Bodysong is what I’d call a docu-hybrid. In the documentary genre are essay films, which are existential and often transgressive. Some notable examples are 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 compilation films or historical anthologies. Their effectiveness is accomplished by the film’s editing. It presents each scene in conjunction with others that lead or take the same direction. An example would be a clip of a person in a chair juxtaposed with one where someone is sitting or rising.
The lyrical elements of these films is usually maintained by a score of great depth by musicians like Phillip Glass. What makes Bodysong such an enjoyable alternative is the mashup of home movies, documentaries, and educational films. These are poetically spliced with those of similar themes in cinema. Bodysong is set against an experimental score done by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. For people such as myself, this is a welcome diversion from the often grandiose accompaniment to essay films.
What also sets the film apart is the inconsistency of the formats. There are segments in digital video and various types of film, and fictitious scenes from silent films, vintage animation, and pornography.
I’d say that this is what polarizes the people who’ve seen the film; it determines if they did or didn’t enjoy it. For those used to stunning essay films, you could be disappointed that there is no motive to dazzle the viewer. The emphasis here is the human condition: birth, growth, sex, violence, death, and dreams ( or aspirations). I feel that other essay films are restricted to one of these topics, or on the human footprint in general. On a broad scale, they’re meant to impress (like staring at something shiny) rather than leave an impression (where you contemplate your mortality).
As naïve as it sounds, Bodysong is simply awe-inspiring. It opens with microscopic images of sperm making its way to an egg, then goes through birth. This is my favorite segment, since I’ve never seen a live birth. It moves into growth, as humans learn to explore and gather personality.
Then of course, sexual awareness, flirtation, and intercourse. This segment is one of the more interesting as the film explores candid moments of copulation, love-ins, and different types of pornography. Sometimes with porn from the ’30s there’s an almost comedic musing that reminds 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, brawls, scenes from countries that experienced genocide, and executions. Death, as a result from violence and famine or naturally, is the most interesting part in the film. There are funeral processions, scenes of people in coffins, and images of loved ones dealing with loss. With death, there are so many different customs when handling grief and the celebration of life. I hadn’t fully realized the spectrum, and it’s more cathartic than morbid.
As stated before, the film is not your typical essay film but if any of the aforementioned themes would not offend you then I highly recommend Bodysong. If you’re a fan of Greenwood’s work, I suggest it on a musical level as well—since it could certainly be experienced as a cinematic opera.
Originally published for Amoeba Music’s “Movies We Like” blog, Feb. 4th, 2016