Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Sarah Abbott's THE LIGHT IN OUR LIZARD BELLIES and the Meaning of Meaning

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Sarah Abbott's THE LIGHT IN OUR LIZARD BELLIES and the Meaning of Meaning

Article excerpt

Let me begin with a brief reflection on what the words to follow might be doing. There is some imperative when writing about experimental work to unravel the mysteries of complex texts so that we might all understand them. I am reluctant to offer such a "final word" (or final words) here, and I'll elaborate the reasons for that reluctance later. This essay, on the contrary, might be considered an afterword to the film-words that perpetually chase after the images that we are presented. Said otherwise, while I'll be writing about Sarah Abbott's "The Light in our Lizard Bellies," that "about" might be better understood spatially (as a constant circling around), rather than in its more familiar sense. And rather than unveiling some hidden meaning, I'll attempt simply to allow points of insertion into the film that can allow others to begin to chase such (perpetually elusive) meanings on their own.

Since the Theory boom in the early 80s (cf. Gerard Genette, for example), it has been fairly commonplace to note that all texts are essentially palimpsests written over-and indeed through-the language of their forbears. This observation is most obviously true for adaptations, since the new medium (especially when it is film) is written over (and, as the common complaint would have it, often replaces) the original text which is preserved merely in a series of ghostly traces. "The Light in our Lizard Bellies" announces its status as palimpsest from the opening credits as a first set of titles reading "From the dance/Four Ways of Approaching a Door" and "Choreographed, Composed & Performed by/Susanna Hood" quickly yield to its new title. These "four ways" and the "door" with which they were once coupled quickly recede from memory on a first viewing, but on repeated screenings begin to beg many questions. What are the four ways? Does the piece break up into tour sections? (Possibly, since there are distinct movements in the cinematography and music, although I have trouble making either come out to four.) Are the "four ways" an oblique reference to the proscenium space in which dance occurs? (The door might then be the fourth wall through which we along with the camera approach the dance.) Are the four ways even preserved here or are we given only one-the one which might be called "The Light in our Lizard Bellies"? It turns out, in fact, that this last conjecture is the closest to the truth of the matter: I discovered through my correspondence with the director that only one of the four sections of the original dance was preserved. But I think such recourse to "truth" may not resolve the matter. Indeed, I'd say that the placement of the title demands that we ask these questions, and part of the meaning and the effect of the piece may well be found in the attempt to answer to these (arguably "incorrect") questions. The riddle, rather than its solution, may be central to our experience of this film.

But perhaps, on the contrary, the placement of this title at the start of the film is designed precisely so that we encounter it as an ur-text that we need not consult. Rather than offering us the illusion that the final truth would be revealed by returning to the source (i.e. the dance upon which the film is based) as its revelation in the closing credits might have suggested, it may well be that starting with this title is meant to get that business out of the way immediately so that we can then try to unravel the mystery of what the film is and does on its own terms.

Certainly one of the effects of the new title is to place it into a relation less with the dance from which it derives, and more with the triptych of films by Sarah Abbott that also includes the animal-titled "Froglight" and "Why I Hate Bees." (The former is obviously the most immediately summoned with its repetition of the word "light" coupled with a reptilian reference.) This invocation of other films, while it moves us from a missing dance piece which preceded it into the world of film, doesn't allow us to stay with the text itself for long since it immediately summons another (missing) body of work. …

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