Screencap from Peggy Ahwesh's The Color of Love (1994)
"Peggy Ahwesh is a cinematic alchemist with a penchant for transforming the banal into the sublime. A rare combination of technophile and mystic, Ahwesh has been making experimental and avant-garde films and videos since the seventies, when she first started shooting Super 8 films in Pittsburgh while programming for Pittsburgh Filmmakers and working on George Romero's films. In her own early films, she assembled "a kind of sketchbook of people's behaviors in relation to the camera," as she describes it; "people always 'sort of performing. But somehow some Sisyphean act of performance." Jeremy Lehrer, The Independent, March 1999
"In Peggy Ahwesh's The Color of Love (1994, 16mm), the “cinephiliac moment” finds its object in the detritus of cinema’s history: the ruin is doubled over, in the appropriation of an extant pornographic reel, an 8mm film which appears to be from the late 1960s. The film strip is in a state of florid decay. The ten-minute film has been re-edited and optically printed to preserve the evidence of deterioration, which appears as a fluid, leaking emulsion on the surface of the image, obstructing vision, forming ornate patterns and resembling an organic presence unto itself." Elena Gorfinkel, World Picture 4.1, 2010
"The Color of Love resurrects a piece of garish silent found footage from a hardcore porn film discovered in a state of advanced chromatic decay: through the lurid poetics of film decomposition, the tawdry is transformed into sublime. It's a triumph of exquisite disfigurement, of the beneficial defect. Found footage films are sometimes called cameraless filmmaking because they're creations of pure editing. The Color of Love is not entirely cameraless, however. Although Ahwesh presents the optical/color deterioration exactly as found, she optically reframed, step-printed, and reedited certain passages for emphasis. The reediting lends the film's rhythm an intermittently abrupt, slightly disintegrating lilt that suggests the jumpy, disjunctive quality of print wear-and-tear." Gavin Smith, Film Comment, July/August 1995
Peggy Ahwesh's work [...] seems to be marked by the consistent drive to subvert the institutionalized patriarchal narrative codes faithfully reproduced by pervasive hollywoodized film production. Her films refuse to conform to the myth-weaving category of dominant, hierarchically determined discourses; instead, they deconstruct them and re-form them into new meanings, and into images whose meaning is still unutterable but definitely perceptible. In The Color of Love, Ahwesh transposes the bodies featured in a decaying porn flick from the early seventies into a painterly, sophisticated choreography under the rhythm of Astor Piazzola's nostalgic tango. The eroticism — usually lacking in pornography — is evoked here by images imbued with pulsating blotches of color, reminiscent of art nouveau, Klimt in particular. As Peggy Ahwesh once commented: "Erotic is completely subjective. Erotic is a smell of a flower, the wind in the trees. Bodies are not the easiest things to evoke erotic feelings with. It's easier to do it with other things: sheets, patterns of color, food." In short the 'male gaze' is undermined not only by the visible story, driven entirely by the two women's desire, where the man "isn't even a prop-he's set decoration" (Gavin Smith), but by the blatant refusal to conceal the 'falseness' of the narrative, renouncing any claim to its 'truthfulness.'" Maja Manojlovic, San Francisco Cinemateque, 1999
Film Studies For Free was rather thrilled, to say the least, by an excellent and original new issue of the (always excellent and original) online journal World Picture. Its subject? Arousal. Tout court.
Along with a whole host of top-notch and, as always with WP, beautifully written, articles on many aspects of cinematic arousal and desire, this stimulating issue valuably incorporates work from three legendary American experimental filmmakers.
First up are two brilliant works from artist Peggy Ahwesh, including her truly astonishing 1994 found-footage film The Color of Love, together with a superb essay on that work by Elena Gorfinkel (for an excellent overview of Ahwesh's work, see John David Rhodes's Senses of Cinema article; and for a short, but very powerful, view of The Color of Love read Steven Shaviro's essay 'Stranded in the Jungle--17).
Then there are also four unpublished poems by the legendary film artist Maya Deren produced between 1927 and 1942, retrieved from the Maya Deren Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University and which, According to John David Rhodes, the poems' 'emphasis on vision and paratactic imagery seems to anticipate her turn to filmmaking'. (Here's a 2007 essay by art historian Marina Warner on Deren's work: 'Dancing the White Darkness')
Finally, the issue also presents some work by filmmaker Ken Jacobs, including three hugely engaging experiments with 3-D filmmaking (see an hour long interview Jacobs: Conversations with History: Ken Jacobs; read an interesting interview with Jacobs by Gregory Zucker: 'Cinema and Critical Reflection', LOGOS 4.3, Summer 2005).
Below, FSFF has pasted in direct links to all the items in WP 4.1. And below that are listed links to further notable, and most definitely scholarly, items on cinema's physiological experiments with the somatic and the sexual, and with audiovisual eroticism and pornography more generally, thrown up in a high-and-low-and-down-and-dirty search of those oh-so-murky Interwebs...
Time for a quick shower now, FSFF thinks.
World Picture 4.1 - Table of Contents:
- Peggy Ahwesh, The Color of Love
- Sam Cooper, Sex and the Situs
- Maya Deren, Four Unpublished Poems
- Michael Lawrence, “Carefully Posed Thighs”: The Garden of Eden in 1966
- James Mensch, Arousal: The Intertwining of the Within and the Without
- John David Rhodes, Notes on Cinematic Desire (for Louis)
- Nicole Rizzuto, Colonial Insurgency and the Spectral Rhetoric of Arousal
- Meghan Sutherland, About Opsis
Related openly accessible articles and theses on bodily sensations, affect and desire in the cinema:
- B is for Bad Cinema, edited by Julia Vassilieva and Claire Perkins, COLLOQUY: text theory critique, 18 (2009)
- Gary Elshaw, 'The Depiction of late 1960's Counter Culture in the 1968 Films of Jean-Luc Godard', MA e-thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, November 2000
- Emma Field, Only a Trickle? Blood in Detail and Three Women's Films, PhD Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2003
- Katherine M. Franke, 'Theorizing Yes: An Essay on Feminism, Law and Desire', Columbia Law Review, Vol. 101:181, 2001
- Jill Good, Will Godfrey and Mark Goodall , 'Introduction - Film and Representation: Three Readings', Crash Cinema, edited by Mark Goodall, Jill Good, Will Godfrey (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007)
- Terri J. Gordon, 'Film in the Second Degree: Cabaret and the Dark Side of Laughter', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 152 (Dec. 2008), 440–65
- William Johnson, 'A New View of Porn: The Films of Tatsumi Kumashiro', Film Quarterly, vol. 57, no.1, Fall 2003
- Brandon W. Joseph, '“My Mind Split Open”: Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable', Grey Room. No. 8 (Winter 2002): 80-107
- Graeme Krautheim, 'Aspiring to the void: the collapse of genre and erasure of body in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible', Cinephile, Vol. 4, Summer 2008
- Virginia Luzón Aguado, 'Film genre and its vicissitudes: the case of the psychothriller', ATLANTIS. Vol. XXIV Núm. 2 (Junio 2002): 163-72
- Ben McCann, 'Review of Martine Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007', Screening the Past, Issue 23, 2008
- Douglas Morrey, 'Scientia sexualis: Pornography and Technology' in Jean-Luc Godard and the Other History of Cinema, PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, 2002 (scroll to p. 80 in pdf)
- Chikako Nagayama, Fantasy of Empire: RI KŌRAN, Subject Positioning and the cinematic construction of space, PhD Thesis, University of Toronto, 2009
- Thomas P. Oates, 'The Erotic Gaze in the NFL Draft', Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 4, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 74-90
- R. Barton Palmer, 'Chance’s Main Chance: Richard Brooks’s Sweet Bird of Youth', The Tennessee Williams Annual Review 3 (2000): 25-36
- Tim Palmer, 'Style and Sensation in the Contemporary French Cinema of the Body', Journal of Film & Video. Fall 2006. 58.3. 22-32
- Tim Palmer , 'Under your skin: Marina de Van and the contemporary French cinéma du corps', Studies in French Cinema, Volume 6, Number 3, 2006
- Steven Jay Scheider, 'Murder as Art/the Art of Murder: Aestheticizing Violence in Modern Cinematic Horror', in Steven Jay Schneider & Daniel Shaw (eds.), Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror. Scarecrow Press, 2003
- Ruth Scodel and Anja Bettenworth, 'Cleopatra's suicide in Modern Cinema and Literary Tradition', Scodel and Bettenworth Roman Movie Page, (date unknown)
- W. Anthony Sheppard, 'Cinematic realism, reflexivity and the American ‘Madame Butterfly’ narratives', Cambridge Opera Journal, 17, 1: 59–93, 2005
- Thibaut Schilt, 'Marginal Pleasure and Auteurist Cinema: the Sexual Politics of Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Catherine Breillat and François Ozon', PhD e-thesis, Ohio State University 2005
- Moira Sullivan, 'Lesbographic Pornography', in Koivunen A. & Paasonen S. (eds), Conference proceedings for affective encounters: rethinking embodiment in feminist media studies , University of Turku, School of Art, Literature and Music, Media Studies, Series A, N:o 49 E-book, Media Studies, Turku 2001