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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 08:14 GMT
Film charts life to death journey

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

'Death' from Bodysong
The film features footage of birth, violence and ageing
Director Simon Pummell does not lack ambition - his first feature film is a documentary that charts the journey of man from birth to death and beyond.

Bodysong, newly released in the UK, begins with medical footage of sperm fertilising eggs, and then a montage of births from all over the world, with footage from as far back as the 1920s.

Pummell is a director of short films that some critics liken to the work of Peter Greenaway.

He told BBC News Online he wanted to make a film that looked at human life from birth to death - and celebrate the century of cinema and moving image at the same time.

Pummell was inspired by the recent birth of his son.

"I put in 40 or 50 births because I wanted to make the birth sequence seem bigger, more important - that moment is still an awesome thing," the director said from his Dutch home.

He said he specifically wanted to draw away from using footage with which people were already familiar.

"We see moving images everywhere, on monitors, home movies, on the internet, Movies have escaped from the cinema.

"I wanted to make a film that flattened out the hierarchies of what is important, and just celebrate all the different images we see."

Simon Pummell
The film is Pummell's first feature

Pummell wanted to avoid iconic images.

"They are already in your head," he said. "I was trying to put a whole range of human experience in, and I really wanted it to be a celebration."

So instead of such well-known footage as the moon landing, there are depression-era strongmen balancing infants over sheer drops, and children chasing cars at the birth of the 20th Century.

It does not end with death either - the last part of the film explores such themes as dreams and language.

Some of the footage is strong and uncompromising - which means the film carries an 18 certificate - and Pummell says he did not want to "flinch from showing anything".

Hidden footage

Part of his process was to contact archives from around the world and use them as the first stage of research.

"Archives are often just a passive resource - people just contact them and say 'I want that 15 seconds from that JFK speech'.

"What I said was 'what do you have that hasn't been taken out of the can in the last 20 years?'"

Pummell said he and his editor Dan Goddard built a "detailed database where people logged stuff, using weird links so we could cross-reference it in all sorts of ways".

Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead
Jonny Greenwood took time out from rock band Radiohead to write the score

The footage is accompanied by an original score composed by member of rock band Radiohead Jonny Greenwood - the first side-project by a member of the award-winning band.

Greenwood's soundtrack, which has distinct jazz overtones, was "a huge part of the film", Pummell said.

The director had started talking to music publishers about getting a composer confident enough to write the soundtrack - but deep down he knew wanted a member of Radiohead.

"It was one of those things that seemed like it might be really difficult - but it wasn't," he said.

A Bodysong website has been set up, giving people a chance to find the stories behind the images they have seen.

One chilling section shows black-and-white footage of two boys playing soldiers, marching down a garden path with a flag - which turns out to be a Nazi flag.

"It is an amazing story," says Pummell. "The parents were committed Nazis - but then they completely turned around and were against the regime.

"Most of the family are still alive, and there's some incredible footage from their home movies."

Long after Bodysong has left the cinemas, Pummell hopes, it will live on through the website, and give viewers a unique chance to connect with the images of yesterday.

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