This is a reposting of the message Douglas Rosenberg originally sent to MEDIA-ARTS-AND-DANCE@JISCMAIL.AC.UK
If the measure of success is widespread distribution, then this is certainly a triumph for dance on screen and congratulations are in order. However, at the risk of raining on Mr.’s Kirschner and Figgis’ parade, The Co(te)lette Film is among the worst examples of representations of women on film insofar as it reinforces tropes that are both degrading, cliched and hackneyed as it oppresses one gender at the expense of another. I may be out on a limb here, but Figgis’ use of the camera to sexualize his subjects and titillate his viewers is worth a discussion at least. This film (as well as others with similar screen politics) has gone largely unexamined and without the kind of critique that every college student that has ever taken a contemporary art course let alone a Women’s or Gender Studies course is trained to do. Quoting from the synopsis of the film, “The dancers are slaves of their own desires while trying to get in control of them”. Really? In 2012? Perhaps that sentiment is the thesis that precedes the film. Or perhaps that is the rationale by which the filmmaker is able to insinuate himself into a group of variously unclothed female dancers, probing the dance within a group of watchers that surround the performance space. We watch the “action” through the camera in a manner that those watching live can not: a heightened sense of sexuality made all the more so by the dominance of the method of recording. And it is exceedingly replayable, in slow motion, in stop action, a kind of screendance party favor for the viewer. Granted Mr. Figgis and the choreographer Ann Van den Broek are artists of the first rank, however within the space of the screen and in the frame of the camera, sexuality and the camera’s inherently carnal appetite over-amplifies what on stage might have been “edgy” or intimate, pushing such representations closer to predictable male fantasies and creating a severely skewed idea of what screendance might be after a hundred years of dance in screenic space. Sound overly moral? Maybe, but images such as those in The Co(te)lette Film inscribe themselves on the culture of both dance and screendance in such a way as to become normative, slowly eroding any sort of critical discourse around the form in favor of the wide-spread distribution of sexual spectacle made possible by ever higher definition video. Figgis states that [the stage version of] “Co(te)lette is a remarkable piece of work and it is important that it is recorded.” However, here, it is more than simply recorded. Each “intimate” gesture is made instantly consumable for the viewer via the lens of the camera in the way that violence and sexuality are imminently connected by the montage of editing. Along with two female colleagues, I recently juried over 100 dance films for a festival. As noted by my colleagues, a recurring trope in the films we watched mirrored the Figgis film: groups of young women, their bodies made ultra fit by the practice of dance, “choreographing” a kind of hyper-attenuated almost ritualistic exhibition of the most seductive aspects of their own sensuality for the attentive space of the camera. Often these films were directed by men, but just as often women directed the same eager, uncritical transference of agency to the spectator; an exhibition for media as opposed to a hybrid of movement and media and an institutionalization of the unquestioned privilege of the camera. The fetishization of dancing bodies is common in this milieu, made more so by the uncritical viewing practices that are the norm in festivals and distribution systems. So, if anyone is reading at this point, my point is this: art is still a political action at its core. I find the politics of this work of art (The Co(te)lette Film ) to be not those which I wish to passively support with my silence.