DVD: Bodysong (2003)

June 11, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Eclectic DVD Distribution

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  July 12, 2005

Genre:  Documentary / Experimental

Synopsis: Epic, award-winning collage of archival footage chronicling the life & breadth of the human body, with an original score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

Special Features:  Audio commentary with director Simon Pummell and composer Jonny Greenwood / 5 web promos: “Simon Pummell on Bodysong” (7:31) / 2000 Short Film: “Blinded by the Light” (7:31) / Short: “How Long is a Minute” (1:03) / Trailer.

 


 

Review:

Since winning a BAFTA Interactive Award and Best British Documentary / British Independent Film Award, Simon Pummell’s ground-breaking feature debut still packs a punch, easing from abstract and mysterious to concrete themes tied to the evolution and psychosis of the human body.

Raiding primarily British film archives for newsreels, vintage documentaries, industrial films & TV news clips from the last 100 years, Bodysong moves through thematic sequences from human conception, gestation, birth, early development, play, sex, hunger, spiritual sacrifice, war, death, abuse, and art (namely dance). Although some audio from the newsreels is incorporated into the sound mix in the finale, it’s Jonny Greenwood’s original score that’s the film co-star, being one of the most important soundtracks in documentary film.

Greenwood’s score is a stunner, often playing against our expectations of what would traditionally appear over specific visuals. Sometimes comical, satirical, tender, or vulgar, it’s an elegant / jarring musical collage that’s always anchored to the slow set of shifting chords that make up the film’s main theme. The opening birthing sequence moves from gentle piano and a string quartet to steady backbeats, free jazz elements screech and disintegrate during the sex montages, and reverberating electric guitar is accompanied by abstract beeps and mechanical clacking during the hunger montage.

Pummell doesn’t hold back on graphic imagery – the births are many, the sex has hardcore material, the hunger section features starving figures which follow a short montage of gluttonous feasts – but the overall effect is balance, as the images shift between beautiful and vulgar, and tenderness and brutality.

Among the shots of playful children is a segment on kids fighting over a bicycle; and it takes only a moment to notice two cute kids in a garden carrying Nazi flags. In the segment on war and cruelty, the collage flows from a mass of pistols firing at an unseen target to prisoners being beaten, plus that infamous shot of a Vietnamese prisoner being shot in the head is shown in full colour, not as a series of B&W stills. Aspects of faith are contrasted through masses of followers in Mecca and more insular group experiences in churches; and the suffering human body is depicted by men nailed to crosses in the Philippines, and facial piercings that yield a unique ecstasy for the practitioners / sufferers.

Both Pummell and Greenwood keep shifting mood and playing with our expectations: in the hunger sequence, the visual flow starts with the consumption of a liquid, x-ray footage of its passage into the stomach and intestines, then rudimentary shots of eating, waifish figures, starving children, and then a sudden shift to playfulness as an astronaut bites a twirling banana in zero gravity – a simple edit that allows Pummell to pull us away just as the material is reaching its bleakest point.

Pummell’s archival team was substantial, and this co-production (which included FilmFour) was originally designed as 50% film / 50% interactive web work. The long-gone website once offered background stories for the mass of footage within Bodysong, including those who filmed the material and some participants.

The DVD includes a highly sporadic commentary track with moderator, director, and composer who nevertheless add some important details on the scoring and editing process, and winnowing both images and rough music elements during the film’s assembly stage towards tighter, concise sequences.

The moderator often starts a discussion with a question on Greenwood’s approach in tackling complex, controversial images – hardcore porn footage, births, teens, and the Vietnam street execution – and the composer does offer some candid thoughts on his instrumental choices, which flow through genres from trickles to surges of energy and distortion.

Released at 83 mins. at 1.66:1, Bodysong is really in need of a Blu-ray release, with a richer sound mix, and a blend of new and old Special Features (including the essays that accompanied a limited DVD / book combo edition). More ideal would be the inclusion of an isolated score track, early music demos, and a sampling of the website that enabled viewers to learn more about the footage, as the disc’s DVD-ROM content is just a replication of the film’s main promo and bio contents.

Also included in this DVD are two short films by Pummell which showcase his background in animation and visual effects. “How Long Is a Minute” uses varying heartbeats to contrast the life power of a newborn and a senior, and in “Blinded by the Light,” the words of a former blind man are used to poetically recount the emotional shocks of transitioning to the world of the seeing, and the harsh realities which have him yearning for his prior state of near-darkness.

Simon Pummell recent films include Shock Head Soul (2011) and Brand New-U (2015). Jonny Greenwood’s other scores include Norwegian Wood (2010), The Master (2012), and Inherent Vice (2014).

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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