Les États généraux du film documentaire 2008 On the Subject of Regrettable Searching - Body to Body, the Filmed Body

On the Subject of Regrettable Searching - Body to Body, the Filmed Body

Necessarily, the body is a source of worry: subject to accident, decline, death, it is that from which we must escape by, for example, leaving figurative traces that others perhaps will consider art. This familiar torment is today renewed by collective concerns, human beings live henceforth in the grip of muffled yet violent questions: our body is the object of industrial and scientific initiatives about which we must make decisions, most often without being fully informed, to what extent do they constitute elements of progress or invasive attacks. Cut up slice by slice into digital images (this is the present state of humanism's glorious emblem, the flayed body), clonable, patented down to its genetic components, the body seems entirely open to examination, externalised and freely reproducible: the classical characteristics of the modern image suddenly move through the body, serving as a laboratory for its future. In the same way that the body has been reduced by war to the status of “cannon fodder” or by the economy to that of “labour power”, it becomes industrial raw material in a movement of confiscation which injects the unhuman into the deepest characteristics of the species. Simultaneously in many films, humanity dreams of its disappearance, reviews its disasters, its cowardice and failures and, in some of them, its general replacement by a double better adapted to biological perfection. We feel ever more constricted, almost crushed, in the clasp of a contradiction: concerning our singularity, the body we live no longer covers the body we know and seems infinite because opened by the unconscious which labours it through and through with mental images; in the dimension of the species, the organic body on the contrary suddenly appears finite to the point where it seems objectivised down to its genes, transformed into something industrial. “For thousands of years, humanity remained what it was for Aristote: a living animal which in addition was capable of a political existence; the modern human is an animal engaged in a politics which questions its very life as a living being.” Michel Foucault's definition seems each day more pertinent, we cannot escape the grip of this background of violence. We must take as a reference a comment made by Freud at the beginning of the century, “the individual who is sick in his body is only possible on the stage as a prop, not as a hero”, it seems ever more evident that the preoccupation of being in the biopolitical sense has invaded our consciences. Vacillating signals of our distress, the figures of cinema almost always are structured by some kind of pathology —starting with the athlete, formerly an emblematic figure of human power, whose meaning has been completely reversed from its classical interpretation as a bella figura to become the effigy of our modern foolishness, our propensity to accept the transformation of our own organism into an experimental laboratory for the pharmaceutical industry. For the worse (domestication films) or the better (Stephen Dwoskin), the history of bodily representation finds in the visual conquest of disease one of its main thoroughfares. Sex appears here to identify the place where the persona falls, no longer in a liberating jubilation (utopia of the generation which was twenty years old in 1967) but in the ruins of a destruction which leaves nothing alive as it devours being at the very location of its desire to be. It is the triumph of Georges Bataille whose black aura permeates the protesting and demanding eros of Stephen Dwoskin, Lionel Soukaz, Tony Tonnerre, Lech Kowalski, in spite of the fact that their rash provocations prove to be perfectly contradictory with everything that our ideology prescribes in terms of renunciation and self mutilation.
At the end of the nineteenth century, cinema emerged to objectivise the links between scientific research on movement, the military industry and control over the body. “If we knew under what conditions could be obtained the maximum speed, strength or work that a living being is able to provide, this would put an end to some regrettable trail and error,” wrote Étienne-Jules Marey in 1873. The different techniques of visual tracing and decomposition of movement were supposed to eliminate approximation. They ended up producing cinematographic recording. As a technological device, cinema served first of all the interests of the State and the Army (Marey's physiological post was financed by the Ministry of War) who maintained the privileges of a “financial feudalism” according to Augustin Hamon, Jean Painlevé's future father-in-law. In the United States, Eadweard Muybridge’s research was carried out in the context of Taylorisation; in France, Marey was attempting to “rationalise” human and animal movement. In both cases, the main concern was to control and maximise profit produced by bodies. This fundamental thrust began with chrono-photography, crosses the history of cinema and continues today with the most massive production of images that humanity has ever known.
But any technique, any object, any institution, any logic can be redirected, subverted and turned against its own determining characteristics, whose own complexity remains subject to question. In response to the invention of cinema as an instrument of exploitation and domestication, a number of emancipating initiatives took place which were as crucial as they were ignored by official historians of the art. This seminar will allow us to measure the importance and effect of some of them. Cinema has also been capable of refusing physiological fatality, analysing figurative quadrates, discovering other frames and angles to view the body. In particular with Bon Pied Bon Œil et toute sa tête, the polemical Foucault-influenced essay signed by the Cinéthique group, with the visual pamphlets by Carole Roussopoulos, Sylvain George, Mounir Fatmi, with the bitter and loving observations by Slim Ben Chiekh and Olivier Dury, with the insistant studies by Stephen Dwoskin or Lionel Soukaz, with the visual explorations of Stan Brakhage, Robert Fenz, Caitlin Horsmon, with the ethnological poems of Raymonde Carasco begun under the aegis of Antonin Artaud, with the festive demands of Anthony Stern, we can observe a series of gestures whereby representation tears itself from itself so that, from a quantitative recording of the trace left by a body, the image becomes a speculative intervention on the body's presence, its organic life, real needs, screaming and sometimes frenzied desires.
In its collective dimension, the whole of cinema appears like a vast formal inquiry into the nature of presence. As something that is simultaneously a trace, a reconstitution and a flickering, the figurative material appears in the state of a fetish, it is a sample, offering or not a hypothesis on being. As Philippe Garrel put it: “There is a solidarity between real artists and revolutionaries, because they both refuse ordinary identifications.” Cinema could have the almost anthropological function of reminding us of what is possible for the body, of sending us image constructions which make it impossible to limit the organism to its determining factors. Whether it records them or invents them from thin air, cinema sends us presumptions of bodies and this suppose the requestioning of the most elementary problems of figuration: “does a film sample, suppose, elaborate, give or subtract the body? What texture makes up the filmed body (flesh, shadow, project, affect, doxa)? What bone structure supports it (skeleton, resemblance, becoming, plasticity of the unformed)? To what regime of visibility is it subject (apparition, epiphany, extinction, fear, absence)? What are its means of surface appearance (clarity of outline, opacity, tactility, transparence, intermittance, mixed techniques)? By what events is it undone (the other, history, deformation)? Of what community of gesture does it allow perception (people, collection, an alignment of the identical)? What in truth does its story consist of (adventure, description, panoply)? Fundamentally what creature is it (a subject, an organism, a case, an ideological figure, a hypothesis)?”
On these questions, the formal inventiveness of the committed films of the sixties and seventies representing bodies engaged in pleasure or in struggle has never been equalled. With inexhaustible energy, a devastating humour, a historical pertinence confirmed day after day since 1969, Carole Roussopoulos, alone or in a collective, has never ceased reinventing the forms of essay and visual analysis by documenting the feminist, homosexual, working class or anti-imperialist combat. Her considerable body of work covers forty years of political struggle (Women's Liberation, Homosexuals, Palestinians, Black Panthers, Lip workers...) and on all the fronts of physical suffering (abortion, organ donation, palliative care, domestic rape, handicap, excision...), Carole Roussopoulos transmits an ideological critique of the media, unveils oppression and repression, documents the counter-attacks, records the furtive or threatened testimony. To view again or discover such radical examples of joyous, powerful and sometimes ironic filmmaking, the question is evidently raised: and today, where can we find such energy?
The artist and videast Mounir Fatmi develops his work relentlessy, in a great polemical calm. Thanks to this artist, short constructions of images, letters and sounds carry around the world some affirmations difficult to swallow for the concerned civilisations, whether they be Arab or Western: embargoes kill people and enrich their leaders, the religion of the sacred and of business are equivalent in value, the people has lost its revolutionary effectiveness and this is visible in crowd movements, images which occupy public space are used above all to forget those that are not made... Mounir Fatmi lights a few fires in the form of elegant electronic poems.
As the cruel and limpid essays by Lech Kowalski, William E. Jones or Simon Kansara show, our body is an entirely political organism the consciousness of which everything conspires to deprive us: ourselves as well as others, interior as well as exterior, the psychic as well as the social. So beyond the criticism of the motives of humiliation, economic oppression and figurative exploitation, what allows us to counter-attack? Theodor Adorno claimed that the renaissance of morality after Auschwitz could only come from the “corporal feeling”, from what he called the “area between the carcass and the meat carver”, a frightful zone where the most miserable physical existence articulates with the highest interests of humanity and which he opposed to the “national parks” of traditional metaphysical thinking. This is the very space where Jérôme Shlomoff and François Bon are situated, inventing a unique figurative method to propose a film which aims to be that of the homeless and whose signatures appear less as those of authors than of vectors. By all means possible, voice, text, photography, moving image, the film is about supplying instruments to be used as they wish to those who suffer the most from not having a self image and whom society would prefer to remain and die anonymous so that they could be more certainly forgotten. Fourth world here, third world down there, we face the same meat carving logic of our governments: the emigrations of our time and the various devices of repression invented to control them require the invention of a new ethnology, that of the economically displaced, an ethnology of gestures of survival in the face of various oppressions. Numerous film and video makers of today are working on this kind of approach among whom we find Sylvain George, Olivier Dury, Slim Ben Chiekh, taking up and prolonging the initiatives of Laura Waddington, Chantal Akerman or Erwin Wagenhofer.
With for guides the maps proposed by Stan Brakhage, Carole Roussopoulos, Mounir Fatmi, Lionel Soukaz, and others we will evoke in work or image, like the chimerical creatures invented by Jean Cocteau, let us explore the obscure and vital zone of bodily feeling.

Nicole Brenez

Sigmund Freud, Résultats, idées, problèmes (1890-1938, vol. 2), translation by Jean Laplanche et al., Paris, PUF, 1985 (The Complete Psychological Works, Vintage, New York, 2001)
Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité 1 - La Volonté de savoir, Paris, Gallimard, 1976
Étienne-Jules Marey, La Machine animale. Locomotion terrestre et aérienne, Paris, Germer Ballière, 1873, introduction. Cité par Christian Pociello, La Science en mouvements. Étienne Marey et Georges Demenÿ, Paris, PUF, 1999.
Augustin Hamon, Les Maîtres de la France. La Féodalité financière dans les transports, ports, docks et colonies, Paris, Éditions sociales internationales, 1938.
Philippe Garrel, Thomas Lescure, Une caméra à la place du cœur, Aix-en-Provence, Admiranda/Institut de l’Image, 1992.
Theodor W. Adorno, Métaphysique. Concept et problèmes (1965), Christophe David, Paris, Payot, 2006. (Concept and Problems (1965), Polity Press, London, 2000)

Coordination : Nicole Brenez

Guests : Olivier Dury, David Faroult, Hélène Fleckinger, Sylvain George, Maureen Loiret et Lionel Soukaz.