Bodysong is one of those innovative and intriguing film concepts that sadly works much better on paper than it does on film. Simon Pummell’s 88 minute documentary is an original and potentially challenging attempt at exploring the nature of humanity through close scrutiny of the human body and its biological journey from birth to death. The film is arranged from a wide ranging collection of archive footage, some of which stretches back to the silent era; encompassing everything from newsreel footage of riots and executions to pornography and laboratory scenes depicting cell reproduction. Structured into five thematic chapters, the stream of images are contained and grouped together allowing them to resonate with greater meaning in association. The visual elements are united with a percussive soundtrack composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (his first feature film score) which goes a long way, in its jarring minimalism, to freshen some of the more outdated imagery.
Despite arousing initial curiosity, especially after a favourable opening dealing with the creation of life on it’s tiniest and most fascinating scale, Bodysong soon inspires little more than tedium through it’s overly ambitious intent. Pummell opens up the thematic scope of the exercise in an effort to take in man’s collective fate, this is where the documentary begins to unravel. In dealing with the human body up close and personal Bodysong provides an other-worldly insight into our own internal workings. Here the imagery and the soundtrack merge wonderfully to create an imaginative and unusual piece of filmmaking. However, as the range of the film expands the quality of the viewing experience evaporates. Suddenly we are presented with mundane images of lewd sexual content, peace protesters clashing with armed forces and other similarly jaded and often-used footage juxtaposed in such a way that offers very little new. Student’s being mown down by army tanks in Tienamen Square still maintain the ability to shock some fifteen years later but their presence here adds little but increasing incoherence.
The unity of the project as a whole is also undermined, on a technical front, by the disparate quality of the source materials. Without a consistent visual style Bodysong falls jarringly flat and a gulf soon emerges between the soundtrack, the best aspect of the film by far and fortunately endowed with one author, and the visual track which is bogged down with far too many. Pummell’s intended plan of reassembling the images to emphasise specific meaning explodes incoherently in his face and our faces.
Bodysong is an admirable undertaking that falls apart at the seams, mainly due to a lack of unity brought about by it’s inherent nature: specifically the re-appropriation of found images. What should be challenging and evocative eventually becomes little more than an item of vague curiosity.
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