shakespearean actor who nevertheless achieved matinee idol fame in the role of Monte Cristo). The domestic dysfunction that shaped O’Neill’s childhood and adolescence—his father’s long absences, his mother’s addiction to morphine—would come to inform many of his plays, especially his most personal work, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. After Catholic school and a stint at Princeton, O’Neill shipped out to sea as a merchant before alcoholism and depression left him haunting the dive bars and flophouses of New York’s waterfront. A bout of tuberculosis and his subsequent convalescence lead to a turning point. O’Neill dedicated himself to writing and soon thereafter arrived in Provincetown, Massachusetts with, as legend has it, “a trunk full of plays.” The work that O’Neill produced with the Provincetown Players, beginning in 1916, ushered in the modern era of American theater. In plays such as The Emperor Jones (1920), Anna Christie (1920) and The Hairy Ape (1922), O’Neill brought a forceful, vernacular realism to the stage with stories about people on the edge struggling for dignity in the face of crushing tragedy. Though his work earned unprecedented critical praise, including four Pulitzer Prizes, O’Neill was tormented by demons throughout his life, including multiple failed marriages, estrangement from his daughter Oona O’Neill (later wife of Charlie Chaplin) and, ultimately, crippling illness. 

Directed by Alfred Kelman for public television station WBZ-TV in Boston, The Face of Genius traces O’Neill’s biography to measure the cost of artistic commitment to truth, both personal and aesthetic. Jason Robards narrates his life story over impressionistic images of ocean waves crashing on rocky shores, the winter stripped branches of gnarled trees and deserted cottages on windswept acres that sustain the documentary’s brooding tone. Brief scenes from All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924) and The Iceman Cometh (1940) are also re-enacted along with commentary on O’Neill’s work and significance by Arthur Miller, drama critic Brooks Atkinson and director José Quintero. 

Paul Malcolm

WBZ-TV, Group W, Boston. Producer: Alfred R. Kelman. Writer: Robert Markowitz. Music: Teo Macero. Narrator: Jason Robards.

16mm, b/w, 51 min. 

Preserved by the Academy Film Archive and UCLA Film & Television Archive from two 16mm prints. Laboratory services by  Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, and NT Picture and Sound.