The Human Body and Cinema Pt. 2

Spurred on by the comment on my previous post I presume it may be prudent to delve further into the aforementioned incident with a bit more specificity (within reason, I’m not going to name any names).  I fear this may take a rather dramatic tone, but I imagine it is a reasonably sensible way to personally examine what took place, and perhaps there are one or two people that may find it of slight interest.  While I would like to maintain a primary focus on cinema, I’m afraid that in order to express certain feelings I may appear to be standing on a soapbox, so my sincere apologies in advance.  After all, what the hell do I know?.

As previously mentioned, I have made many various efforts to gain financial support that would enable me to put on screenings of experimental film, hoping that perhaps I could instill in others the same passion that has since infected me.  Throughout these efforts I have primarily attempted to persuade through various non-cinematic means, all of which have so far proved unsuccessful (though it is worth mentioning here that there is still the possibility of receiving support from the city film society).  In light of my previous failures, I rather spontaneously decided it was time to take a different approach., and proceeded to contact the local library, which is home to a fairly respectable screening room type venue.  I was deliberately vague when negotiating for a chance to use the room, but they were not particularly curious, and the room had plenty of openings, so concrete plans began to materialize.  More than anything else this was a sort of interactive experiment, one in which ideally I could encounter some of the issues that inevitably arise during events of this sort.  Word about the screening was spread mostly word of mouth, and about twenty to twenty-five or so ended up attending, three quarters of whom I was at least relatively familiar with, a number that I was more or less pleased with (one of the more fervent concerns expressed by potential financial sponsors has been their perceived lack of interest on the part of the community.  I am always left wondering how such presumptions could be formed considering there has been no opportunities whatsoever to base those presumptions off of, but despite their concerns I have never considered it much of issue, were a legitimate screening to take place I would get people there).

The evening progressed fairly smoothly, after each film was shown a small amount of time was taken to answer questions or pursue a pertinent line of discussion.  Some reacted negatively, but their expressed reservations were always done so with respect (in hindsight I realize this phenomenon may be skewed, there would be a much larger number of people who I was personally unfamiliar with at a ‘real’ screening, no doubt increasing the likelihood that negative responses would be voiced more fervently).  Some time during the course of the screenings one of the employees of the library entered and stood at the back.  She stayed for a few of the films (specifically Anger’s Fireworks and Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving, and Dog Star Man Pt. 3) and then apparently left and sought out a library manager and inform him that inappropriate material was being shown.  The manager and said employee proceeded to enter and take me aside, and various words were thrown my way like ‘irresponsible’ and ‘explicit’.  Things escalated, a few in the audience took sides, and I was eventually asked to leave.  I must take part of the responsibility here and mention that upon being pressed I responded with hostility rather than attempting to calmly state my case, and whether justified or not, responding in such a matter simply does no good.  Those familiar with the aforementioned films may believe otherwise, and perhaps it was subconscious on my part, but I did not set out to screen these works as a form of provocation.   I sincerely believe in the poetry, the rhythm, the beauty of works like these, and I believed (correctly, at least in part) that others would be able to as well. 

Just recently on her blog Invisible Cinema, Jennifer made a post about the oppression of experimental cinema through omission.  As absurd as it may or may not sound, I feel as though this concept is equally applicable to the treatment of the human body, at least in the culture I currently reside in.  Here it is often posited that the body is both sacred and exalted, yet I feel their approach is disingenuous, and rather the opposite is often suggested.  Any honest depiction or discussion of the body is discouraged (i.e. omitted), and instead we are bombarded by the shallow idealizations forced upon us by various popular media outlets, which seem to provide those doing the discouraging with a sense of justification for their actions.  When an artist attempts to explore the poetry or wonder of the human body in a meaningful way, a way that enlighten us and increases our understanding or confronts our expectations, it suddenly and unjustly gets lumped in with the crass depictions of those seeking to exploit the body for their own negative means (this could be implicit evidence of a still prevalent attitude by many that the cinema is a 'lesser' art form) .  But obviously we are curious about our bodies, and we naturally seek an understanding of it, unfortunately without access to the works of the poets the internet seems to be the most accessible tool for exploration, and we all know what resides therein.  Though it may be overly speculative, simplistic and perhaps irresponsible, I cannot help but connect this repression/omission disguised as sanctification with a recent study that found said culture to be among the highest consumers of internet pornography in the U.S.  Another aspect to it, as mentioned in the comment by Camouflage Lenses, is when confronted with these explorations of the human body and/or sexuality a strong (i.e. perhaps angry) is often a natural, even healthy response, but these feelings must have an outlet where they can be processed and examined in both a personal and social context, and a theater setting with a group of responsible, (mostly) intelligent adults can provide such an opportunity.

I suppose another avenue which may need be explored in regards to this issue are the implications of the male gaze, which has been a point of contention both in and out of cinema for many, many years, but I don’t yet feel qualified to open up that can of worms.  While I obviously believe there is a legitimate concern as far as that goes, I like to think that the male gaze is not inherently exploitative, and the works of these poets can attest to this.

I don’t know, perhaps I am more lost now then I was when I started wandering in this post, there are a lot of difficult questions, all of which deserve a great deal more thought and attention, and most of which I have no answer to, all I do know is I want both myself and others to have the opportunity to explore the work of talented artists grappling with some of the concerns…

(Having said all this I must also acknowledge it would be unfair for me to categorize this incident as being entirely indicative of the area, I know that there must be open and understanding venues for this type of material here, I just happened to stumble upon a dead end.)


Mike Everleth said...

Having public discussions about the body and its representation on film and having screenings with "controversial" material is healthy. Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs both got arrested for screening "Flaming Creatures" in the '60s, clearly knowing what they were in for when they decided to do it. As a result, obscenity laws eventually got relaxed in NY.

On the other hand, "Window Water Baby Moving" is a pretty intense movie to screen in a public location, especially a tax-funded library where anybody can wander in. The library could have gotten in serious trouble if children wandered in. Plus, I'm a lover of experimental film and I probably wouldn't sit through that film if you told me that's what you'd be screening.

On the third hand, Brakhage made that film at a time when husbands were not allowed in the delivery room, much less allowed to film it. Jane only had that kid in the tub because no hospital would let Stan in. But, now it's commonplace -- in the real world and in film. "Knocked Up" was a huge mainstream hit that included a shot of a baby popping out and it immediately made me think of Brakhage opening that possibility up.

Jacob W. said...

Yes indeed, though I sincerely hope that it didn't appear as though I was trying to align myself anywhere near the efforts of people like Mekas and Jacobs, I have read extensively of their efforts on such matters and wouldn't dare cheapen what they did by trying to do so,

You make a legitimate point though about the venue for the screening, it was probably naive for me to try it there, what you mentioned regarding children was one of the points they brought up, and while I would certainly cease projection were a child to enter I suppose it still could present a problem,

Part of my wrongheaded hostility was due to my belief that the employee who had complained was distorting the context. Like I mentioned, both before and after each film screened time was taken to explain a bit about the films and discuss them, I consider myself fairly well read and researched and I wasn't compelled to just spring them on the audience, though even still the images can come as a shock,

Anyways thanks for the input, I appreciate it...

Camouflage Lenses said...

Excellent telling of your story. But I'm not buying the library side of the argument. One hears that 'children could wander in' argument everywhere. Children could also wander into the Louvre and see a tit. A small child could wander into the Metropolitan and see a rear end.

Since the films you were showing were artworks and had nothing to do with pornography, there's really very little argument the library can muster. In fact, because I'm something of an aggressive bastard, I will mention a suspicion of mine, which is that there is the possibility that the reaction of the library staff may have had less to do with the childbirth content of the Brakhage films and slightly more to do with the subject matter of the Kenneth Anger film. I wonder if the staff made any comments in that regard during your confrontation.

I would also not spend too much time apologizing for your heated reaction to the library staff. There's too much good behavior going around in the world today. It's as if everyone thinks they're on an airplane and need to watch what they say to the flight attendants.

Perhaps you could offer to close the door and put up a sign to warn families with children away next time. That might satisfy the library staff.

In general though, I think you need to hang out with grownups. You may need to move. Back in the 1980s, I worked with a film director from the U.K. named Lindsay Anderson. One day we were having a very loud and heated argument about the ghost scene in a stage production of Hamlet. He stopped cold and looked at me for a long time. Then he said, 'Listen, you really must get out of this city and go where the bigger fish swim.'

So I did that. In a couple of years, I wrote him a letter to let him know I'd moved. He wrote back, and in his letter he said, 'I'm very glad to hear that you escaped the small goldfish bowl.'

He was talking mainly about how difficult it was to find open minds and how one must eventually find the grownups.

Jacob W. said...

Re:Fireworks, yes, such was implied, I think you probably are quite aware of the climate here,

All in all I think I am done with the library circuit, I'm sure I can find some basement somewhere that will have me,

I certainly agree with you though about making a move, once I am finished with my generals such a move will be more feasible, for now I am just trying to make the best of the situation,

Thanks again for your input...

Camouflage Lenses said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camouflage Lenses said...

Of course, sometimes I go too far and end up insulting people without meaning to. I suggest that you move and that might actually offend you to some extent. I know that initially when I was told to move by a well-known film director, I was somewhat offended and angry. But as time passed I ended up agreeing with him completely. Everyone is different though. I know people who stayed and did very well for themselves artistically.

I think you are wise to move toward the basement screening idea. It sounds like an environment you can control. You are young, but there is a suggestion in your writing of some rather interesting future possibilities. I think you should press this thing you've got going forward as far as you can. You will not let a couple of librarians stand in your way!

Jacob W. said...

Oh no, no offense was caused whatsoever. I very much appreciate your thoughts, and have planned on settling somewhere with more opportunities for awhile, it is just a matter of time. While I am going to do what I can until then here, I am afraid there may be one too many windmills to deal with. We'll see what happens...