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Millay at Steepletop
Millay at Steepletop
Actors: Norma Millay, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Director: Kevin Brownlow
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2003     0hr 25min

This loving tribute to the great American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, combines images of the natural beauty of the poet's upstate New York home, readings from her most famous poems, interviews with sister Norma Millay E...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Norma Millay, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Director: Kevin Brownlow
Creators: Kevin Brownlow, Sloane Shelton
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, Biography
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 04/08/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/2001
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2001
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 0hr 25min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

Movie Reviews

She Didn't Last the Night, But Gave A Lovely Light
Garman Lord | 01/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Edna St. Vincent Millay, usually "Vincent" to her friends, has been out of fashion for some time now, including during her own last years, critically dismissed by far lesser lights than herself as a mere lyric poet, when both her health and her career were on the wane. She deserves to be rediscovered, and doubtless one day will be, on the sheer strength of her gift and craft if nothing else. For now, however, she just doesn't fit the times, nor our attenuated expectations, being, so to speak, too much smarter than us today, a bit too rich for our blood. What to make of a voice that could truly speak, in an age which, today, has forgotten how to do that, and everywhere merely talks? An age which will not easily forgive Vincent for having been a much-beloved "girl poet" who wrote and published wonderfully accessible best-selling verses in the spotlight of popular acclaim, who wasn't demon-tormented or sicko-confessional or ideological or psychotic, who spent her whole career happily married to the same perfect (for her, at least) husband, and never whined, never martyred herself in any way, nor even committed suicide.

Ths film is short, 37 minutes, narrated by actress Sloane Shelton and shot by film historian Kevin Brownlow, who includes another of his short films on the same DVD as a bonus. It was shot in 1968, at Steepletop, the Hudson River farm and exurbanite country home of Vincent and her Dutch husband Eugen, where they lived and held bohemian-artist court from 1920 until his death in 1949 and hers a year later at a too-young age of 58, which was still full at filming time of their memorabilia. At that time, Vincent's actress sister Norma and Norma's artist husband Charlie were in residence, until Norma's death in 1986, after which, the family having left no descendency, Steepletop became an artists' colony. The filming style is documentary-casual, no doubt just as Vincent might have wished it. Wonder of wonders, two reels of home movies, in color, were discovered in a shed during the filming, and the footage is included, as the only known motion picture footage of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Also included are some poetry reading overdubs by the poetess herself, perhaps from her enormously popular thirties radio show.

The "girl poet," as she was called, was in her too-short life a wonderfully vivacious character, spiritually vulnerable, deep, courageous and outrageous, brilliantly gifted with words and music, liberated, psychically tough and sane, the poet of the Lost Generation Jazz Age, celebrated, scandalized, tabloidized and adored in her own time like a sixties rock star. She toured, globe-trotted, partied hearty, drank, writing brilliantly the while for decades, drawing her creative energies from passionate affairs with a bewildering succession of lovers, male and female, all under the lovingly indulgent eye of her amazingly complaisant, dog-loyal husband Eugen, who somehow knew and understood how Vincent worked and loved and admired her as her number one fan, as well as patiently nursing her through the ups and downs of her long and difficult illnesses to the end.

The outward key to Vincent's many years of popular success, after being "discovered" by a touring New York City impresario at a performance in her rural Maine hometown at age nineteen, was her combination of poetic brilliance and hypnotic personal glamor and dramatic presence, especially in her public poetry readings to overflowing packed houses. This is not to say that she was pretty, exactly, in any ordinary way; her face is irregularly put together, but with all pretty good features, electrically vivacious, behind which lurked an overwhelming Emily-Dickinsonian ready whiplash wit. In Emily's case, that quality of wit tended to scare people away; in Vincent's case it seemed to have the opposite effect, of melting ardent hearts and drawing almost daily marriage proposals, all but one of which she sagaciously turned down.

Vincent was, as they would have said in her day, a corker, and an American original treasure. Her poetry has aged exquisitely well, is mostly classically full-voiced and extrovert, very clear, lucid, often wonderfully funny, full of life and her wide experience of it, startlingly eloquent in sure-handed capture of -le mot juste-, full of hair-raising tricks and spine-chilling turns of thought and feeling, as easily authentic with large themes and lofty topics as with touching little back-garden musings and minutiae, with some of it looming great enough to rank none abashed right up there with the Belle of Amherst herself. Obviously too much for, and not at all in keeping with, the twaddlesome prosey ramblings, painful embarrassments and tasteless excrescent excesses of what generally passes, most generally unread and surely justly so, for poetry today. As to Vincent, well, no matter; back in the day, her world stood out on either side as wide as her own heart was wide; her soul could reach its hand on high, and scream to feel it touch the sky. As to us, in our own day? Well, if we've since lost Vincent and her vision, it is but we who are the poorer for it."
A Celebration of Millay
I. Sondel | Tallahassee, FL United States | 09/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If you're looking for a feature length documentary about Edna St. Vincent Millay - this is NOT the DVD for you. However, if an endearing portrait of the artist is what you seek, "Millay at Steepletop" is a perfect little curio of a film produced, written and narrated by actress Sloan Shelton and directed by Kevin Brownlow. Rare footage of Millay at her 700-acre farm, recordings of poetry readings and interviews with her sister Norma, are mixed with still photographs and biographical data.
The bonus here is a wonderful interview of Shelton by Leonard Lopate. Lover's of Vincent and her poetry will rejoice at the arrival of this 25 minute treasure on DVD."
Too Much Norma; Not Enough Vincent
H. F. Corbin | ATLANTA, GA USA | 07/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This short documentary narrated by Sloane Shelton and directed by Kevin Brownlow is certainly worth watching and required viewing by Millay lovers, of whom there are legion. While the first woman to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry wafts in and out of critical acclaim, depending on what the critics tell us we should be reading this year, people still love her from all quarters and her popularity continues to grow with us, the unwashed lovers of poetry. Many of her lines have become a part of the language: "My candle burns at both ends," "The world stands out on either side," and one of my favorite sonnets included on this DVD, that begins with the line "What lips my lips have kissed."

The DVD contains beautiful scenes of Steepletop, the poet's home for the last thirty years of her life; still portraits of Millay; footage from the only known existing film of the poet discovered by Brownlow in a barn on the Millay estate while producing this film (a vindication of those of us who are pack rats); and some of Millay's poetry read by both Shelton and the poet herself.

Shelton, in an interview with Leonard Lopote also included on the DVD, agrees with him that Millay does not read well. I couldn't disagree more. One of the best things about this DVD is hearing the poet read her own poetry. Caedmon has done an LP of her reading that ought to be reissued on CD format soon, particularly with the renewed interest in Millay after the publication of Nancy Mitford's biography of her, SAVAGE BEAUTY.

One of the worst things about this DVD is the footage of Norma Millay Ellis, the youngest and sole-surviving sister of Vincent, as apparently she was called by her family and friends. Shelton says in the interview that Ellis tried to monopolize the film, something that is obvious when you watch it. She is everywhere. She feeds the animals, she plays the piano; she walks and walks and walks in those high boots. Enough already.

But as Yoko Ono would say-- speaking of someone seeking the limelight-- those of us who are outshone by the sun (as surely the sister is by Millay) still get to sit in the shade it makes."
Nice tribute to Vincent
P. Anders | Southern California | 02/06/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a late 1960s film on the first woman poet to win a Pulitzer Prize, Edna St. Vincent Millay. It's good in that it not only gives some biographical background, but also emphasizes her work (something not all biographical documentaries will always do, which can be frustrating when one is discussing an author). The main interviewee is Vincent's sister out at Steeplechase. I certainly recommend. The additional feature, a 1962 black and white documentary on the last tram in Edinburgh, is also delightful."