In Film Theory, Elsaesser and Hagener raise the question: Where does a film exist? In order to attempt to pose an answer to this question, I have come up with a film as body metaphor separate to the concepts that they have been discussing. In this post, I will break down components of film and relate them to structures of the body that on their own are incomplete, but when pulled together form a recognizable whole.
Let’s start with the most recognizable body structure. The skeleton. Without the skeleton, there is no form of the human body. It is the frame upon which everything else is placed, made of bone and held together by ligaments and tendons. The bones of the film are the story- everything that is happening- and the ligaments and tendons are the plot- the arrangement of events to create tension and indicate significance. In this metaphor story is, literally, the bare bones of the film’s narrative and plot connects them together into the desired form.
Onwards to that which gives the body/film shape. Fat, muscles, nerves, organs, all these pieces that allow the body to move and function. These are the technical components of film. Lighting and camera work, dialogue and music, editing. If the film’s narrative forms the skeleton, the frame without which there is no story, the flesh that fills out the bones and allows it to move, breathe, come to life, is the filmic techniques by which the plot is developed. It is also the post-production packaging. Like the body sometimes there are extra parts (extended releases) or they can be absent or defective (poor quality copies, incorrect dubbing), but overall they, like the skeleton, have a consistent appearance and operation.
Finally, the skin. This is the viewer, and all viewers receive roughly the same film/body. What they do with it, the way they experience the film, how it affects them and where it fits into their larger self is entirely individual. The culmination of film and individual coming together varies from person to person, much as the skin does. Through tattoos, piercings, diseases, scars, birthmarks and cosmetic surgery each human presents the world with a unique appearance with which to judge them by, likewise each viewer experiences a film differently and takes away their own unique reading. This is seen in the numerous interpretations of Frozen, the Disney adaptation of The Snow Queen fairytale. There are those who see it as a feminist film that rejects the supremacy of romantic relationships in favour of the sisterly love that eventually saves the day, while others see Elsa’s journey to open acceptance of her powers as a metaphor for coming out as queer*. Some, like myself, read Elsa’s isolation and gradual emergence as a story about depression and dealing with mental illness. And, of course, there is my mother who would argue, “It’s just a movie, who cares?”
This leads me to the other reason for using skin as the viewer in this metaphor. Throughout history, humans have sought to oppress and reject ‘others’ based on skin colour, among other things. Skin’s place, not only as the human cosmetically alterable and visible exterior, but as a marker and reminder of the history of colonialism and power structures that entitle some to privilege over others allows the inclusion of the cultural and social structures present in both creator- and viewer-ship in the consideration of what makes a film.
*I use the term queer as an umbrella term for LBGTQIA+ and wish to emphasis that I am using it for its ambiguity about the type of not-straightness Elsa can be seen to represent. It is a term that I identify with, however I recognize that not everyone is comfortable with it, so please do not use it to label others unless they explicitly identify as such.
Elsaesser, T & Hagener, M 2010, Film Theory: an introduction through the senses, ‘Cinema as brain’, Routledge, New York.