The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (1971)
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Remarkable and disturbing. A stare into the face of death - a realization of the body as a mere shell.
Not an easy one to stomach.
I recommend viewing in silence.
For me, this film illustrated the tension between seeing, i.e. viewing objects from a subject position, and (for lack of better terms) sensibility or identification. On the one hand, there is a voyeuristic interest in seeing the human bodies dissected, deconstructed, and revealed to the observing eye. But instead of our own eye, we follow the eye of Brakhage's camera, so a certain distance is created that makes the experience somewhat more abstract. The extreme closeups for example achieve an almost purely visual aesthetic that only incorporates (again, for lack of a better term) the ethical or emotional by our own associations--what do these images mean to us when we recall that they are the bodies of human beings much like ourselves? Of course, it is these associations that tend to impress upon the viewer a sense of horror and of mortality, because we identify the bodies with our own to some extent. Their facelessness, however, creates distance; they are our own bodies but they are also not our own. At many times I began to think of them simply as things; and yet when Brakhage inserts footage of the careful cataloging of personal effects (for instance) I am reminded that they were recently living persons. I guess a large part of the film is about our relation to the body, one that seems ultimately ambiguous. These bodies are hard to relate to. Where is the spark that made them human?
The irony is that what we have here is not "the act of seeing with one's own eyes," but rather a mediated seeing that substitutes the camera's eye for our own. Instead of observing what we will, we follow the trajectory of Brakhage's editing. I can't help but think that this distance is an important part of Brakhage's project. Is it something like the distance we seem to require when confronting mortality and fear? Or the distance one maintain's between oneself, the living subject, and the other? Can this distance be closed? How? What happens if it is? What happens if it cannot?
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In 8 official lists
View all lists this movie is in
This movie ranks #2 in 100 Documentary Films (BFI Screen Guide)
This movie ranks #7 in Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art
This movie ranks #27 in Brief Encounters
This movie ranks #84 in Anthology Film Archives' Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #101 in Sight and Sound -The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
This movie ranks #190 in The Criterion Collection
This movie ranks #610 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Films
This movie ranks #668 in Sight and Sound 2012 - Combined List