I wanted to do films just to fuck with people, basically. It’s very clear. You know, cinema was this big billboard type of thing, and I like horror movies and bodies all fucking up. I just love that shit and I wanted to do it. It’s just a totally perverse thing. I had no bigger picture for change in cinema. Nothing. I just wanted to get those people I’d seen in sitcoms and I wanted to kill them. And that’s what I fucking did in Body Melt.
– Philip Brophy, director of Body Melt, interviewed by Nat Bates for Sleepy Brain, 2003
Philip Brophy displays an artistic will to never have just one story, path, focus or identification figure. His early short films and videos made with the collective Tsk-Tsk-Tsk characteristically lined up a parade of figures before the camera to utter pithy refractions of a concept or tag; they were an early ’80s expression of Pop Art’s predilection for the serial mode, or what artist Richard Dunn called a “strategy of parts”. Working his way into relatively continuous narrative forms Brophy still contrives to have, inside his stories, a group of characters whose paths brush past or collide with each other; as well as, over the stories, structures (cyclical, serial, entropic, catastrophic) that pattern a differential grid of days, seasons, viewpoints or archetypal myths. His Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat (1988) explored such a structure, with its ‘four days in the life’ trail that was also four stories and four ideas – and, across this segmentation, a gradually apocalyptic spectacle of crack-up on both an individual and collective scale.
Brophy is one of those practitioners of the film fantastique – like George Romero or Larry Cohen – fond of a certain form of allegory which is specific to popular art. This is not the stately, schematic, architectonic allegory of Peter Greenaway, but it has a similarly determining, almost didactic force. Narrative situations provide a kind of prism whereby a series of variations on a central premise are illustrated, demonstrated, explored, contradicted, synthesised. In the popular-allegorical mode, characters are conceived of as variable bundles of traits, tics and appearances that are exemplary in relation to film’s chosen field of inquiry. In Brophy’s work, pop-allegory meets the speculative ruminations of the essay-film.
Brophy’s key subject has long been the body and our experience of it: life seized as a calculus of bodily effects, stimuli, drives, mechanisms. Horror cinema offers an expressionist statement of what is, for him, a kind of base, physical reality – bodies that devour and decay, consume and expel, peel and ravage.
– Adrian Martin, Senses of Cinema
Watch Body Melt now.