In a drab white office, reminiscent of a miniature Billy Wilder office space, a woman picks up a coffee cup, points it and gazes in the direction of her boyfriend, colleague, and the film’s main figure. Inscribed on the cup is: “Sex is not a four letter word.” Cut to a close-up of the man, reciprocating by holding up an identical white cup, except reading “But fuck is.” Welcome, you are in the looney tune world of Philip Brophy.
As a long time reader of Brophy’s writing, I’ve been meaning to see his films. And what a discovery! They are like his writing: packed with detail and deliriously playing with the materiality of things, their plasticity, figures in general, and the body in particular. His mid-length film, the hilarious Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat, is one of the best things I’ve seen this month.
Quadruple S uses daily routine (getting up, going to work, lunch hour, dinner with the girlfriend, late night TV-watching, sleep) in order to establish variations in the details. Over the course of four days, the main figure will wake up to coffee brewing, from talking in his sleep, from a wet dream, and from the alarm clock’s blaring ring. The idea of awakening mutates in four ways.
Another one of these variations deals with a computer at the figure’s work. On the monitor are passages that wax pithy, axiomatic, humorous thoughts about the human body. Is the figure writing this moist manifesto or the computer? These zany structuralist variations happen all throughout the film. If Hong Sang-soo had a vulgar sense of humor and a faster metabolism, his films would look like this.
Brophy’s follow-up, his affectionate send-up of body horror, Body Melt, extends the variations on a structure to a feature-length format. Something is lost though. Made to decimate the sitcom figures Brophy loathes, the film’s characters are meat puppets, one and all, built for slashing, extending, distending, exploding, rotting, and above all, melting. The film’s progression builds and builds, yet never releases (which is in contrast to the releasing bodies). This may be an intentional move to subvert expectations, but I’m not sure.
SSSS, on the other hand, is precise, sticking to the morning-noon-night structure for 47 minutes. Here, it is clear that Brophy is a moment-to-moment, shot-to-shot filmmaker. It is no wonder that he uses storyboards. Each shot is a single piece fitting into a unit, making up a sequence. Each shot is visceral, the camera positioned full-frontal with the subject. It’s an in-your-face style to capture the maximum pornography of details, the manipulation and permutation of things.
SSSS reduces mundane life to its fundamental liquids. Each of the film’s sections discharges a bodily concept. Salt = Nourishment. Saliva = Communication. Sperm = Sex. Sweat = Violence. Glazed on top of all this is Brophy’s nutty humor. SSSS is Brophy’s examination of the body as a soft machine that needs lubricating, cleaning, repair, and energy. The body is a machine that ingests, digests, and secretes. It is malleable, changing according to the day. Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat. Get wet.