Well, I'm still anxiously waiting for participants in my new blogathon so while I'm waiting it makes sense to perhaps start trying to take part in others, especially now that I have a bit more free time. There is one in particular that I've been seeing a lot of people taking part in, the Five Senses Blogathon hosted by Nostra at My Filmviews. I've worked with Nostra before, back when I took part in the Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon where I was given the difficult task of connecting Lindsay Lohan to Sydney Poitier. Now there's a new activity to take part in.
The idea behind the Five Senses blogathon is pretty self-explanatory. It's based on the idea that the human body has five senses ( though technically, this isn't actually true, as the body has a large array of other senses in addition to these main five). The idea is to find some sort of film-related association to each of those five senses. To keep things simple, and sticking to Nostra's original concept, I'll only be focusing on the main five senses rather than bringing in any of the others that have been identified by scientists. So, here are the five senses in film.
Sound- A Man Escaped (1956)
There are a few directors who have proven to be very talented in handling sound. The films of Sergio Leone are great examples, but one of the best demonstrations of sound being used to its full effect is Robert Bresson's 1956 war drama A Man Escaped. The story itself is pretty simple: a member of the French Resistance is arrested and taken to a Nazi prison, where he carefully and systematically devises an escape plan. What brings out the real tension is the film's use of sound and how it contributes to the restricted narration of the story. The entire film is shown from the perspective of this one man: Lt. Fontaine (we never learn anything before he does). Because of this, sound is often the only indication, both for Fontaine and the viewer, of what is going on elsewhere in the prison.
Smell- The Thing (1982)
Odors are not something commonly associated with film in general, unless you want to bring up the short-lived attempt to attract viewers to the cinema with Smell-O-Vision in the post-World War II era (which is basically what the name implies: watching a film while the appropriate odors are simulated; it didn't really catch on). However, there are some movies that have conveyed odors to impressive effect, and one that stands out in my mind is John Carpenter's The Thing. In particular, there is one scene that I would say communicates a sense of smell perfectly, and that is a scene near the beginning.
MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) have just returned from investigating the currently-unexplained destruction of a nearby Norwegian research station, and with them they have brought a peculiar specimen. This specimen, wrapped in a blanket, is unraveled in front of all twelve of the main characters, and the first thing that is clear is the foul odor excreted from the seemingly dead creature. Just the simple panoramic shot of each of the men's reactions is enough to show how badly this monster stinks, and yet in a matter of hours the stench of rotting alien flesh will become the least of their worries.
Touch- Muscular Sympathy/Muscular Repulsion
This one is going to require some background information, as it was a concept I learned from one of my classes. However, it seems relevant here as it is based entirely around the viewer experiencing a certain body feeling. The ideas of muscular sympathy and its twin muscular repulsion, which I have discussed in more detail in my articles Muscles and Macho Men and its follow-up Torture and Terrified Women, are fairly simple. It basically amounts to the viewer experiencing a bodily response that makes them feel as though they are part of the action. Muscular sympathy is often associated with action cinema, particularly martial arts films. When watching someone like Bruce Lee beat up his enemies in Enter the Dragon, it excites the viewer and makes them feel like they are right there with him. Muscular repulsion (as I have found myself naming it) is a similar idea, only more commonly found in horror as the viewer feels part of the action in a different way. Instead of feeling as though they are fighting with Bruce Lee, they feel more like they are the ones on the receiving end of his attacks. More appropriately, the viewer feels like they are the ones experiencing violent dismemberment of their own bodies.
Taste- Pulp Fiction (1994)
This is a hard area to cover, but there is one very specific scene that comes to mind when thinking about food on film: the famous burger scene from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. I can think of plenty of movies that feature food, but not very many with a moment quite as memorable as this. Considering it was from a fast food chain that burger probably wasn't even that good, but Samuel L. Jackson taking it out of the hands of a man he is about to kill and declaring it "a tasty burger" somehow makes him a far more intimidating figure. He then goes and drink's the guy's entire soda. If there is any moment in a film where taste is important, it's here.
Sight- The Spectacle of the Human Body
This is an interesting topic in of itself. One could write an entire essay on the history of how films have made a spectacle of people with muscular forms, and I did precisely that with my article Muscles and Macho Men. This particular concept has a long history going back as far as Edison's Kinetoscope film Sandow the Strongman (and it goes back even further than that, having its roots in the strongman acts of 19th-century circus shows), and yet the same basic principle still applies to something as recent as the Twilight films. The idea of a film trying to impress the viewer by putting a muscular body on display (usually male, examples of this being done with women only really started to become more common in the 1990's) was arguably made famous by 1980's action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact a major defining feature of the hardbodied heroes of that era like Schwarzenegger and Stallone was that their films would contrive situations to remove their clothes and thus show off their muscles. Predator is arguably one of the most extreme examples, seeing as it does this to nearly the entire cast (including an early female example with Anna). However, as shown with films like the figure seen in Sandow the Strongman (who was at the time a world-renowned bodybuilder) and Taylor Lautner in the Twilight saga, it is hardly confined to action movies.
As popular as they may be, musclemen are not the only ways in which the body can be used as a spectacle. The horror genre also has its own way of doing it, as I discussed in my (somewhat ironically-named) article Torture and Terrified Women. Instead of contriving situations to show off a muscular form, many horror movies like to take great pride in making a spectacle of the body's dismemberment, destruction, or distortion. Other films seem to like to make a spectacle of showing people naked, Eyes Wide Shut being a very good example of that practice in action.