First Review of ‘Five Ways In’

‘This film is radiant and perceptive and pleasurable to watch. It achieves a rich and reflexive multivocality. Through a series of uniquely reflexive vignettes, from a Hawaiian political activist to Swedish biodynamic gardener, the filmmakers weave a narrative that foregrounds the inextricable bond between individual knowledge, experience and bodily intelligence.’ (Richards, J. 2014. Review of Five Ways In)

 

The first review of ‘Five Ways In’  was written by  third year anthropology student, Jade Richards, at the University of Kent for one of the assessments for the Visual Anthropology Theory course I teach. As part of my intergration of research and teaching I showed ‘Five Ways In’ in our weekly visual anthropology screenings in the week dedicated to ‘Soundscapes and the Senses’ in mid October. She has contributed to the wider research process this website is attempting through her review identifying the resonances between the film, her own interests and key ideas in visual anthropology and beyond.

 

Five People, Five Senses, One Form  -Jade Richards

 

In a world where vision governs knowledge, Five Ways In (2014) insightfully seeks to understand the meaning and multisensorial texture of experience. Filmed over the week long Freiburg International Contact Improvisation Festival, it fights the illusion of visual dominance; a perception that eclipses our sense of variety of the ways in which we engage with the world. Interestingly, the piece straddles the border of visual anthropology and documentary film, not esoteric enough to exist out of the mainstream, as the message communicated is one of reflection, yet it parallels the multisensoriality of the ethnographic process. By celebrating the participants as its starting position it beautifully exploits documentary realism as a medium of ethnographic exposition and a way of valuing the involvement of all who share the experience. Collaboration as a motivation for the films design shines through in the structure of the festival guiding the structure of the piece, allowing time to tell the story.

 

This film is radiant and perceptive and pleasurable to watch. It achieves a rich and reflexive multivocality. Through a series of uniquely reflexive vignettes, from a Hawaiian political activist to Swedish biodynamic gardener, the filmmakers weave a narrative that foregrounds the inextricable bond between individual knowledge, experience and bodily intelligence. Enriching these video modules are the plentiful shots of contact improvisation itself, a form of postmodern expression in which the possibilities of communal bodily movement are explored. The dance uniquely manifests itself in each moment depending on the counterbalance of those meeting, moving in concert with each other’s weight, rolling and suspending with momentum together. The five interviewed participants, each with different personal scenarios, are presented as they see themselves during this time, it does not reveal many insights beyond the festival but that does not seem to be its intention. Instead, revealing how they look to the form as a frame in which to elucidate the flow of choice making, response and a way to better understand their own sensitivities. Through their humility, the viewer can appreciate the body as more than a surface for social inscription.

 

The film surrenders itself to the influences of Jean Rouch through embracing the notion of shared anthropology and creative collaboration. No one voice is ever dominant, resonating with the egalitarian dynamics out of which the film grew. This translates favourably into practical strategies for shooting; the informal hand held camerawork communicates something of the ethnographer’s experience that does not claim to be prescriptive. The presence of the camera is addressed, captured and validated with the viewer feeling very much in the centre of the action. One particularly spirited moment when two dancers play with the camera mid improvisation not only added joy to the dance but also rendered the role of the initiator and responder indistinguishable. The filming became part of the dance and in doing so, acted to facilitate the participant’s creativity within the frame of the event (MacDougall 2006:27, Ramey 2011:282). It is a wonder that perhaps Rouch would have declared the somewhat ‘character’ formations of the interviews as a betrayal of authenticity, but it does not feel that way. It appears that much effort during post-production has gone into knowing when to desist from narrative and allow moments to connect and resonate; there is balance between observation and interpretation, dance and interview. The interviews create a structure in which expression of the dance is allowed to thrive. Similar to Jaguar (1967), this was a story of initiation for the viewer into an unfamiliar world. In the same way Rouch questioned colonial assumptions, this film scales it down to something more personal, impelling the viewer to acknowledge their culturally assumed routes to knowledge instead.

 

Beyond collaboration, lessons from Rouch have trickled down into the minds of the filmmakers in writing with “one’s eyes, one’s ears, with one’s body; it’s to enter into something” (1975: 94). The film does not aim to explore any one particular analytical point about the festival (the ambiguous endorsement of a single interpretation seemingly reflects the lack of definition of the form itself) but seeks to do something more ambitious, namely, to evoke a more vicarious experience. Although the primary value of communication is placed upon contact, an integrated appreciation of the interplay between tactile, sonic and visual senses is created through framing choices, subtle editing and soundscape design. Thus recognising the potential of a film to engage with the senses, as well as reviving the imperative for film to place you back into the experience of being there. The absorbing effect of so much contact imagery invite sensations of tactile movement in the viewer despite being separated from the physical encounter (Novack 1990:158-9). By means of this editing the viewer corporeally inhabits the three dimensional space of the festival. The distinct tones and articulations of voices out of frame, including that of the filmmaker, as well as the open frequencies and subtle reverb applied to the outdoor sequences act as the “perceptual clues” through which the film actualises a space analogous to that of reality (Stoller 1997:35-36, MacDougall 2006:25). Thus the audience attributes prior experience to the viewing, creating affinities with bodies other than our own (MacDougall 2006:16-7). As a creative means of orientation the soundtrack is used decisively to create a stream of time and a sensory state of heightened awareness. By including improvised music alongside the environmental surround sound, especially during the eating and workshop sequences, balances the discordance of volume and texture whilst inducing a sense of social space and rhythm, evoking a full sensorium (Grasseni 2011:24, Banks 2011:14).

 

In my opinion, the film is innovative in its assessment of and sensitive to ways of rendering anthropological truth. Unlike heavily observational films, such as Leviathan (2012), that lack consideration for multiplicity, this piece does not devalue visual media by reducing it to an uncomfortably ‘unedited’ and unanalysed piece. Through editing participant interviews as an act of analysis, the filmmakers are saying something that relates to their own experience of what contact improvisation is as well as what visual anthropology is. Thus relating a profound sense of anthropological recognition for the experiential world as something that we do not passively live in but actively produce and transform through praxis (Jackson 2006: xxii). In this way this film exerts creative agency, by not merely representing but contributing to emergent visual forms of anthropology, but through an ethnographic analysis that suggests that the ways of seeing cannot be disjointed from ways of interpreting (Banks 2011:7, Grasseni 2011:21). So, when a literary view or purely observational film can take us only so far, Five Ways In explores other forms of reason or experience. Less preoccupied with intellectual certainty, the filmmakers engage in ‘sensuous scholarship’ that is grounded in their own bodies as well as the bodies of their collaborators and viewers as they live, move and dance together (Stoller 1997).

 

Filmography

 

Five Ways In (2014) Directed by S Brühlmann, A Lynes, M Poltorak. Potolahi Productions: UK

 

Jaguar (1967) Directed by Jean Rouch. Les Film de la Pléiade: Paris

 

Leviathan (2012) Directed by L Castaing-Taylor, V Paravel. Cinema Guild: USA

 

Bibliography

 

Banks, M. Ruby, J. (2011) Introduction: Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

 

Grasseni, C. (2011) ‘Skilled Visions: Toward an Ecology of Visual Inscriptions’, in Banks, M and Ruby, J (eds) Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

 

Jackson, M. (2005) Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects. Bergahn Books: Oxford.

 

MacDougall, D. (2006) The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography and the Senses. Princeton University Press: Princeton.

 

Novack, C. (1990) Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. The University of Wisconsin Press: Wisconsin.

 

Ramey, K. (2011) ‘Productive Dissonance and Sensuous Image-making: Visual Anthropology and Experimental Film’, in Banks, M and Ruby, J (eds) Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

 

Rouch, J. (1975) ‘The Camera and Man’, in Hoking, P (eds) Principles of Visual Anthropology. The Hague: Mouton, 83-107.

 

Stoller, P. (1997) Sensuous Scholarship. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia.

 

 

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