Carolee Schneemann is a painter, filmmaker, and performance artist who began making films at twenty-six. Her filmic work includes Viet Flakes (1965), Fuses: Part I of Autobiographical Trilogy (1964–67), Plumb Line: Part II of Autobiographical Trilogy (1968–71), and Kitch’s Last Meal: Part III of Autobiographical Trilogy (1973–78). In addition to her artworks, she has published several books including More Than Meat Joy: Complete Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979), ABC, We Print Everything - In The Cards (1977) and her feminist theory of art history, Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter (1974). Her forthcoming publications are Body Politics: Notes and Essays of Carolee Schneemann edited by Jay Murphy for MIT press and a selection of her letters edited by Kristine Stiles for John Hopkins University Press.
Fuses is a sexually explicit film shot by both Carolee Schneemann and her lover, Jim Tenney. 1 Schneemann not only employs an experimental production strategy; she also engages the material properties of film by baking it, painting it, and making its tenuous structure visible (such as including splices as visible facets of the film’s montage). Her camera does not follow any systematic, narrative ordering. Rather the body interrupts the frame, avoiding diegetic storytelling and following an idiosyncratic pulse of gesture and musicality.
The film explores heterosexual sex from a variety of vantage points, disturbing the formulaic imaging of sex found in Hollywood cinema. In Fuses the sexual act is not driven by a sequence of events or in service of a linear plot. Instead, sex is shown as a continuous and spontaneous activity between two people. Their relationship to one another is determined by the dynamics of physical coupling rather than individual character development or extenuating social circumstance.
The exhibition history of Fuses is quite remarkable and underscores the film’s radical nature. In 1969, it won a Cannes Film Festival Special Jury Selection [End Page 21] prize and has had regular public screenings since its completion. Yet, it continues to be a controversial work. In Moscow, twenty years after winning at Cannes, it provoked a small riot and was censored for pornographic content.
I interviewed Carolee Schneemann on March 28, 1997 in her loft in New York City.
To refresh you on my project, I am specifically studying Fuses (1964–67), because I am looking at sexually explicit work made by women around the time of the women’s movement. While I was watching Fuses the other day, I was struck by its beauty. It is so pivotal, for many reasons, in the history of experimental filmmaking. But, because it deals with sex, it has been left out of avant-garde film history and not really addressed by feminism. Is sex still the domain of men? Is that why it is so problematic for women? [End Page 22]
Explicit sexual imagery propels the formal structure of Fuses. Initially, it was clear to me that people were so distracted by...