*Corpus Callosum (2002, Michael Snow)

This was both wonderful – an inventively whimsical little ride of a rigorous art film – and tedious in that way that non-narrative films can be. It wouldn’t be a Snow work if it didn’t test my patience a little – it’s part of his charm. This kind of thing is always very different with an audience, not that I think it’s likely I’ll ever get the chance. I picked up visual similarities to Presents and Sshtoorrty… not so much Wavelength unless you count every zoom as a reference to Wavelength (which I guess some critics do).

People walk through a door with the title printed on it (this is where the zoom comes in), while we hear Snow, offscreen, instructing each on the entrance of their timing. Cut to inside the office, and the camera rolls to the right, an infinite camera move since the set is digitally joined at the seams. He electrocutes all his actors, a chair disappears in a lap dissolve, blatant digital effects pop up, then the picture twists like a ribbon as it transitions to next scene. Apparently these are many different actors dressed similarly to give the appearance of a regular cast of characters, but I can’t see subtleties like that on my VHS copy… a shame.

A family sits in their garishly (digitally) decorated living room with a wall mirror reflecting the camera until objects fly off the wall and destroy themselves while the people sit still staring at the sky inside their television. Obnoxious noise permeates, except when one would expect a sound effect (during an explosion, say) when it goes silent.

A classroom is shot from above until the kids notice the camera, stack their desks so they can reach it.

Two people enter a too-small doorway at the same time, fusing and morphing into a slow-moving doorway-shaped block, which lumbers back into the infinite-loop office set. The credits show up before the hour mark and begin to lap themselves. The whole movie rewinds. Then at the end a couple enters a cinema and sits down to watch an early animated work by Snow.

J Hoberman calls it “that rarest of things—a summarizing work. Like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, it could be used to conclude Motion Pictures 101. … Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow’s structuralist epics – Wavelength and La Région Centrale – announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.

Hoberman again: “a bonanza of wacky sight gags, outlandish color schemes, and corny visual puns that can be appreciated equally as an abstract Frank Tashlin comedy and as a playful recapitulation of the artist’s career.”

Pop Matters:

Similarly, domestic life in *Corpus Callosum is irrevocably altered by innovations. The home is filled with televisions, pizzas, and empty glasses. Intense oranges and pinks make the living room seem alive and breathing. The walls are decorated with paintings, an eye-test chart, a crutch, and a skeleton. A mirror reflecting what appears to be Snow and his film crew forms the focal point, reminding us that this film has an author, just as our own environments have human creators. In one 12-minute sequence, objects on the walls begin exploding, one at a time, into beautiful pixel starbursts. Snow, the reflected “god” (for he is creator of this space and the characters who dwell within) appears here to be an Old Testament type: he can give and he can take away.

NY Times:

In keeping with his lighter side, *Corpus is also fun … But then it starts to feel as if things are going on for too long. Mr. Snow realizes he is literally playing with time, though, and even jokes about it: he inserts the credits in the middle of the picture. … We get the point, but the movie goes on and on, using repetition to comment on repetitive behavior.

Rosenbaum, who ranked it his #1 movie of 2002, above even Platform: “Not counting the asterisk, the title refers to the tissue connecting the hemispheres of the brain, an apt reference given the prodigious and joyful inventiveness on display.”

In Snow’s description he says:

The sound – electronic like the picture – is also a continuous metamorphosis and as the film’s “nervous system”, is as important to the film as the picture. Or: the sound and the picture are two hemispheres joined by the artist. *Corpus Callosum is resolutely “artificial”, it not only wants to convince, but also to be a perceived pictorial and musical phenomenon.

… a shame, since my copy had lousy sound.

Funny that I watched this the day after The Last Movie, since it turns out Snow put out a record called “The Last LP”.

Snow, interviewed:
“Although it was all done in the computer, so there isn’t any film in it except for a little tiny bit at the end which is something I did in 1956 and is in a sense my first film. The film I usually refer to as my first film A to Z which is a cut out animation film in 1956. Where as what appears at the end here is, well something which we used to call flimsies. You see I started out in animation and that is how I got involved with film. We used to make the drawings on tracing paper, we would put them on pins with one over the other on a light box and you would draw them. And I did this little sequence of this leg stretching in 1956, but I never shot it, I just kept it as a flimsy. So I guess that is in a sense my first film or at least it was intended to be shot as film. But it was not shot as a film.”

Offscreen: Has it changed over the years, the audience reception?

Michael Snow: Yes. I don’t know what is happening to people but they are not as tough as they used to be. … I really want to make physical things so that the experience is a real experience and not just conceptual. Well yes there are ideas in the works, but they are also body affects, like the panning, for example in Back and Forth. I’ve seen someone get sick and people have fainted with La Region Centrale, so I must be doing something right.

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