The Exquisite Corpus ★★★★


My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

Tscherkassky consistently flirted with danger in his Cinemascope trilogy, using physical manipulations of the filmstrip to subject those individuals onscreen to forms of peril that both redoubled and complicated the violence and horror they’d experienced in the original source material. When you consider this, it’s perhaps a logical progression for him to explore so-called “adult film,” another genre that provides shocks and experiences for its filmic bodies in the hopes that they will transfer vicariously to the viewer. After a deceptively placid, almost Antonioniesque bit of introductory footage showing a nude male / female couple sailing to some ambiguous pleasure zone, The Exquisite Corpus introduces a key recurring motif: a naked woman on a beach who may be dead, along with another woman who ministers to her. At this moment of uncertainty, the celluloid skips, positive and negative reverse, the image dims—in short, cinema asserts itself as a sexual partner with its own fetishes and desires, ones that will not be ignored.

Once Tscherkassky gets going, with multiple exposures, split-screens, mismatched gazes, and alternating, piston-like zooms, The Exquisite Corpus achieves an almost hieratic level of explication. The “male gaze” concept is presented so absolutely, as a cultural fact as essential to the functioning of film as focus or the replication of motion, that Tscherkassky practically raises Laura Mulvey (to say nothing of Freud) to the axiomatic status of Isaac Newton. At the same time, there’s an unavoidable idiosyncrasy to the footage Tscherkassky has selected. The title, of course, refers to the Surrealists’ idea of making a collective work of art by adding elements in sequence, none seen by the other contributors. While this might describe the social element of both sexism and perversion (all private fantasy combines to generate shared ideas about the sexes, and vice versa), the film’s odd mismatches of erotic styles and tendencies (70s Eurotrash, early stag loops, bucolic nudist films, hardcore porn, surprisingly genuine-looking lesbian expression) ultimately comprise some kind of whole. Tscherkassky never employs technique to put pornography at arm’s length. Indeed, in some ways his experimental treatment of the material actually heightens its capacity to titillate. Indeed, the sheer visual excess of bodies on film produces a highly singular new “film body,” a sort of structuralist orgy.

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