CARL SANDBURG: ECHOES AND SILENCES
(1982) (RT 2:00)
(Produced and Directed by Perry Miller Adato)
We are all familiar with the white-haired, avuncular Carl Sandburg in his 60’s and 70’s – famous Pulitzer prize-winning poet, novelist, biographer, historian, journalist and musician, reciting his poetry and strumming his guitar throughout America. But the story that the makers of this film have chosen to tell is that of the young rebel Carl Sandberg, son of Swedish immigrants, daring reporter, labor organizer, young soldier in the Spanish-American war and above all, the poet of the people. His early poems smashed traditional rules of rhymed poetry with bold, innovative use of slang and the lingo of the “common man.”
Sandburg had a subject—and the subject was belief in man and a celebration of man’s spirit. You find it everywhere in his vast body of work. His first book Chicago Poems , sets the tone. Opening with his celebrated paean to Chicago: “Stormy, husky, brawling/ City of the Big Shoulders” Sandburg goes on to give voice to the voiceless: the stockyard worker sweeping blood off the floor, the Pullman porter, the child laboring in the textile mill. Numerous poems are movingly illustrated by great photographers of the period notably, Lewis Hine.
Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences , was Perry Miller Adato’s first attempt to combine documentary techniques with dramatic re-enactment. The film uses actor John Cullum both as himself and to play the young Sandburg in short dramatic sequences. In search of Sandburg, Cullum travels to the poet’s native home, Galesburg, Illinois speaking with close friends and family of the writer. Through a remarkable recently discovered trove of period photographs of Galesburg, the small-town America of Sandburg’s childhood – the horse carriages, the ice-man delivering ice, a Fourth of July celebration – is revived in vivid detail.
At the family goat farm in North Carolina, Cullum interviews Sandburg’s daughter, the writer Helga Sandburg. The film’s distinguished commentators include famed poet Archibald MacLeish, and the Civil-War historian David Herbert Donald who discusses his and Sandburg’s common fervor for President Lincoln. The film culminates with John Cullum‘s re-enactment of Sandburg speaking, reading his poems and singing American folk songs before a live student audience at Bryn Mawr College.
“What Sandburg knew and said was what America knew from the beginning and said from the beginning and has not yet, no matter what is believed of her, forgotten how to say: that those who are credulous about