Undoing blindness stereotypes through embodied experience in documentary

Brylla, Catalin (2016) Undoing blindness stereotypes through embodied experience in documentary. In: Embodied Methodologies – Practice Based Conference, 04-05 Nov 2016, Royal Holloway, UK. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper discusses my current documentary film practice that aims to undo stereotypical representations of blind people. Documentaries about blind people, such as Blindsight (2006) and High Ground (2012), have repeatedly deployed character-led and obstacle-laden narrative formulas that render the visually impaired character either as the ‘supercrip’ or the ‘tragic figure’. These plots do not portray the diversity and complexity of individual character traits but conveniently place blindness at the story’s centre (Schillmeier, 2006; Corbella and Acevedo, 2010), which turns it into a metonymised surface manifestation of abnormal subjectivity (Mitchell and Snyder, 2000, p. 59). On an aesthetic level, documentaries like Notes on Blindness (2014) and Black Sun (2005) precariously attempt to mediate blind people’s sensory perception through audio-visual impressionism, such as the use of close-ups and blurs, which inevitably renders visual impairment a “different mode of perception that is simply marked deviant” (Ochsner and Stock, 2013).

These narrative and aesthetic stereotypes can be undone through mediating the character’s momentary, embodied experience by mapping their body as ’anchored’ in space and as being ‘geared’ towards the objects it interacts with (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). This anchoring is particularly informed by accumulated corporeal knowledge, or corporeal schemas, which describe the “fundamental coordination of the embodied agent with both self and world [through] a perspectival grasp upon the world from the ‘point of view’ of the body” (Crossley 2013, p. 102). This can be particularly seen in my film about Terry, a blind painter who works on a painting depicting a female body.

The strategy of my filming and editing lies in focussing on Terry’s manifestation of corporeal schemas through his body’s bricolage approach of improvising movements and techniques during painting (e.g. using a plastic cup to form a moon out of plasticine), but also to deal with unexpected disruptions and failures (e.g. when he cannot stick the plasticine to the canvas). Improvisation and disruptions with regards to the body are key to the mapping of embodied experience (Dant, 2004, p. 43; Trentman, 2009, p. 69).

Consequently, the mediation of embodied experience through corporeal schemata has two benefits in relation to undoing blindness stereotypes. Firstly, it mediates the unique moment, thus deflecting the spectator’s attention from any formulaic narrative patterns, and secondly, it mediates the body in a holistic, synaesthetic manner that bypasses the stereotypical atomisation of particular senses (e.g. touch) through close-ups and blurs.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television > Film theory
Film and television > Filmmaking
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Catalin Brylla
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2017 17:03
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2017 08:33
URI: http://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/3622

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