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(2008) 16mm film, color, sound, 13 mins.
Sound by Greg Headley.
Digital video version also available.
3D photographs of human vulvae are animated and interwoven with surfaces and textures from natural and human-made environments. The genital images were taken from a set of ViewMaster 3D reels that accompanied a textbook entitled The Clitoris, published in 1976 by two medical professionals. Background info and photos can be found on the Speechless page (adults 18 years and over only please).
Grand prize winner: Black Maria Film Festival (2009)
First prize (experimental): Chicago Underground Film Festival (2009)
First prize: Milwaukee Underground Film Festival (2009)
Photos (adults 18 years and over only please).
Background of Speechless
In 1976, just three years after the landmark Our Bodies, Ourselves was first published, Thomas P. Lowry, M.D. and Thea Snyder Lowry, M.A., co-directors of the Marital Therapists Training Project for the California Department of Health, produced a textbook entitled The Clitoris, a collection of essays by gynecologists, pathologists, scholars and medical anthropologists, concerning the "primary organ of sexual functioning in human females." Included with the book was a set of four Viewmaster reels, containing 28 stereoscopic photographs depicting variations of human clitorides, all of which, according to the authors, were considered "within the range of normal." (The textbook is still available from various internet booksellers, including Amazon.com.) The images are intimate yet impersonal: full color three-dimensional close-ups of female genitals studiously disconnected from their owners, neatly boxed into tiny 4x3 frames; the occasional fingers pulling back the labial folds to afford better views of the clitoris are the only indications of the person beyond the vulva. In a medium usually reserved for travel photography, cartoons, science fiction and television stills, these Viewmaster reels become studies of the subtle and not-so-subtle variations on the dense topography of this usually-hidden and highly iconized part of the female body.
My previous work with 3D imagery (Angel Beach, Shape Shift, To Love or To Die), and my work with the human body and sexuality (Angel Beach again, Noema, Satrapy, Splitting You Splitting Me Still) - as well as my interest in exploring problematic, "politically incorrect" points of view from an inside perspective, often opposite my own, with an eye toward understanding and possibly neutralizing them (and possibly acknowledging them in myself) - made working with this material, when I found it, seem like a logical step for me.
Yet it soon became apparent that the material was problematic. Should I even be looking at these images with "artistic" eyes? Could I work with them in a way that transcended their clinical nature? And did I want to foist them on my viewers, some of whom would find the experience uncomfortable and might question my use of them as a heterosexual male? (Anne Severson, had, after all, at a time when feminists were questioning whether it was possible to photograph the female body without eroticizing it, successfully catalogued a series of desexualized vulvas in her 1971 film Near the Big Chakra; could I add anything to that discussion?) Still, something intrigued me about the idea and the provocative imagery, and perhaps wanting to raise those questions again, some 35 years later, from a non-female point of view, acknowledging who I am, and wanting, as I often do in my work, to put something out there to see how it takes its own shape, and push myself once again into uncomfortable, unfamiliar terrain, raising questions without having the answers, I decided to put the questions on hold, and threw myself into the project from a formal and very physical, sensual perspective, discovering and exploiting a rich array of intense perceptual phenomena. The film became, for me, a celebration of a raw, mysterious and sometimes fearful beauty, exploding with images of power and presence, of a part of the female body that is, one could argue, under-represented and seldom looked at, except when crudely sexualized in modern porn or subjected to the sterile scrutiny of the physician's gaze. Yet unlike Severson's de-sexualized Chakra, the images in Speechless also invite pleasure; animated, they might appear to be speaking, forming words and sentences using a vocabulary that, with our unversed eyes and ears, we're unable to parse, and hence assume the speakers' voices muted; but perhaps it is we who are left speechless.
"Speechless is gorgeous, mysterious, hallucinatory.... This is a magnificent work, equal to, or even better than, Brakhage's sexual meditations." -- Gene Youngblood, author of Expanded Cinema.
"Speechless is a stunning piece, one that made me feel both uncomfortable and awed." -- Lynne Sachs
"...the landscape textures, composition, and rhythm of the landscape layer really merged and created a meditative space for the power of the body, a part of the body that in all of its mystery has been sadly, sadly misunderstood and underacknowledged." -- Kerry Laitala
"In disrupting, rejecting, and avoiding both the pornographic gaze and the clinical gaze, Speechless is a rejection of many generations of shameful gynophobia and hateful misogyny towards women's sexuality. Speechless is astonishing and provocative; it recalls the pioneering feminist celebrations of female sexuality, female agency, and female sexual pleasure as foregrounded in the pioneering work of Valie Export, Carolee Schneemann, Gunvor Nelson, Barbara Hammer, and Annie Sprinkle, for example. Scott Stark is not only a wildly innovative experimental visual artist, but also a powerfully disruptive feminist filmmaker. A playful and joyous reclamation of female sexuality, Speechless transcends and celebrates women's most intimate and sexual anatomy -- as truly sacred, joyful, beautiful, pleasurable and female owned. Speechless is as visually dazzling as it is politically astute." -- Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, author of Disruptive Feminisms: Raced, Gendered, and Classed Bodies in Film (2016).
"Just as NOEMA introduced the idea of 'seeing through' porn only to demonstrate its fundamental impossibility, Speechless is 'speechless' precisely because it is the greatest possible visual realization of an untenable metaphor.... Speechless renews the possibility of seeing natural forms, including vaginas, as having formal homologies the observation of which could (and does) yield astonishing beauty." -- Michael Sicinski, Views reviews 2008, Academic Hack.
"A 13 minute work of considerable presence and intensity... In this illuminating form of things convolved, the pattern shared by vertically oriented prepuce and labia majora on the one hand, and a cluster of small rocks nestled between two larger rocks on the other, with playful self-consciousness seem to inject the very pulse of life into inanimate things: to put blood into a stone." Julie Murray, Within the Range of Normal, SNAPMilwaukee
"...an ecstatic poem to the female genitals as the awe-inspiring, mythic symbol of the fertile, generative force in the universe." -- David Finkelstein, FilmThreat.com
"By the time this movie ends, I suppose you could say that one is rendered speechless because all of the words and terminology of analysis have broken down into purely visceral experience, and now even the rote representation of vaginas has transcended its Freudian meaning and become something completely different, even though you're literally looking at medical images of them." -- Polaris_DIB, imdb.com
"Corporeal topography. Organic homology. Retinal alchemy. Scott Stark's film, Speechless, insists on the integrity, the unity, and the fearsome beauty of organic form. After watching this film I truly felt as if I had re-lived the process of coming to consciousness. My wet lungs howl for the dark warmth of amniotic fluids and the white noise of placenta pumps. But Stark cuts the umbilical with his teeth, turns on the lights, and embeds me in inescapable terrain; moreover, by the end of the thirteen minute odyssey, we're no longer in need of assistance. We stand before these fearsomely radiant images with our own two feet." -- Cauleen Smith, Carousel Microcinema