Movie Review by Lisa Henshall
Director: Simon Pummell
Music: Jonny Greenwood
Advertised as an epic story of love, sex, violence, death and dreams, BODYSONG is an unusual piece of film drama. I use the word ‘drama’ because most of the images are dramatic and the overall feel is one of carefully illustrated dramas from people’s lives (although there are lighter moments). There’s no voiceover to guide you through, but the sequences fit into relatively defined segments – starting with birth and ending with dreams. Each segment consists of an astonishing array of moving images representing the elements that make up our lives – there’s newsreel footage, archive cinema going back 100 years, home videos, right through to fibre-optic images taken inside the womb – and the whole film is set to a specially commissioned score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, which changes and evolves to suit the images as the story progresses. The music is beautifully constructed and well suited to the imagery and helps enhance the overall experience, although occasionally there are a few segments where it feels a little repetitive.
Pummell’s inspiration for making BODYSONG was his fascination with the moving images he sees in everyday life: “For me, the power of this film derives from the force of numbers; each face, each person, each body, each glimpse of anatomy, is both abstracted and dignified by being part of a huge flow, a torrent of humanity larger than any of us can conceive”. There are a lot of images in this film and the scope is astounding! There are images of rites of passage from all corners of the globe; multitudes of faiths and not just the major religions and images of our youth playing and learning as they grow. In fact it is the sheer breadth of these images that overwhelms the viewer and helps to build to the story. At times it is hard to watch, especially the section on death and disease which although brief is truly heartbreaking. However, the film ends with an uplifting segment showing how we manifest our dreams and desires through art, music and culture.
Thankfully, it isn’t a long film (it’s under 90 mins) and at times it would probably suit a TV audience better than the cinema. Many of the sequences do look amazing on the big screen, the more powerful images of war and death are made more so by the sheer size of them – it’s hard to turn your face away even if you wanted to. But for the same reason that some images suit the big screen, I felt that others didn’t and could become problematic for viewers because of this, in particular part of the Birth segment. If like me, you are already slightly put off childbirth (from all those school sex education videos they showed us in the 80s) then with BODYSONG it’s the final nail in the coffin. It is one thing to show a few images, after all it is a part of who we are and how we came into the world but it is quite another to show a seemingly endless sequence of extreme close-ups of countless babies coming out of countless women. On a big screen it was just far too much flesh and bodily fluids for this viewer. Pummell did mention that he was also inspired by the birth of his son, but I think he would have done well to remember that parents always think their own baby is wonderful and unique, this doesn’t mean everybody wants to see the home video of your wife actually giving birth. I wished he had skipped a little sooner to the sequence where the babies are each given to their mother and we see the joy, pain and wonder on the faces at what they’ve created – a far more important thing to emphasise.
Just to finish up, it is also well worth taking the time to look at the film’s website. There you can visit every shot and discover the hundred’s of unique stories that made up the film – an excellent postscript to the experience.