Fyi RW & MW, bits of text below in italics are in note form only
Teeth and Teeth II
This text is a close reading of Teeth and Teeth II. The differences between the two works are discussed, as is the effect of the audio-visual relationship on the viewer, in both. Some time is given to a discussion of the audio and visual elements of the original film and how their meaning is both used and altered by the artist.
(While I admit that much of this text is a stream of thoughts and ideas that emanate from the films and their making, I have tried to relate some of the formal choices made in the two works to the formal choices made by other contemporary filmmakers who manipulate found footage, including Douglas Gordon.)
The two films discussed here critique Ridley Scott’s use of Harrison Ford (HF)’s body in Blade Runner (BR) by making evident the importance of the female gaze in this particular scene, though not how that sits within the context of BR as a whole. Indeed, knowledge of the film is unimportant to the viewer’s understanding of the works. Far more crucial is the position of HF as a film star in popular culture. The films also place the artist audibly (and so bodily) within the frame of BR. In this way the films are examples of the active, participatory viewer taking control of their viewing pleasure and disrupting the form of the long narrative cinematic experience for their own ends. [Actually, they are examples of the active, participatory ARTIST, taking control of their…] The status of the artist as a voyeur, and so positioned as a viewer of rather than the author [Attempt to equate the artist with the viewer.] of the original work is another important component of Teeth and Teeth II.
A close reading of Teeth (– with flights of fancy)
In this scene from BR, HF cleans himself in his retro/futuristic bathroom. The bathroom has no door – maybe this is his kitchen? Presumably then, he’s single and living in relatively cramped conditions. The film is slowed down, to 50% of its cinematic speed. The film is edited with crossfading. Both of these indicate that the cinematic experience is being tampered with and that the original narrative is being disrupted, perhaps replaced or altered. HF is a well-known film star, known best for the character of the lovable rogue (e.g. Han Solo and Indiana Jones). Here he looks edgier – his haircut is short and practical, seemingly without style (HF cut his own hair for the role and refused to wear a hat). We watch HF take off his shirt and clean is face in a sink full of water. The tap is dripping and blood pours in considerable quantity from his mouth as he prods with his fingers inside. He has been in a fight. He uses no soap. He doesn’t look in a mirror, so we might presume that this is not a narcissistic moment we are watching. Objectification of his body in the original film is partially avoided by HF’s physical punishment. He is injured, broken. Our pleasure in looking at his body is ‘allowed’ by Ridley Scott by his injury – this is not a beautiful body (though, of course, it is) – it is bruised and sore – this is made evident by his tentative movements and gestures, emphasised here by the use of slow motion, and by his resigned demeanour and evident exhaustion. His pain is transformative – he is not a hero, but a normal man who hunches over his sink to catch a breath. He can do this in his private, domestic space if not in the world. His placement in this interior allows HF to act out the ‘real’ Deckard and the artist capitalises upon this on order to connect the viewer to the actor as a person over his portrayal of a character. He is aware that he is being watched and he appears to dislike this. In Teeth and Teeth II the slow motion and cross dissolves create a direct connection between HF’s body and the body, typically female, as seen via the mainstream cinematic tropes of the love/sex scene, and more specifically the erotic moment in films, television and soft pornography. BR is like pornography – both are dependant on rich and specific visual textures for their appeal, to captivate their viewer. BR is smoky, rainy and packed to the edges of the screen with retrofitted detritus, here exemplified by the 1980s technology adapted into the futuristic technology seen in the bathroom/kitchen space. Pornography is similarly monotonous it its texture, albeit fleshy and pink in comparison.There is a comparison to be made between the broken down HF here and Clive Owen’s character in Children of Men (the 2006 science fiction thriller film directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, based on P. D. James’s 1992 novel of the same name). Owen spends the majority of that dystopian adventure as an injured and reluctant hero without shoes, though unlike HF he doesn’t use or carry a gun. HF’s gun can be seen here. One gets the feeling he would feel naked without it. He doesn’t take it of. HF, at least at first, is viewed though a doorway, in fact two thirds of the screen at the start of Teeth and Teeth II is filled with the tiled interior of HF’s flat. These are based on (perhaps cast from) originals by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Dutch masters used this doorway frame a lot (also known as Doorkijkje or see-through door), particularly Pieter de Hooch. Ridley Scott uses it here to the same end – to indicate that the visual moment playing out is private and the viewer is positioned as a voyeur, privy to an intimate moment. While HF gets clean, someone (the artist) is brushing their teeth. The audio action is not immediately identifiable as such, but the title of the work assists the viewer to make that connection sooner rather than later. The person brushing their teeth is off camera – perhaps they are the one HF is looking at when he lifts his head and looks resigned and grim? We never see this person, though they are clearly comfortable in the frame of the narrative space, unashamed to make coughs, splutters and spitting noises within earshot of HF. They must have their own sink. The water of their ablutions synchronizes at times with the water noises HF makes at his own sink. This is happening in the same apartment. There is a marked contrast between the attitude of HF (dour, tired, reticent and resigned) and the chirpy scrubbing of the teeth with the flourishes of the brush on ceramic. HF takes time after his bathroom cleaning to put on a toweling dressing gown and pour a whiskey (off camera). He then stands on his balcony. Shivers go through his body and he takes a gulp of alcohol. Are the shivers a result of the chilly night air or in anticipation of the teeth-brushing coming to an end? He leans over his balcony, so far that he looks as if he might lean right off and plummet to the street far below– surly it can’t be that bad? Perhaps HF is attempting to use the noise and the sights of the city, the neon lights and flying cars below, as a soothing device, against the implied action to come? The scene fades to black as the tooth brusher makes a clink-clink of plastic of ceramic.
There is another audio element to the work – the ambient noise and soundtrack of the original film. This is minimal but essential as it combines with the added audio to give the illusion of a whole and undisturbed audio. The music is minimal and in Teeth does little to affect the overall tone of the work (Teeth II uses a different soundtrack and added audio with different results – see below).
Harrison Ford, not Deckard
As the film is short and makes no reference to the narrative or broader landscape of BR, the man in these films is HF, not the character Deckard. This opens the narrative of BR to manipulation, making the viewer implicit in the relationship played out between a famous film star and the off-screen other character. It is important that the viewer understands that the off-screen character is the artist herself, though this is not made evident in the film text. How to do this is something that needs to be considered further, as the work will suffer if the audience is unaware of the desire of the artist to place herself in HF’s apartment, at night time. Currently this is made clear if the viewer watches the film via Vimeo, as this text is available to the viewer before watching:
‘Teeth inserts the artist literally, and amusingly, into the Blade Runner world. The film is an edit of a sequence in Blade Runner during which the female lead and love interest, Rachel (Sean Young), watches Deckard (Harrison Ford) get cleaned up after a fight. This section of the film is important as it is the only moment of erotic looking afforded Rachel. The audio is all me.’
The film’s comic tone is set by this insertion of reality (the artist) into this dream landscape – a literal fantasy – and with the viewer’s understanding that this is the only way that the artist could enter into an intimate relationship with HF. The disparity in the status of the film star and the artist is also crucial to the audience’s understanding of and empathy with the artist, who has made the work in order to, albeit in our imaginations only, become intimate with the film star.
BR was released in 1982. In the late seventies, the use of the male body as an object of desire became relatively commonplace in mainstream film, in part due to the gay rights and feminist movements of the time. “Richard Gere was taking a very long time getting ready in American Gigolo, the camera lingering over his body in a way normally reserved for female flesh”
However, “(…) erotic images of men’s bodies carried with them the threat of male homosexuality and therefore had to be rendered powerless in some way by being feminized or wounded (…) – this is put to use by Scott in BR here – HF is shown bloodied, a St. Sebastian figure in slow motion, the erotic and the painful are conflated into an embodied agony and ecstasy, making the visual and audio combination of Teeth plainly erotic.
The small screen vs. the cinematic space
Film theory about the cinematic male/female gaze cannot be simply mapped onto other forms of viewing such at TV, video, DVD or via the computer screen. These forms of viewing are more intimate (though light levels may be higher than in the cinema space, rendering these viewing situations un-spectacular). The screen is closer to the face of the viewer, the viewer is more likely to be watching alone and also far more prone to interruption, either by design (to pause and make a cup of tea) or from impatience. The free (as in not paid for) viewing of film within the domestic space has evolved from being a group event or family affair (when a group gather to watch a video on a television) to something that happens in different rooms, at times chosen by the individual. This, along with the way that online video streaming sites operate (constrained by copyright issues which industry is slow to adapt to take account of changes in viewing habits and software development) and their effect on the viewer’s attitude to watching means that the contemporary moving image is watched in a more casual way – the viewer feels little or no compunction to watch something all the way through. This is addressed by the short length of Teeth (2:19 minutes) and Teeth II (2:08 minutes). This kind of ‘short hand viewing’ is also evident in free pornographic sites which stream short clips of material, usually around 10 or so minutes, forcing out narrative and preamble and filling the screen with the overwhelming texture of glistening flesh and climax. The private pleasure of watching the objectified body on screen may be an essential element of the success of Teeth and Teeth II, as the private moment on screen is mirrored by the circumstances and conditions around the viewer’s physical place and mode of watching. It is then difficult to imagine these films projected in the cinema space as they operate far more effectively in the intimate, domestic space. Teeth and Teeth II make use of this movement of viewing from the spectacular to the personal by using it to equate the film star, the artist and the viewer.
Much of Douglas Gordon’s work is concerned with not simply the cinematic experience, but ‘the way we experience the experience of the cinema.’ He is particularly interested in the translation of the cinema and the cinematic into the gallery space via the use of the small screen, evidenced at an early stage in his career by the use of video tape as source material and by video projection as a mode of delivery of image and sound. Later works, such as Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) visually oscillate between 35mm film and video, creating a dialectic between the cinema and television which ‘serves as a means by which the artist is able to engage with the specificity of cinematic experience’. Gordon has described multiple narratives that purport to be the genesis of 24-Hour Psycho (an interesting tactic in itself), one of which is that the idea for the film came to him when he was playing around with his brother’s videotapes when there was nothing to watch on television. Another version of the story describes Gordon searching ‘through off-air recording of Psycho to see it the television transmission of the scene in which Norman Baits spies on Marion Crane undressing differed from that presented on the commercially released VHS. This is an obsession I can relate to as one of the most interesting things about BR as a cultural object is that it exists in 5 available versions and much fan discussion (rather than academic debate) around the film is focused on the differences between versions. Gordon’s practice is engaged in repositioning the cinematic within a gallery space, but also very often within the alternative frame of the small screen. His use of slow motion has been said to reveal essential elements of the original 35mm film, making the viewer ‘become aware of the intermittency of the film image and the fragility of the illusion of real time in motion pictures.’ Generally, what critics see in Gordon’s use of slow motion ‘is the release of potential that, while inherent in the original material, does not constitute a fundamental or significant element go the mainstream cinematic experience. In my view, in 24-Hour Psycho, as in Teeth and Teeth II, slow motion is not a tool for revelation but rather an opportunity for the viewer to scrutinize the original film in a new way, more associated to Avant-guard film practice and so the art object, rather than the cinema or cinematic experience itself.
- Look out the reviews of Gordon’s Pretty much every film and video work from about 1992 until now, GoMA, 27 June – 29 September 2014. How does this dump of (silent) monitors designed to ‘…have the feeling of Paddy’s Market circa 1984.’ articulate Gordon’s current attitude to the small screen vs. the cinematic space?
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is an example of Gordon’s more contemporary interest in sound as a tool within his work (most early work is silent). In this work Gordon uses different types of sound throughout to prevent a ‘deadening of sensory awareness by continually changing the nature of the sound mix and reformulating sound-image relations.’ Similarly to the use of audio mixing in Teeth and Teeth II, though the mix of 3 elements in these films play concurrently, Gordon uses Foley effects (the equivalent in Teeth and Teeth II is the sound of the toothbrush) to ‘construct narrative space and draw the spectator into it.’ Like the cuts from film to video in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, ‘the film’s shifting soundscape helps to maintain spectatorial awareness of the film’s audiovisuality through the inscription of difference.’ I would argue that the same ‘inscription of difference’ is essential to both the general implied narrative of Teeth and Teeth II and to its comedic effect.
Editing as a tool for change
Slow motion makes the image feel softer, out of time, more passive and unthreatening. The use of BR’s original soft lighting and the effect of the slow speed of the visual flow operate to dissolve notions of reality and foreground the illusatory nature of the filmmaking process. This creates distance between the viewer and the action on screen, emphasising the film as ‘just’ an image and offering the opportunity to fetishize that image. ‘This distance provides the space for the spectator to insert her/himself into the fantasy scenario evoked by many of these representations as the male is marked out as an erotic object.’
Do alterations by editing, such as stretching, arranging and removal really reveal previously undisclosed or invisible truths of an original as so many critics and writers suggest (Mulvey, almost anyone who has reviewed 24-Hour Psycho including Amy Taubin) or can they only create new meaning? Teeth and Teeth II create entirely new meaning and one not evident either intentionally (or unintentionally) in the original (though use of formal elements intended in the original are essential in their final incarnations).
- Douglas Gordon’s use of slow motion in 24-Hour Psycho
- Candice Breitz’ use of editing to create new narrative in Soliloquy Trilogy
- The use of editing to create/reveal narrative in Learning from Las Vegas but Jennifer and Kevin McCoy
- Christian Marclay’s Clock!
The importance of the original
As I have said, in Teeth and Teeth II, unlike other films I have made using BR as the main appropriated artifact, knowledge of the plot of the original film is not necessary for the overall success of the final works. However, the choice of BR as source material is crucial to the look and feel of both works. When choosing works to appropriate, consideration must be given to the original in the collective consciousness or memory of the viewer. Douglas Gordon describes the importance of choice in his process:
‘Choice is the critical thing. You can fuck it up after choosing, but choice is critical. Duchamp choosing the bottle rack; it’s the choice and the theatre of choice in a way. For instance with Zidane, at a certain point we thought we couldn’t do it with him so other people came forward. But the choice was the subject; the subject then inhabits the work; and the work is then supposed to inhabit the world. There’s no way we could’ve done it with anyone else.’
Similarly, HF is necessary for Teeth and Teeth II to operate successfully. The persona of HF and his filmography and biography that are known to the viewer, however vaguely, are crucial in that they support the ridiculous premise of the films, adding their comedic value. The age of HF in BR (40 years old in 1982) is relatively evident in Teeth and Teeth II and sets HF and the artist up as contemporaries. HF’s persona as a celebrity (known to be a ‘difficult interview’ and a man’s man’) adds insult to HF’s injury, as the artist uses him as an erotic foil. The relationship with the artist and HF on screen has developed over 30 years, and viewers of a similar age to the artist may identify with the artist’s actions in making the works. Like Gordon’s Through a Looking Glass (1999), Teeth and Teeth II use a recognizable star, remove him from the frame of the original film and place him into the viewer’s’ personal space. If Through a Looking Glass has Robert De Niro talking directly to the viewer, Teeth and Teeth II have HF disrobe directly for the viewer/voyeur.
Teeth II opens with a silent, slow motion shot of HF’s head. The colour of this short scene is pale, separating it from the rest of the film and placing HF in a setting out with the darker browns of the interior bathroom/kitchen scene. Here HF appears resigned; his head fills the whole frame, placing the internal thoughts of the actor nearer to the viewer. We imagine, having seen Teeth, that this HF has a memory of what is to come. Titling the piece Teeth II indicates that it may be a sequel, though in fact it is an audio reworking of the visual sequence of Teeth. This makes Teeth II both a sequel and a reworking – the film is situated as a second ordeal for the actor. The audio again consists of a mix of newly recorded sounds (this time of teeth brushed using an electric toothbrush) and original soundtrack and ambient noise of the original, but here the soundtrack is not slowed down and is more dominant than in Teeth. It creates a more obvious dreadful tone to the work, as if this second evening is made less manageable in the mind of HF due to his memory of the first. The sound of teeth being brushed is not as distinct when the electric toothbrush is used, so the viewer’s memory of Teeth is equally crucial to their understanding of the work, working in tandem with the title Teeth II. The synchronicity of the tooth brusher and HF’s movements at the sink is less defined here, though the initial ‘clink’ of a toothbrush on ceramic is placed to also act as the sound of a light going on – linking the off screen actor with the body of HF. There is, at the end, the sound of footsteps, off camera. These are the sounds of shoes with heals, a woman’s footsteps clearly audible as HF contemplates the city from his balcony. The sounds of the city have been erased, so there is little to comfort HF from the possibilities of the events that are set up to occur when the film ends. Water can be heard to be draining away as the film fades to black.
 Here’s Looking at You, Kid!, Suzanne Moore, in The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture, Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment editors, The Woman’s Press Ltd., 1988, p44.
 Here’s Looking at You, Kid!, Suzanne Moore, in The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture, Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment editors, The Woman’s Press Ltd., 1988, p55.
 Douglas Gordon, An Apology as a Short Story/A Short Story as an Apology in Douglas Gordon: Kidnapping, Jan Debbaut, Douglas Gordon and Francis McKee, Eindhoven: Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, 1998, p138.
 Douglas Gordon and Cinematic Audiovisuality in the Age of Television: Experiencing the Experience of Cinema, Andy Birtwistle, Visual Culture in Britain, 2012, p103 Taylor and Francis http://www.tandfonline.com
 Douglas Gordon by Amy Taubin in Spellbound: Art and Film in Britain, ed. Ian Christie and Philip Dodd, London: BFI, 1996, p70
 Ibid, p72
 Douglas Gordon and Cinematic Audiovisuality in the Age of Television: Experiencing the Experience of Cinema, Andy Birtwistle, Visual Culture in Britain, 2012, p104 Taylor and Francis http://www.tandfonline.com
 Douglas Gordon and Cinematic Audiovisuality in the Age of Television: Experiencing the Experience of Cinema, Andy Birtwistle, Visual Culture in Britain, 2012, p109 Taylor and Francis http://www.tandfonline.com
 Ibid, p110
 Here’s Looking at You, Kid!, Suzanne Moore, in The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture, Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment editors, The Woman’s Press Ltd., 1988, p54.
 Douglas Gordon: Hope, without faith, Talia Linz, Art Monthly Australia, Art Monthly Australia Pty. Ltd. DATE????