Bodysong

Dir: Simon Pummell, 2003. Documentary.
Bodysong

Bodysong is what I'd like to call a docu-hybrid. In the world of documentaries are essay films and these are classified as works that are existential and transgressive. Some notable examples would be Baraka, Chronos and the Qatsi trilogy. Then you have films like That's Entertainment, which visually cite themes or trends within cinema and pop culture. I suppose they're called compilation films or perhaps historical anthologies. The effectiveness of both of these is accomplished by the editing of the film, which presents each scene in conjunction with others that lead or take the same direction. An example would be one person sitting in a chair juxtaposed by someone sitting or rising from one. The lyrical elements of the films are maintained by the score, which are usually of great depth and done by artists like Phillip Glass.

What then makes Bodysong such an enjoyable alternative is the mashup of using home, documentary and educational videos throughout history and splicing them with those of similar themes in cinematic history. All of these images are set against an experimental score done by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood which, for people such as myself, is a welcome diversion from the typical accompaniment of an essay film.

Another thing that sets the work apart is the inconsistency of the formats gathered to make the finished product. There are segments in digital video and various types of film, and the fictitious scenes consist of everything from silent film segments and vintage animation to pornography. I'd venture to say that this is what polarizes the people who've seen the film in terms of who did or didn't enjoy it. For those used to stunning essay films, you could be disappointed as there is no recognizable motive from the director to “dazzle” the viewer. The emphasis here is the human condition: birth, growth, sex, violence, death, and dreams (meaning aspirations.) I feel that other essay films are fairly restricted to one of these topics, or rather on the human footprint in various contexts. On a broad scale, they're meant to impress (like staring at something shiny) rather than leave an impression (where you contemplate your mortality and existence thus far.)

As naïve as it sounds, Bodysong is quite literally awe-inspiring for the impression that it does leave. It opens with microscopic images of sperm making its way to an egg, then goes through birth: my favorite segment, since I've never seen a live birth, so the documentation of it is very powerful in my opinion. It moves into growth, as human beings learn to explore and gather personality. Then of course, sexual awareness, flirtation and finally sex. This segment is one of the more interesting as the film explores candid memories of people from love-ins and the like to vintage and modern pornography. As is always the case with seeing such images from as early as the '30s, it induces an almost comedic musing while reminding you that raunchiness has existed for hundreds of years. Likewise, the customs surrounding sex that make it publicly acceptable—from courtship to marriage—haven't changed much either.

Violence is the most graphic and upsetting motif and naturally covers a lot of ground. There are protests, fights between guys, scenes from countries that experienced genocide via their government and several executions. Death, both as a result from violence and famine as well as naturally, is the most interesting part in the film. There are funeral processions, images of people in coffins that are dressed according to their culture and images of loved ones dealing with their loss. In death, there seems to be so many different customs when handling the grieving and/or celebration process, which I hadn't fully realized.

As stated before, the film is not your typical essay film but if any of the aforementioned themes or images would not offend you then I highly recommend Bodysong. If you're a fan of Greenwood's work then I suggest it on a musical level as well, since it could certainly be experienced as the images accompanying the music as opposed to the other way around.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 4, 2016 12:44pm
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