July 8, 2022
BODY HORROR (WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?)By BENJAMIN SHEARN
It’s been nearly 50 years of analysis and argument since Laura Mulvey summoned the Male Gaze into cinema’s self reflective dialectic.
Has there been enough talk, however, on what gazes back?
Allow me an infantile thought experiment…
… an Alien, one of superior intelligence yet total ignorance of Earth’s anthropological eccentricities, makes its way down the research curriculum to films.
They’re told by an overzealous custodian (some crumbling Boomer still huffing on Hitchcock fumes, think Ben Mankiewicz) that these “moving pictures” are a near-mystical conjuring of our deepest truths. Miraculous machinery recording history, externalizing imagination.
Yes- it’s almost certain the custodian will hard-sell the filmmaker as a portrait artist of the human condition, thinking mostly of Mr. Smith going to Washington. He’ll be dead right, of course, but less so in the triumph of the human spirit and moreso in the sickening surplus of female punishment that’s as vivid and disturbing in cinema as it is in society.
At this time of publication, there's nothing more horrific than the unthinkable setbacks for women's rights rapidly tightening their grip on America's fragile legal architecture. Body Horror, as both a genre and a concept, has for decades offered a prophetic and unnerving double-edged blade of violence against women in film. More often than not it’s a transparent expression of mostly male filmmakers’ obsessive, conflicted and ultimately fearful relationship with female anatomy.
Underneath that fraught membrane, however, one can sense a feminine consciousness (sometimes intentionally, oftentimes accidentally) talking back - with yearning, sadness, defeat, rage and, inevitably, vengeance.
This short video essay, created with my eternal creative partner Amanda Kramer, is an attempt to harness that consciousness into a voice. It has very upsetting imagery from very famous films. Buyer beware.
Benjamin Shearn is a film editor and writer. His latest film Please Baby Please was the opening night selection of the 2022 Rotterdam Film Festival. It played as part of a retrospective on Shearn's work with filmmaker Amanda Kramer. His films have also been screened at SXSW, BFI London, Fantastic Fest, Sitges, Fantasia, Outfest, TIFF: Next Wave, ComicCon San Diego, the Louisiana Museum of Art in Copenhagen, la Gaîté lyrique Paris, CPH:DOX, Melbourne International, Planete+Doc, and the Frontieres Showcase at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. For more of his work, go to benjaminshearn.com and/or follow his absurd Instagram account @actorsupset.