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The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses

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Memories that evoke the physical awareness of touch, smell, and bodily presence can be vital links to home for people living in diaspora from their culture of origin. How can filmmakers working between cultures use cinema, a visual medium, to transmit that physical sense of place and culture? In The Skin of the Film Laura U. Marks offers an answer, building on the theories of Gilles Deleuze and others to explain how and why intercultural cinema represents embodied experience in a postcolonial, transnational world.Much of intercultural cinema, Marks argues, has its origin in silence, in the gaps left by recorded history. Filmmakers seeking to represent their native cultures have had to develop new forms of cinematic expression. Marks offers a theory of “haptic visuality”—a visuality that functions like the sense of touch by triggering physical memories of smell, touch, and taste—to explain the newfound ways in which intercultural cinema engages the viewer bodily to convey cultural experience and memory. Using close to two hundred examples of intercultural film and video, she shows how the image allows viewers to experience cinema as a physical and multisensory embodiment of culture, not just as a visual representation of experience. Finally, this book offers a guide to many hard-to-find works of independent film and video made by Third World diasporic filmmakers now living in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

The Skin of the Film draws on phenomenology, postcolonial and feminist theory, anthropology, and cognitive science. It will be essential reading for those interested in film theory, experimental cinema, the experience of diaspora, and the role of the sensuous in culture.

320 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1999

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Laura U. Marks

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Aloysius.
7 reviews6 followers
December 13, 2009
A pivotal text in the study of the senses in visual culture. (Another recent addition to a growing sub-field being Jennifer Barker's "The Tactile Eye".) One of the great things about Marks' book - for me anyways - is that she provides a really handy introduction to the idea of haptic visuality, a key point of departure for much contemporary thinking about embodied modes of reception; trying to plough through Riegl, who first broached the haptic/optic dialectic, is not a very productive exercise in this respect. Marks is certainly very lucid, and rigorously thorough, in explicating the critical foundations of her approach: haptics, the Benjamin-ian aura, the time-image of Deleuze, the fetish etc. However - and I would like to hear from others who disagree here - Marks' exploration of the embodied gaze with respect only to what she terms experimental, "intercultural" cinema, results in very thin visual analysis. In other words, her limited selection of the type of object she studies seems to restrict the applicability of the concepts she utilizes, and her formal readings, in a technical sense, strikes one as being predicated on variations of the close-up. Surely there are other means of considering how the non-ocular senses can be evoked in the visual register (say, via the actual, physical experience of cinema-going) ?
144 reviews4 followers
May 31, 2017
This work has some really useful points of reference, but it often gets bogged down in repeating its theoretical ideas ad nauseam. Though this is hardly entirely to blame on Marks since she is using Deleuze, one does wonder what use such theory has if it needs so much situating.
Profile Image for Ayanna Dozier.
104 reviews18 followers
April 19, 2015
While I thoroughly enjoyed this book after the third chapter I did wonder how many ways one can go about defining and sensing memory in film. On a side note, Marks' argument falls apart when you remove sight from the equation (Marks' even notes that sound is not really accounted for in her book). Beyond that Marks' offers a generous way of exploring Intercultural cinema in theory. For Marks, and myself, Intercultural cinema is The example to use if one wants to discuss Deleuze's conception of fabulation, which is to become the master forger and become Other (in a magical sense almost). While repetitive at times, I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore how the sense operate and or can operate in film in addition to a thorough examination of contemporary (1975-2000) intercultural video art.
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