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T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G,1968

  • 3.7
"If you take the facts of the retina, the flicker mechanism of film projection," Paul Sharits wrote, "then you can make films without logic of language." T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G assaults language rather more directly with its single-word soundtrack ("Destroy") and the image of poet David Franks holding a pair of scissors to his tongue. In spite of this violence, the film's blasts of pure color suggest a measure of transcendence in keeping with Sharits' interest in modeling his motion-picture works after mandala wheels. The glittery images are pure pop. But the flicker effect perforates the viewer's defenses. - Max Goldberg

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Member Reviews (1)

In this “flicker" film by structural filmmaker Paul Sharits, we encounter an admittedly difficult piece of avant-garde film-making. If we move beyond the initially obvious and banal difficulties of avant-garde cinema—i.e., their notorious density of meaning and eschewal of cinematic conventions like narrative coherence—the film’s “flicker” form of rapid cuts and color oscillation is undoubtedly a kind of assault on the senses. ***

This intense, even overwhelming sensorial stimulation was something Sharits frequently wrote about as part of his project in articulating what he called a “cinematics”: the idea that film was capable of reorienting our perception in a way that classical narrative film could never do, because of the latter's emphasis on spectacular illusion and passive immersion in the narrative events. In this sense, the feature film is merely another vehicle for the delivery of narrative—surely a limited use of the medium. Sharit’s structural films like TOUCHING, however, aim to engender a wider range of spectatorial perception, ideally leading to more ethical, empathic modes of relationality and the processing of trauma. The latter is especially true for Sharits, whose images, writing, and biography all suggest a lifelong concern with the shattering of the self, both in psychological terms as well as in his images of dismemberment and the radical vulnerability/openness of the body. ***

Dismemberment is perhaps a good keyword for this film. It applies in several, evocative ways. The two primary images of the man in the film—poet David Franks—rhythmically, even hypnotically alternate in color, polarity, and between two main poses. One is of a disembodied feminine arm deeply scratching Franks' face. The other is of Franks holding a pair of scissors to his tongue—threatening mutilation and the more figurative concerns of silencing and castration anxiety. The latter, ostensibly a Freudian concern, is reinforced by the periodic, difficult to identify close-up images of eye surgery and genitals that are also integrated into the musical-visual pulses of the flickering images in this film. But this castration anxiety does not take the misogynistic form of feminine lack that the Freudian account offers. ***

As film scholar Ara Osterweil writes in her excellent book on American avant-garde cinema in the 1960s and 70s—Flesh Cinema—“Sharits suggests how the limitations of the mortal body inform a profound castration that afflicts all subjects regardless of their gender. When images of female genitals appear in Sharits’s film, it is not then a a symbol of the dreaded mutilation of the penis, but of a world over-determined by lack” (231). In a longer reflection, lack and loss are in this sense two other key terms we might circulate in a consideration of this film and filmmaker. ***

To return to dismemberment however, I also need to address sound. The soundtrack includes the incessant repetition of one word—“destroy”—which Sharits edited in the recording to remove the conventional, conversational break of silence that would ensure the stability of the sound and meaning of the word. Through repetition then, “destroy” morphs into distraught, this straw, this stroll, this girl, and other sonically similar terms and back again. Through this constant repetition, consistent meaning breaks down, or rather sense seems to loosen. Sharit’s wrote that “words as ass-holes.” They resist our efforts to master them or lock down a singular meaning, particularly in the performative context of spoken language. ***

Ultimately these are just some of my initial, underdeveloped thoughts about experiencing this film. It is nothing, if not an experience, as cliched as that sounds. One cannot help but feel its effects in the body, even if the exact nature or significance of those sensations is much more difficult to articulate in this writing. This sense of feeling the film, of experiencing a film that does not interpellate you into the role of the disembodied “eye,” is surely one of the masterful things about this short piece. It is felt in the body, haptically visual, the film touches you.