This month sees the debut feature of award-winning British director Simon Pummell. His Bodysong explores the importance of film as an expressive medium, firmly-embedded in the public consciousness of the last century, and how it can be truly seen as a contemporaneous document of physical and sociological change from a vantage point some five hundred years in the future.
Pummel’s film examines the constituent basis of human life from conception through to its all-too obvious conclusion whilst interweaving narrative elements that show the effects of, predominantly, sex and violence. In seeking to achieve coherence and maintain a realistic dialogue with the audience, Bodysong comprises solely of pre-existing footage. Here a multitude of visual records of the Twentieth Century, in a variety of film formats, highlight the anonymous work of many, albeit more often-than-not brave, filmmakers and photographers from differing walks of life.
Fortunately, what could have been as a cheap exercise in independent film production is saved by an innovative slant which belies critical consideration of the film’s narrative foundation as being hackneyed in its both approach and implementation. To compliment Bodysong, the filmmakers’ have overseen the creation of a thought-provoking web site (www.bodysong.com) which was nominated for a BAFTA Interactive Award even before the film’s theatrical release. Indeed, as a companion to Pummel’s visual lecture, notably one of Film Four’s final projects, the site scores favourably by allowing the viewer to examine the story behind each shot in the film, aided by an imaginative interface – though one that is aimed more at broadband users than those still relegated to dial-up.
However, where the film scores highly as a primary resource for already-educated adults, it falls down slightly by trying to assess complex themes that seem abridged by its short running length. Thus, some adjacent footage appears to treat intricate subject matters, particularly violence, and associated sub-texts, in an ephemeral way. You can understand why then, Johnny Greenwood’s musical reaction to the picture suffers structurally as a result, rather than being a dramatic misjudgement on the part of the Radiohead guitarist. With so much diverse footage to support many compositional ideas get lost, though Greenwood heroically stays the course.
The film’s score is built around a relentless, rhythmically-augmented figuration for piano and synthetic textures. Latterly, the composer relies upon a transformation of his initial idea, efficiently arranged for the Emperor Quartet, and improvisational segments for jazz quartet (With Gerard Presenser on trumpet and flugelhorn) before a Rondo-driven dénouement that re-states the opening material with a thicker orchestrational palette while being no less introspective than before.
Bodysong feels more like an installation than a film, requiring not only the patience of its audience to cope with, for example, shot-after-shot of victims of ethnic cleansing, but to feel compelled to make use of the on-line reference. Something that is hard to do as you emerge from the auditorium with a heightened state-of-awareness and a craving for the intake of deliriously sweet sugar. I feel positive enough about the film’s intentions to hope that much care is taken with any forthcoming DVD release. Presumably the film will be linked directly and interactively with the material which is presently on-line. As it stands I find it hard to recommend this feature to people for whom a conjured image of art cinemas leaves a trail of wanton Fritz Lang and popcorn destruction. Ultimately, and sadly, the release print really does not lend itself to being blown-up to 35mm and might well struggle to capture an audience for whom a more regular celebration of humanity ends at closing time.
Bodysong is the epic story of love, sex, violence, death and dreams.
The story of our lives, told through moving images from around the
world. From newsreel to home movies, from births to deaths, footage
taken from across the last 100 years of cinema cut to an ambitious
score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Bodysong is both a theatrical
film and a website. The site gives us the stories of
the people portrayed in each of the extraordinary images in this
powerful debut feature.
To win one of five copies of the Bodysong soundtrack, penned by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, answer both questions below and send
your answer to Gary Dalkin.
- After what is Radiohead named?
- With what instrument did Johnny Greenwood join the band?