Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat has already drawn some strange territorial paranoia in the last Filmnews (but is it only the members of a "Melbourne subgroup" interested in splatter movies? And then only the boys therein?). I think it's one of those films that — no matter how queasy you feel about its world view/ideological stance — just cannot be avoided or dismissed. The work has an affective power, unimaginable from Brophy's previous output, and a particular stylistic mastery completely unprecedented in Australian cinema (especially in regards the soundtrack). As an essay film (which is how the maker describes it) it makes something like Camera Natura look like a slide illustrated lecture in comparison. Brophy has in a sense realised his "inner vision" perfectly — he has reproduced, in image and sound, how he sees, hears and understands the screen effects of horror, porn, Russ Meyer, and so on. "Theory" and "practice" have rarely kissed so close and for so long.
For all these reasons, the film demands intense admiration. But this is not to say that I didn't feel a little queasy about the film's content myself. I admit to a daggy sympathy with the guy at question time who asked sheepishly why the film's inventory of bodily wetnesses didn't include something soft and loving like fertility, not to mention any kind of mutual sensuality or sexuality a la Irigaray's liquid, mucous reveries (for which the film substitutes the enervating, repeated image of a guy wanking on the toilet, and catchy lines like "ashes to acid, dust to pus"). Brophy described his film as both "nihilistic" and "personal", and indeed it constitutes a veritable psychopathology, an explosion of the scatology and misanthropy that have always lurked secretly somewhere in his work (eg the Asphixiation album). Before, these nihilisms were basically irrelevant to Brophy's artistic/cultural intent; here they have become his entire subject.
The film is about the phenomenological experience of one's own body — what Philip calls in his Flesh article a "phantom-tactile" relation to physical sensations and their affective extension in forms of cinema like porn or horror. I don't deny Philip his vision; but I do find it oppressively masculine (even the porn shot seems to fixate on the movement of the guy's balls); interior (the film is like a mass of bodily sensations beating on the inside of your skull, nothing to do with touch, transference, or a natural extension of feeling — the only dream of getting outside oneself being one of exploding from tension and tightness); and joyless — the exact, repressed opposite of a Rabelaisian wallowing in natural bodily functions. However, all discussion included, this is a major Australian film.
It seems unlikely that the often misaligned themes of sex and violence will ever lose their grip on the contemporary imagination. As a matter of course sex and violence are depicted with either an attempt at subtlety which deprives them of their primary force or with a graphic explicitness that avoids mystery - splatter movies and porn.
No doubt many have wondered if there was any option to the cliches of depiction this raises. We have one - Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat avoids cliches excepting those which it chooses to explore to the fullest. Yes, we have the eating scenes ('romance') and we have the murder scenes (one, or perhaps two ... fantasy). This is gore and lust depicted in a unique fashion under a central theme - that of moisture. Director Philip Brophy, film maker, musician and horror film aficionado has become overtly obsessed with this one theme which (although lacking from the title) also incorporates blood - something Brophy treats with the same sense of style evident in de Palma's Scarface.
Brophy's raison d' etre stems from the evolution of sex and violence in the cinema over the last thirty years - from the early Sixties with it's rationale from Marchall McLuhan's concepts of the exploding globe and imploding cultures. Brophy cites' the horror' of Coppola's Apocalypse Now with its extravagant American bombing of Vietnam as a perfect metaphor for the Sixties. Citing the 'realistic' violence of the films of Sam Peckinpah and Arthur Penn, he argues that the Eighties are more concerned with 'hyper realism' from Reanimator to The Terminator.
Where Brophy ultimately succeeds with Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat is in his avoidance of conventional techniques to illustrate the theme. The soundtrack, also prepared by Brophy, avoids any attempt at seducing the audience, (forget Ennio Morricone), instead opting for a more claustrophobic sound, not unlike David Lynch in Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, the Coen Brothers in Blood Simple or, less successfully, the sounds underlying Alan Parker's Angel Heart (the Hollywood version of the claustrophobic soundtrack).
Brophy's influences for Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat include Russ Meyer (Beneath The Valley Of Thc Ultra Vixens) with his bizarre mixture of pornography, repulsion and titillation; Pasolini (Salo) with its themes of "shit, violence, sex and food"; Jean-Marie Straub (Othon) and Sean Cunningham (Friday The Thirteenth) with its pornographic/explicit interpretation of the 'slasher' genre.
While exploring the realms of sex and violence in cinema, there is something far more poignant in Brophy's film - the ongoing theme of moisture, ironically displayed in the dry-as-a-bone environment of an IBM computer screen in the form of a troublesome text causing considerable concern to the 'office-worker' character who 'stars' in the film.
This theme breaks down the organic problems of sex and violence to one basic ingredient - the human body as a 'moist' machine, one that exists to move - the notion of the body as an overriding moral tool is discarded (for why else the evils of tobacco, alcohol and whatever else we can consume). No, the theme of this film is not so much sex and violence as the vehicle in which these actions are carried out - an all consuming machine which has its basis in ... moisture; the consumption thereof and the ejaculation of; in the forms of salt, saliva, sperm or sweat.
With a title like Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat I would have thought the State Film Theatre would have attracted more of the raincoat brigade than was in evidence at the 'post work, after a few' time slot, particularly given thc increasing interest in the post work strip hour at pubs and the general rc!urn to voyeuristic pleasure-seeking in this age of supposed safe sex encouragements.
Perhaps the season was too short for many to hear by word of mouth about 'the scene', credited at the end of the movie to Philip Brophy - Testicles, and Maria Kozic - Buttocks. Or the 'other scene' of a 20" dildo squeezed and pulled about, or the 'other scenes' - toilet JO Buddies, restaurant sex, child abuse, exploding brain, defecating, tits, psycho watcher. You name it ... Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat has it. Not only does it have it ... it spends an inordinate amount of time dwelling on several 'scenes', which in the more commercial cinema would have the critics s.s.s. and s.ing and the queue lines lengthening, with a kind of clinical fascination.
After all, this film is a discourse.
The promo material wears several medals. A quote from David Stratton, respected intellectual SBS film critic ex Sydney Film Festival: "Fascinating... had me on the edge of my seat, didn't know what was going to happen next. This film's got balls!" An unnamed quote from the newspaper Filmnews: "Boring, juvenile and utterly distasteful!" And a list of awards and screenings in Festivals and competitions. At the bottom of the flyer is a bonus offer for one night only of free tickets to RAZOR, a local disco/nightclub. Or read another way the promo material says: This is an intellectual film which will offend those without recourse to discourse, but see, it has already been acclaimed by the bastions of film devotees and peers and you won't be considered groovy like the in crowd at RAZOR unless you make claims to see this movie for what it is.
So. What is this movie?
This movie combines the considerable talents and skills of Philip Brophy, Rod Bishop and Maria Kozic. Otherwise known in the art circles as → ↑ → or 'tsk tsk tsk tsk' depending on where you grew up and whether you read it or heard it first. Known for their sustained interest in film ephemera and the genres of horror and monster movies, Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat extends this interest/obsession into the most tangible discourse.
Not wishing to continue the unrelenting drone of publicity information occurring as a result of the film. Brophy's interest in these genres is well-documented in his critical and speculative articles in various journals and his teaching. I would prefer to discuss the film on face value.
This is a slick film. Its nihilism is captured in hyper colour and stark, taut camera shots. It is the bleak side of David Byrne's True Stories (if there could be a bleaker side), and it is the animation of Brophy's earlier efforts with bands Tsk Tsk Tsk and Asphixiation with its stylized outlook. Using thc hallmark desk top publishing computer look, thc feeling automation and depersonalized communication is exaggerated. Coupled with a suffocating soundtrack, this film is repetitive, reductive and claustrophobic. It seems to go on and on for hours with excesses played out against a confining retentiveness.
There is little in the way of a storyline. Mainly this movie is a documentary of the body according to Brophy, based on the scientific suggestion that the human form is made up of a lot of fluids, using as its vehicle, the day in the life of... the man. This is a very male film. This is a film which recalls the Beatles song "Day In The Life": "Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head" where women feature only in the forms of sex object and ball crushing Bitches.
There is not much for the female viewer here. Unless the thrill of Brophy's testicles bobbing away under Kozic's buttocks does something for you. Mainly the message here seems to be, if you' re a nice girl with two kids and divorced you can look forward to your strange boyfriend oggling your nubile son and jiggling your daughter on his lap in an offensive way, or if you' re female and want to make it in the world of business you have to have a bigger cock than the boys, and beat them with it.
Brophy, it is well known, uses the film to pay homage to his favourite movies of this kind, so it is hardly surprising that the female sex is poorly and stereotypically represented (although one of his favourite films is quoted as Aliens where the females seem to be, on the surface, fairly determinate and dominant).
All up, you would have to admire the virtuosity of the film, and the way Brophy, Bishop, Kozic and Haig have learned their craft. This is a sophisticated movie by any measure. Irksome in content, redeemed by its art status and its non glamorizing of some of its more parodic pornographic moments, Salt, Saliva, Sperm & Sweat will leave many in a political/ethical quandary as to how far we extend our artistic tolerances to incorporate things we would find squeamish (but, it has to be admitted, fixating) on the 6 o' clock news.