Bodies in Motion: The Erotic Films of Carolee Schneemann

Interior Scroll

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Interior Scroll

The penis — hard, soft, shiny, wet, thrusting, resting — has never been filmed the way it is in Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses, which depicts a sexual encounter between Schneemann and her partner in loving detail. Schneemann, a painter, filmmaker and performance artist, baked, scratched and generally abused the footage, then put it all together in a wildly layered, dense and colorful portrait of sexuality that embodies pure physical ecstasy — the body and fucking as cinema. When Fuses screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1968, men in the audience erupted in a fury because the erotic film, with all its double exposures and abstraction, didn’t exactly deliver on its pornographic promise. But Schneemann wasn’t interested in porn: She desired to express a poetics of the sexual body. “I really wanted to see what ‘the fuck’ is,” she has said. Schneeman’s 1964 short film, MeatJoy, continued her quest to not objectify the human body but rather become it. The six-minute antic ritual of fleshy revelry shows nearly naked performers frolicking with raw chicken and fish while music plays and voices speak in French and English. Schneemann’s InteriorScroll (1975) shows the filmmaker slowly pulling a long strip of paper from her vagina; it was a manifesto that chastised the male filmmaking avant-garde and its old-fashioned attitudes about women and sex. To see Schneemann’s films today, in an era absurdly dubbed “postfeminist,” is at once to experience the explosive power of a radical artist whose work sustains its initial impact and to wonder, well, “What the fuck?” Given her legacy, why are today’s images of sex and the body so narrow, docile and prescriptive? You can ask Schneemann herself, as she’ll be present at three nights of screenings. (Filmforum at the Egyptian Theatre, Sun., April 20, 7 p.m.,; REDCAT, Mon., April 21, 8 p.m.,; UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater, Fri., April 25, 7:30 p.m.


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