Bodysong (2003) - Directed by Simon Pummell; with original film score composed by Jonny Greenwood.
Birth. Growth. Sex. Violence. Death. Dreams
These are the words that appear under the title as the film closes, right before the ending credits roll. These six subjects flesh out the main body of this somewhat visual essay that, accompanied by Greenwood's hauntingly tense yet fragile score, follows the human body from life to death. The film compiles footage, both vintage archival and contemporary, mostly amateur but seasoned with biological content such as x-rays and cells under microscopic observation. And even though it spans a large history of time, there isn't an adherence to a chronological narrative other than that of womb to tomb. The film doesn't reel from past to present, which makes sense as the six subjects mentioned are not specific to one particular time spanned throughout the film. Similarly, Bodysong isn't faithful to one country, people, or culture. Again, the six subjects are internationally worldwide; so much so, that there are some instances in the film that you have no idea what nationality, race, or social status the people represented happen to be--they slowly disappear in details and become solely, Common Human.
Pummell achieves this, I think, by grouping the images as he does so confluently. The subjects are immediately recognized long before they're spelled out for you at the end. Identifying the six subjects is what helps you forget any difference between us; regardless of geography, religion, sexual preference, etc. we were all born, we all grow and we will all die. Sex, violence, and dreams are not as strictly certain as Birth, Growth, and Death but they repeat often enough in various if not all parts of the world that it isn't by very much that we can consider them lesser of a certainty.
The film maintains an unbiased eye, open and absorbent. The explicit frankness of the Sex portion is just as innocent as the preceding childhood images from the Growth segments. The frankness of the Violence segments are what make them unsettling but they too also seem innocent. In seeing images of crowds and riots, I found myself unconcerned with who was right or wrong--there was no judgement of the violence, only the admittance of its existence. Perhaps its this unbiased presentation which inspired Pummell to set the footage to music, much like a silent film, and leave the human voice out up until the final portion of Bodysong. He chose, to begin this group, examples of deaf subjects learning to pronounce words through alternative therapy, which felt very much like the earlier footage of watching toddlers taking their first steps. From there, Pummell builds speech and language as well as expression through art. The collage is never random. Its to a great affect that the voice finally makes it appearance in the film. After all the footage, which quite effectively spoke volumes visually, I was very pleased and impressed with any sound produced by the human voice. It was a very coherent journey.
What Bodysong results in, for me, is a film that delivers a quick impression of human activity. Its a snap shot that holds you for a moment, the way you would pause if you were shown a photograph of yourself taken while you weren't aware. You feel yourself to be naturally beautiful but you're also embarrassed by the unconsciousness of it all. You feel unfamiliar as well as slightly insulted--like you're viewing a stranger who possesses a very true, if not one of the truest, confessions about you. It gives you an objective glimpse into how nature possibly views us. We're all one, the way an apple is an apple regardless of what sound your mouth makes when you pronounce the word in your language, that names the particular fruit. Bodysong is a human portrait, a general definition. Its a grouping of physical grammars, which effectively summarize who and what a human is. This solidarity is the answer, if it is of any extraterrestrial wonder, what are humans? And how do they spend their time on that planet?