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Video: Looking vs. Touching

You can look, but…: ‘Lady Chatterley’ and ‘In the City of Sylvia’ explore the tension and excitement of viewing.


Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coulloc'h connect in Pascale Ferran's 2006 version of the D.H. Lawrence classic, 'Lady Chatterley.'

Two European-set love stories separated by nearly a century, Lady Chatterley and In the City of Sylvia share a fascination with the art and practice of “looking.” This video essay picks up on a special connection between these two films.



In Lady Chatterley a single act of looking

triggers a profoundly physical reaction.

The body is filmed with a flat medium lens

surrounded in green, a mere fact of nature.

Lush sound design conveys

a feeling of immersion in wilderness.

Handheld camerawork expresses

the tumultuous effect of what she’s seen.

The scene cuts between

shots of his naked torso bathing

and her reflecting on the spectacle.

The cuts create a tension

between two unresolved spaces,

A man’s real image

feels unreal in her mind.

This tension will be resolved

over time with further contact

as images reinforce the real sensation of touch

until the two lovers achieve union

in a cinematic state of nature.

In In the City of Sylvia

the act of looking also triggers feelings

of disembodiement and disorientation

But instead of triggering a bodily response

looking becomes its own act of physical exertion

A glimpse of a woman obscured by reflections

draws attention to both the effort and the aesthetics of looking.

He follows her throughout the city.

He seems less interested in actually connecting with her

than in reveling in how her presence

redefines everything around her

heightening the audiovisual

sensations of urban space.

She’s less a person

than an iconic fetish object

a totem for us to enter a kingdom

of rhythmic light and sound.

But if you think this is about

connecting with a real person…

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • [...] eventually resulted, Lady Chatterley (2006), was an immediate and resounding critical success.  Kevin B. Lee recently made a video essay for Keyframe beautifully illustrating the film’s unique visual and sensual sensibilities.  The film went on [...]

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