Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Modes of Intersubjective Address in the Central Character (1977) and Our Marilyn (1987)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Modes of Intersubjective Address in the Central Character (1977) and Our Marilyn (1987)

Article excerpt

[Phenomenology] can open us up to the situational and/or performative artwork as an ongoing process that continues ... to provoke, over time, through bodily engagement . . . our optic and haptic nerves where they count.1

Over the last decade there has been an increase in feminist media criticism in both popular media and the academy.2 This growing dialogue provides an opportunity to reflect on the innovative work of feminist artists from previous eras and to consider how their work is echoed in the present moment. Revisiting the history of feminist experimental film in Canada at this moment seems particularly relevant. The history of feminist experimental film in both the US and the UK has received considerable critical attention in the twenty-first century.1 At present, though, there are many under-explored films and artists within the history of Canadian feminist experimental film that deserve equal attention.4 While the scope of this essay does not allow me to address as wide a range of films as is needed, I will focus on the critical use of audio-visual address in Ihe Central Character (Patricia Gruben, 1977) and Our Marilyn (Brenda Longfellow, 1987). These films are diverse in subject matter and form, however they both formally explore the tension between the personal and the political in ways that de-centre the viewer from a place of certainty. This displacement encourages important affective relations to emerge between viewer and film text. These films share an interest in re-framing modes of cinematic address through formal experimentation that are grounded in feminist politics. They are significant both for their historical impact and their relevance to the contemporary moment.5 Through performative and phenomenological aesthetic interventions the films foreground the tenuous position of womens bodies within representation. By situating the films within phenomenological and performative mode of address, I suggest the films work against standard narrative or documentary modes of address and frame extra-diegetic space in innovative ways. This equally critical framing intervenes on the detached critical lenses, found within the historically modernist strains of avant-garde film discourse; discourses which Gruben and Longfellow worked against in their formal and political pursuits. Gruben and Longfellow eschew narrative modes of address embedded in the techniques of classical cinema such as shot-reverse-shot, as well as those employed in documentary film including voice-of-God narration or a vérité approach to filming. Instead, I argue, they construct a filmic experience that engages with bodily experience at every level of the apparatus.

If, as Amelia Jones suggests, dominant forms of aesthetic criticism6 work to "exclude ... the vicissitudes of embodied human experience" by containing art within a space of dispassionate observation, then I wish to argue that the two films I examine here do something very different. Rather than separating film works from their publics or their politics, the films are instead participating in an aesthetics of "de-containing." Insofar as they refuse the "boundary making function of aesthetics," they instead extend relations, spaces and affective reach in the encounters they construct between the films and their audiences.7 For Jones, live performance can "work to 'unframe' the messy embodiment that constitutes our relationship to spaces and things."8 This messy unframing of our affectively charged relationship to viewing spaces is explicitly constituted in the films of Longfellow and Gruben. Such unframing is central to the formally performative and a phenomenological mode of address employed by the filmmakers. My use of the term phenomenological here signals how the films cause a heightened awareness of the role the body within the viewing experience and in its relation to the work of art.9 This awareness creates an intersubjective experience between viewer and artwork akin to Merleau-Ponty s chiasmus, a concept which suggests we are "always already reciprocally engaged with the spaces and bodies around us. …

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