This week in Hit Me with Your Best Shot, the weekly game at The Film Experience where grandmaster blogger Nathaniel R invites any and all interested parties to select their favorite image from a pre-selected movie, our host has given us a curveball: porn. Okay, so that’s snippy and dismissive of me. The film in question, Pink Narcissus, is closer to erotica than it is to porn, and it’s really not even that: it’s an experimental art film on themes involving gay male sexuality, it has long been praised as one of the key works of underground queer cinema in the 1960s, and among other things, it’s a triumph of using essentially no budget nor any resources to speak of in the creation of a non-stop array of compelling, beautifully assembled images and as such this passion project of director James Bidgood (who did not complete it according to his own intentions, but had the final cut taken away – the final cut of a film made for pennies in his own apartment, mind you) deserves the attention and close consideration even of those viewers who fall outside of the small natural audience of gay erotica.
That said, it is a functionally plot-free fantasia of images of a pretty young man (Bobby Kendall) fantasising about having sex and pleasuring himself, and this raises certain issues as to what candidates for a best shot are off limits, or if, indeed, since part of the fun this week is having a NSFW subject, it that makes it incumbent upon me to make absolutely certain to pick something dirty? Because there are good candidates according to either yardstick.
Setting that issue aside, it was still a rigorously difficult film to pick on image, for two reasons: first is that individual images never seem to matter nearly as much as the juxtaposition of images did, and I have made it my rule in the past that this is not “Hit Me with Your Best CUT”, and so really keen examples of editing are right out. The second reason is that the music – music not chosen by Bidgood, it is worth mentioning – is such an important part of what gives the movie its flow (the soundtrack consists primarily of classical pieces, mostly by Rimsky-Korsakov), and I found that a lot of the shots I earmarked as maybes just don’t work as well in isolated silence.
Here’s what it came down to: as near as I can tell, the film’s editorial purpose is a consideration of the male body as object, specifically (though not exclusively) as sex object – with the caveat that it’s damn near inscrutable at points, and while the film is hardly hardly “unfinished”, it’s not surprising to learn that the person who conceived and created the piece wasn’t on hand to assemble the pieces. I’m admittedly not strong on avant-garde cinema, the queer avant-garde especially. So there’s every possibility that I’m just dense. But let’s go with that: a consideration of the male body as object. That, ultimately, led me to- wait, I’m putting it below the jump. It’s probably SFW, but some workplaces are stricter than others.
That is a nipple. A purple nipple, in fact, though given the extremely low-cost production and the dodgy print I was able to snag for my still, I will not guarantee that it was the exact purple that Bidgood had in mind. And that diagonal thing is a blade of grass that our nameless protagonist is gently brushing against his body.
So, why this image? A small host of reasons: first is that one of the important motifs of the film is presenting parts of the body in isolation, suggesting I gather, that sexual pleasure is felt at points not as a whole-body experience. Second, the film’s color scheme is purposefully unnatural, stripping the things we see of their recognisable, relatable humanity (I am still not sure what this suggests; like I said, I’m weak on the avant-garde). Third, and arguably most importantly, Pink Narcissus is a film about the feeling of sex, as imagined and as directly experienced, in all registers and not just (indeed, least of all) those manners involving the genitals. It is about whole-body eroticism, if you will. And what better way to showcase that theme than with one of the male body’s more underappreciated erogenous zones?
A bonus, because why not: since the movie is all about the male gaze, here’s a frame from almost all the way at the end of the movie, the most suggestive of the film’s several shots of eyes.