Welcome to This House is a feature documentary film on the life of poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Hammer decided to film Bishop’s best loved homes in the United States, Canada and Brazil in order to stress the poet’s homesickness for Nova Scotia (in Canada) and her continuous search for a home. The poet became orphan very early in life, which triggered her move often. The film is hard to penetrate, as a vagina that fails to lubricate itself. The photos and images of poet’s objects and houses are juxtaposed and fragmented with no particular logic. It surely refers to the process of memory and the act of writing poetry, but in a documentary it fails to offer precise data.
For example the interviews with old lovers, friends and associates who knew the poet come with no introduction or subtitles. Who are they? What is their relation to Bishop? Some of her Brazilian friends speak in French, others in English, others in Portuguese. The confusion increases because sound of testimonies are intertwined with nature sounds of insects and other effects.
This complexity is only comprehensible to those familiar to Bishop’s poetry. Poems such as The Fish, The Armadillo and The Moose meditate on the transcendent power of nature. The poet claimed that it took her 20 years to finish the latter, which is dedicated to Grace Bulmer Bowers, one of her aunts and surrogate mothers. This obsessive way of writing startles an ordinary reader, likewise the fruition of Welcome to This House.
Missing documents enrich the narrative. Bishop’s precocious homosexuality and her preference for cities in the coast somewhat justify her staying in Brazil for almost two decades. She met the architect Lota de Macedo Soares in New York, who offered her house and love to the Canadian poet. Brazil in the 1950s was still very Catholic, hence lesbians had to be discreet, and it was probably difficult for her to adapt to this environment. Bishop was an artist without family or real ties with anywhere. She drank destructively. Her embarrassing heavy drinking was a cause for self-banishment and had serious effects on her relationships.
The film, though, does not explore this subject. It touches on Lota’s suicide as a regular note. It does not emphasize the consequent Bishop’s capacity of feeling guilty. As she wrote: “No coffee can wake you”. This event surely changed Bishop’s comprehension of the world, and influenced her following poems, but the documentary strangely dodges this. Bishop struggled to find a sense of belonging throughout her life. Her poems are filled with grief and longing, and the film never portrays this despair. On the contrary, the deaths and Bishop and Soares are deeply romanticised. Their portraits appear among the clouds, as if their deaths were a natural and painless rise.
Welcome to This House is part of BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, which DMovies is currently covering live.