The Exquisite Corpus
The Exquisite Corpus
It is with deceptive simplicity that Peter Tscherkassky embarks on his filmic voyage to regions of desire found in sexualized cinema: A naked couple from a 1960s nudist film climbs aboard a small sailboat, gliding over darkly tinged waters alongside a rocky coastline before stumbling on an isolated beach where a sleeping beauty lays. It takes nearly four minutes to arrive at this juncture, before Tscherkassky blows his fuses in characteristic style. Images begin to flicker and tremble, intermingling and superimposing, nervously shimmering between positive and negative, diving headlong into over-, under-, and multiple exposures, split screens and distortion effects. The title of The Exquisite Corpus not only refers to the Surrealist method of art making called Cadavre Exquis, but also tips its hat to the colloquial German term for a fine funeral or "schöne Leiche" – photochemical cinema is almost an anachronism in this day and age.
Tscherkassky´s is a rigorously analog film, manually composed one frame at a time out of moments from disembodied feature films, amateur and porn flics, as well as fragments of discarded advertising rushes – magic from the garbage can of commercial film. Dirk Schaefer interweaves an original hypnotic melody with ambient sounds, dislocated motifs from legendary exotica composer Les Baxter, Musique concrète, manipulated voices and quotes from Teiji Ito´s famous score for Maya Deren´s Meshes of the Afternoon. A subversive humor seeps into Tscherkassky’s multifaceted use of visual styles and formal play, only heightening the gentle ecstasy of voyeuristic curiosity, desire and seduction fantasy the film invokes. The Exquisite Corpus is a trance film that cunningly magnetizes animal sensuousness, a wet daydream composed of faces, bodies, weavings – tactile and textile: it is an erotic simulation game. (Stefan Grissemann)
In 1925 Surrealists in Paris started to use a writing and drawing technique they called “Cadavre exquis”, which translates as “The Exquisite Corpse”. That technique engages several participants to blindly collaborate in the creation of a single unified image or sentence: One person would write a word or draw part of a body on a piece of paper, fold it over and pass it on to a next participant who would add another piece without seeing what had come before, hand it over to the next person, and so on. The result was a highly synthetic sentence or picture, a composition in the original sense of the word: joined elements, sourced from different origins.
The name of this technique was taken from one of the first sentences it produced: "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau," – "The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine."
While I derived most of my films near exclusively from a single found footage source, The Exquisite Corpus is based on several different films, referencing the surrealist “exquisite corpse” technique. You´ll find several rushes from commercials, an American erotic thriller from the 1980s, a British comedy from the 1960s, a Danish as well as a French porn film (both most likely from the 1970s), an Italian soft-core sex movie from 1979, and a (British?) amateur movie – it could be considered a “nudist film” since there are no explicit sex scenes but all the actors run around naked, for no immediately obvious reason.
I mainly focused on these erotic films; they are related in that each tells a completely insane story that is entirely irrelevant but achieves the main goal of showing naked human bodies. I play on this attitude by raising the body of film itself to the forefront, which thereby becomes the central theme of The Exquisite Corpus.
The Exquisite Corpus begins with a search of a seashore. We glimpse a few actors from the prow of a small boat. Gradually what we are seeking is found, a sleeping beauty lies on the beach, right before our eyes. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, we are drawn into her dream. It´s a highly ambiguous dream – sensuous, humorous, gruesome, and ecstatic – a broadly defined seduction lusting after a tangible, perceptible, exquisite physicality – including the body of the film.
In addition to the aforementioned found footage, many indexical signs and images are imprinted upon the film: photograms of natural origin, like leaves and flower buds, as well as cultural products like meshes and crochet samples. This network of indexical signs (also known as “rayographs”, from Man Ray´s darkroom experiments) not only reveal a very specific way of shaping and sculpting analog film, they also create an organic flair on screen, into which the photographic, iconic signs (which also constantly switch between a constructed cultural interior and nature scenes) are embedded.
Written words and letters pop up in the midst of these pictures, referencing printed as well as hand writing – and echoing “iconic” (printed) and “indexical” (imprinted) systems.
These diverse sources serve as a basis for The Exquisite Corpus, giving rise to heterogeneities I willingly accepted in the spirit of the surrealist technique of the “cadavre exquis”. At the same time the title of the film refers to the “exquisite corpse” which analog cinema nowadays represents: an exquisite corpus but stamped with an expiration date. The exact date remains unknown, but it is foreseeable. (Peter Tscherkassky)