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Bodysong (2002)

images that stun, dazzle and amuse

Directed by:

Simon Pummell

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 82 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

Country: United Kingdom

In an age where it has become commonplace to create new musical compositions by sampling and cutting-up older source materials, it was only a matter of time before the same principles would be applied to filmmaking. In 'Bodysong', director Simon Pummell and a team of researchers have plundered film archives for many hundreds of images from different times and places which have been stitched together into an uncannily coherent narrative documenting the cycle of human experience. What makes this project unique is that it contains no new footage, is set all over the world (and even in space), is free of dialogue or commentary, and stars people of every age, colour and shape – indeed, anyone with a body.

Shots are organised into something like a chronological sequence of human development, from conception and birth to growth and play, from courtship and sex to food and hunger, and then to violence and death. The final sections depict human endeavours to transcend the body's limitations, whether through ritual and trance, art, communication, and technology, acts of personal sacrifice and political idealism, or the immersion of individuals in crowds. Johnny 'Radiohead' Greenwood's artful soundtrack, with its varied movements of stately ambience, jangly rock guitar, psychedelic jazz and isolationist hardbeat, perfectly articulates the different moods of the human pageant on screen.

With its evocative kaleidoscope of images that stun, dazzle and amuse as they dance along to a ripping score, 'Bodysong' is reminiscent of 'Koyaanisqatsi', except that where Godfrey Reggio's film championed the natural world and lamented mankind's impact on it, Pummell's film has a decidedly more humanist outlook. By placing older black-and-white footage alongside newer colour, and intermixing images from all cultures and continents, Pummell not only celebrates humanity in all its variety, but also finds its common core (defined by the body) which remains essentially unchanged by space or time.

This focus on the cyclic continuity of humanity leads to some striking juxtapositions – e.g. amidst a sequence of images of young children playing, one black-and-white clip shows two very little boys, the one in front marching along with a toy drum, and the one behind waving a flag which, as he walks by, is revealed to display a Nazi swastika. This foreshadows the much later sequence on war, but also serves as a reminder that all adults, no matter what their ideology, started life in the same basic way, with birth and childhood.

'Bodysong' is an extraordinary piece of cinematic magic, with a dizzying succession of scenes that will have you laughing, gasping, shuddering and gaping, but most of all reflecting on the fundamental questions of human existence – who you are, where you come from, and why. And if its overwhelming scope is still not wide-ranging enough for some viewers, an elaborate companionpiece website offers the full story behind each and every image.

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It's Got: A woman delivering her own baby unassisted in a birthing pool, a man tossing a toddler from one hand to the other while standing on a skyscraper, a variety of graphic sex acts, a banana being eaten in zero gravity, CCTV footage of violent robberies, a riot, piles of corpses, a miracle-worker igniting a piece of paper with his bare hand, masked dancers on stilts, a lone student performing a dangerous waltz with a tank in Tiananmen Square, etc. etc., all to an effectively intense soundtrack.

It Needs: To be seen, pure and simple.

Alternatives:

Baraka, Koyaanisqatsi

Summary

A kaleidoscopic succession of images that will have you laughing, gasping, shuddering and gaping, but most of all reflecting on the fundamental questions of human existence – plus a score by Johnny 'Radiohead' Greenwood that sets just the right tone of majesty, drama and awe.

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