Church and Other Dirty Words is a collection of poems by author and poet Brad Cohen. I reviewed it back in 2016, and was hugely impressed by the raw and visceral feel of the words - blunt and honest and directly speaking to my experiences as a Gay man. As a result, I was thrilled to be asked to review "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" - a collaboration between Brad Cohen and director Sian Williams.
There's definitely a danger with adapting poems, in that part of the wonder of poetry is the myriad of individual meanings the words can take on in the reader's minds. There's a concern that there'll be less of a connection for the reader in watching another person's view of how the feelings and thoughts of a poem should be conveyed - but it's something that the team behind "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" have carefully avoided - these short films are direct, thought provoking and utterly electric.
The films differ in tone and content - but overarching themes unify them as a collection - all of them filled with a searing honesty that's impossible to turn away from. "Church and Other Dirty Words" was already a varied and original body of work, but Cohen and Williams should be applauded for finding dynamic and innovative ways to approach these poems - the words are allowed to take centre stage, but the magnetic performances and inventive, creative cinematography allow for films that stimulate both visually and aurally. Performances from artists such as Danny Polaris, Joseph Connolly, Charlie Knight, Sophie Chittenden, Sian Williams, Victoria Matthews, Luigi Ambrosio, Joe Gilmore and Matthew Williams are accompanied by a score composed by Himuro Mansion - ranging from slow, meditative themes through to pulsing beats. It's cleverly arranged - sympathetic to the performances but excellent in its own right.
In terms of the the range of films, it's hard to pick a favourite - the overarching films with Danny Polaris and Joseph Connolly delve into a relationship full of raw emotions and, in the final film, a tenderness and openness that corresponds to the themes of the poems perfectly. "Masc4Masc" features Joseph Connolly in a blunt, direct and intimate short, and "DJ Pygmalion" is a vivid, sexual and pulsing piece performed by Charlotte Dowell that's almost staggering in its directness. Lingering looks in "Girl Under You" stay with the viewer long after the film has ended, and the sensual, fluid movements of Luigi Ambrosio and Joe Gilmore in "Bedside Surgeon"convey a relationship without a need for words - the phrase "poetry-in-motion" by be an age old cliche, but it's beyond fitting here.
An original, powerful and brilliantly crafted project, "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" takes already brilliant poems and carries them through to a new creative level. Combined they're only just over half and hour, but they'll stay with the viewer far, far longer.