Stark, Porn, Avant-Garde

From: Bernard Roddy (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Nov 22 2006 - 15:18:07 PST

In “Unbracketing Motion Study: Scott Stark’s NOEMA,” printed in Porn Studies, Linda Williams, ed. (Duke, 2004) Michael Sicinski opens and closes his essay with reflections on a 1992 Flaherty presentation of Ken Jacob’s Cherries. Both NOEMA and Cherries uses porn footage.
  Sicinski writes favorably about Stark’s film, but only after reviewing problematic uses of motion studies. Motion studies cannot be assumed innocent. Williams had applied ideas from Foucault to reflections on Muybridge, arguing that the uses of disciplinary measures to produce “docile bodies” is apparent in Muybridge analyses. She is best known for her work on pornography and apparently examines it as a kind of motion study in her book, Hard Core. Thus, the problem at the Flaherty of Jacob’s choice of footage for analysis.
  Of note, however, is Sicinski’s case for viewing the Stark use as “a work of art undermining its own foundation," a tactic he says is "one of the most radical formal gestures we can ask an artwork to perform, one certainly worthy of the designation ‘avant-garde.’” (475)
  Sicinski argues that each of the two halves of NOEMA has a redeeming quality. The first half catches pornography performers in moments of transition between positions, exposing undisciplined moments of individuality and emphasizing the fact that these people are at work. The second half collects cutaways and mise-en-scene details from the porn footage. He argues that these latter are moments of failure to control the labor behind the lens, shots satisfying a wayward creativity (by porn “auteurs”).
  The essay reflects on the formal uses of material that carries problematic cultural baggage. Stark does not recoil from it just because it’s porn (and has used porn before). This has got to be tricky! Whether Stark succeeds or not, whether Sicinski is right or not, the film evidently offers a political use of formal strategies. It's the politics of that visual pleasure, and of those studies, that generate constructive reflection.

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