Stephen Dwoskin was an American avant garde filmmaker who, after training as a painter, would move to London to help cofound the London Filmmaker’s Co-op. If his early American work would be indebted to, and indeed build on Warhol’s early work, in London he would develop a highly personal style of filmmaking far removed from the formalist approach then dominant in the British avant garde.
Suffering from polio, he would present some of the most honest and confrontational representations of disability ever committed to the screen, with his own body, and the bodies of others, often the centre of representation.
His film Pain Is… screens as part of RFN Scotland. While this is one of his more accessible works, essentially taking the form of a documentary, it’s a discursive film which ambitiously tries to find a visual language for pain, and does so by having startling imagery erupt into the traditional documentary format. Like all of Dwoskin’s work, it’s a brutally honest and intensely uncomfortable film, but a very rewarding one.
This is a personal response to the film by Ella Russell.
It’s a fog of something internal and external with the boundary shifting – so slightly – ever more within and without cause.
Stephen Dwoskin exposes the world as a series of pains: absences of pain; painful absences and the misty in-between.
He is explicit and he is gracious. He is forensically respectful of pain’s many shapes.
He is submissive to, and dominant of, pain simultaneously: scuffed film; unrisen,
chair-bound camera angles and unheard questions silence Dwoskin.
He is a muted presence on film; receding from it, then moving into its focus, and back, yet always allowing pain to take up the space needed for our eyes and minds to understand it.
Pain is given space by a man suffering it.
This is courage.
And this film is a curt contortion of pain.
And, when watching, you can feel him reading for it as he closes in upon the faces of those speaking; reaching to locate pain´s readable position within and upon them.
Dwoskin knew pain as ‘a marker to know how you relate to things’ and others. A hand is a tool for sensing what surrounds. Yet, when afflicted by pain, it becomes an object of pain itself. We feel our hand when it suffers; and we feel it more so than what caused the suffering.
Pain shift’s focuses.
Outside to inside;
External to internal.
Greatly because of this, pain is singular in its ability to influence.
In our avoidance of it, we are influenced.
In our pleasured seeking of it, we are influenced.
This particular side of pain’s many shapes is easy to exploit.
Collectively and politically, even easier.
There is an isolation that pain weighs upon us – heady and profound. The language of pain is malleable and ungraspable between people, as we hold no common language to express it, describe it. It does, however, have an instinctive basis.
Arguably, the political sphere has made rhetoric of pain: has abused pain’s call to empathy and instinctive appeal.
Austerity has weaponised pain.
Austerity follows a pattern of pain and healing – both psychologically taught to us and psychologically confirmed by us.
An alcohol-drenched wound burns as it moves us towards healing.
An agonised work life expects to reap rewards of capital gain under capitalism.
It follows …
A strained public system heals private system ‘wounds’.
It is a trope and pattern that makes pain political; that makes austere pain palatable.
Austerity is ideological.
Its use of pain’s patterns needs to be revealed; the divisive doctrine of inequality it is hiding, explained.
Our society does need healing but the ‘pain’ inflicted in order to ensure healing is being stressed in the wrong places: upon the vulnerable and silenced.
Those made powerless deserve defiance.
Through this film, Stephen Dwoskin did with pain what we need to exercise upon the political framework that our society has become bandaged between.
We need to disorder the psychology of austerity so that the ridding of its painful effects can be allowed to follow.
Austerity is a mind-set; with pain, its convincer.
And minds can be changed.