Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies

Our deepest apologies for the delay in posts; naturally we have been stunned into silence by the quality and volume of the proposals we have received in the last few weeks (and months). There's still a few days left to submit your abstracts - see the call for papers for details - so we hope to see a few more yet.

We'd also like to hopefully make up for our blog silence by bringing your attention to a very interesting article published in 2006 in Offscreen - David Church's "Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies: Speculations on the Fantastic and Disability Representation". The article offers an exploration of representations of disability in films whose potential to render "positive critical readings and powerful depictions of disability" has often been neglected. In fact, the "fantastic" films that form the basis for Church's discussion - namely Freaks (1932), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Videodrome (1982) - are more likely to be the focal point for negative criticism regarding their depictions of exceptional bodies than anything else, and in the case if Freaks this has typically been the case.

Church opens by addressing such criticism, emphasising the importance of genre in influencing the way that such representations are read. He notes that
'Although fantastic films stimulate the imagination, many of them also stimulate the body itself through the devices common to “body genres” (i.e., horror, porn, and melodrama); Hawkins, for example, notes the predominance of body genre affect in art-horror, avant-garde films, and various “paracinematic” films that easily classify as fantastic. With the direct appeals to the viewer’s body made by these “low” fantastic texts (not unlike the fearful and tearful affect sought by freak show practitioners showcasing “monstrous,” exotic, sexually ambiguous, and pitiable human specimens), perhaps it is not surprising that they have been ignored by disability studies scholars seeking to displace the site of disability away from the material bounds of the corporeal body... [however,] disability studies focuses its probing and analytical gaze upon the “proper” (or “normal”) body of social realist films, largely ignoring the “grotesque” and “improper” (or “abnormal”) body of fantastic films, leaving a conspicuous gap in the discipline’s critical discourses'
Offering a lengthy dissection of three "fantastic" cinematic representations of extraordinary bodies, Church raises some intriguing questions regarding the legitimacy accorded or denied portrayals of disability based often primarily on the basis or exclusion of the context within which the portrayal is presented. He concludes by considering that 'the imaginative framework of the fantastic film moves the grotesque disabled body from the margins of representation and into the spotlight, much like the freak show performer on stage: an exploitative spectacle for sure, but one which might inadvertently point back toward our own cyborgian mode of spectatorship.'