Sunday, April 19, 2015

Making a Splash (1984)

This entry on Venus in Motion is not for an erotic film at all but it does meet the criteria of (naked) Venuses in motion, at least.  Back in 1984 we went round to see our friend Agent DVD in his first flat.  While round there he showed us a film by Peter Greenaway he had recorded from Channel 4 called Making a Splash (1984).  We were both familiar with Grreenaway from his film The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) and its excellent score by post-minimalist composer Michael Nyman.  

After the sight and sound of drops of water dripping, Nyman's score for this begins and accompanies the entire twenty five minute film.  The theme of the film is human interaction with water and starts with scenes of the sea and rivers including fish and frogs.  There is a clever cut from the bowed legs of a frog to the equally bowed legs of a baby in a swimming pool and much of the rest of the film features different human activities filmed in Putney and Fulham Swimming pools in south-west London.  Children on a water slide, swimming races and that curious sport, Octopush are all cut to the beat of one of Nyman's most irresistible scores.

The initial up-beat musical part finishes, about half way through the film, as views of a sub-aqua club are intercut with a shot of the end of the empty pool lanes beneath the water.   The mood changes with some slower and more reflective music and the sight of a girl doing backstroke down the pool lane.  The sequence in the pool is shot at night in comparison to the daytime shots of activity so far.

There is a shot of the blonde swimmer emerging from the gloom at the far end of the pool.    She is dressed in a black swimsuit, the cut of which is one of the things that dates the film.   

The next shot, which appears for just a second has her swimming topless across the screen.  There was nothing in the preceding 13 minutes of the film to indicate this development. 

The film cuts back to the girl swimming underwater in her costume once more but then next we cut back to two naked blonde girls swimming underwater.

The next section consists of intercut scenes from three sequences: sunset over the sea, the girls swimming in their suits and the girls swimming naked. 

Next we have a fourth element added in that we get shots of one of the girls filmed from above the surface of the pool of her doing the breastroke, naked under the water.  The water breaks up the image into an abstracted patchwork of colours.

Finally, a fifth element in this sequence is added of one of the girls shot swimming on her back on the surface of the pool or just below the surface of the water. 

What was really surprising at the time, and what seems completely unremarkable today, was that one of the girls had a completely smooth, shaved pubis which was something we had only seen in a magazine once before.

We suppose this short (about one and a half minutes) sequence comes under the heading of unexpected eroticism.  The image of a naked woman underwater speaks of mermaids and Greek naiads as well as complete freedom in the enveloping environment of water.  Although we often argue in these posts that nudity per se is not incipiently erotic there is something about it in water that adds a sensuousness that wouldn't be present in shots of the women just walking naked on land. 

There is a tactile element to being naked in water as well, with the water literally caressing every inch of skin so the eroticism is, perhaps, by implication.  The fact that the two principal subjects just happen to be very fit attractive young women doesn't hurt either.  

There is actually a short sequence of one of the girls swimming naked with a man but obviously the director decided to focus on the women in the final cut as he only appears for a fraction of a second.  Perhaps it was thought that having a man and a woman swimming naked together might add a more distracting, overtly erotic element.

Our final shot of a naked swimmer has her, uniquely, on the surface before she slips into the water, transiting from air into the watery element that the film is about.

The film climaxes with a long sequence of the British synchronised swimming team in action; filmed from both above and below the water, as Michael Nyman delivers one of his most propulsive pieces.

The film was commissioned by Channel 4 and, as far as we are aware, was only shown once on TV.  For some reason it has never been released on DVD in the UK, unlike a lot of Peter Greenaway's other short films which the British Film Institute has issued.  For a time it was available on DVD in Japan and Agent DVD ordered a copy from there.  Today, you can see quite a good copy of Making a Splash on YouTube.

It is Michael Nyman's music, now named Water Dances, that makes the film, however, although the full score has never been released, despite him expanding it into a forty minute piece for concerts.  We own five different versions of excerpts, however.  The first one to be released was on the album The Kiss and other movements (1985)  It contains three of the eight movements of the work: stroking, gliding and synchronising.   The Essential Michael Nyman Band (1992) contains an eleven minute version of some of the score. Michael Nyman Live (1994) has the Michael Nyman band playing two movements, dipping and stroking, at their usual breakneck speed.  Michael Nyman: Music for two pianos (2004) by the Zoo Duet features five of the piece's movements, dipping, stroking, submerging, gliding and synchronising, in a two piano arrangement.   French pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque's version of the same five two piano arrangements, in their 2013 album Minimalist Dream House, is far superior, however.  Oddly, none of these recordings contains the music for the naked girls sequence.