We see an egg being fertilised and cells begin to multiply. Babies grow in their mothers' wombs until, all across the world, they are born. As they mature to adulthood, the individuals each have similar experiences, things which offer pleasure and pain, such as food, sex and violence. Although their lives will take different paths, they are are all related by those experiences.
You know that old puzzle about space aliens? No, not "Do they exist?", the one about what could you show an alien from another planet, a piece of film say, that would sum up life for we humans and make them understand us? Bodysong, written and directed by Simon Pummell, would be a good place to start. Consisting of footage ranging from home movies to newsreels, the images are edited together to form a commentary on life starting from the first recorded films in the late nineteenth century.
There may be no such thing as a typical life, but Pummell focuses on the constants we all share. To begin at the beginning, he shows us babies, who grow to children, who become adults, who finally die, either of old age or by more premature means. The bit in the middle sees people playing, enjoying sex, and eating, but then takes a more sinister turn as fighting becomes rioting, which changes into all out war. This is not the whole story, however.
By offering all this documentary footage, you'd think that the film would soon lapse into cliché: Adolf Hitler and Marilyn Monroe, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon or President Kennedy being assassinated, the destruction of the World Trade Centre or Live Aid. That's not so, for the most part, overfamiliar images are avoided; there are recognisable ones such as the first recorded kiss, the Viet Cong suspect being executed in the street and the brave soul holding up the tanks of the Chinese army, yet most of it is not well known.
Some of the film is surprising: a man casually throws a laughing baby from hand to hand while standing on the edge of a high rooftop, another starts a fire apparently spontaneously, and various shots from pornographic movies are presented. On the other hand, there are the disturbing effects of war, disease and famine - mass graves, murder, starving children, and that old favourite, the atomic bomb. By slowing most of this footage down, Pummell ensures you can watch from a distance while still taking in the meaning, and Jonny Greenwood's (Radiohead) music drifts over the action, leading you onwards.
Religion is depicted, African holy men intercut with Catholic priests, and then art makes an appearance - but only in an abstract or symbolic way, such as Jackson Pollock's work or simply a circle being drawn on paper. The cycles of life, be they daily hunger or death itself, are underlined, but you can get the impression that Pummell is trying to be too all-encompassing; you may start to wonder, could you be more specific? He's strong on examples but vague on theory. When someone finally speaks, it's surprising, bringing personalities alive for a short time. After eighty minutes you may not feel as if you've lived hundreds of lifetimes, but the effect will have been mesmerising.
Before directing films, Pummell line produced over 40 commercials combining live action and animation. He went on to create award winning animations and films for Channel 4, with many international retrospectives of his work.
Pummell created two short films for the feature film that accompanied Freddie Mercury's final album - Queen's 'Made in Heaven', however it wasn't until Bodysong that he directed his first major feature film.
His second feature film, some time later, was science fiction romance Brand New-U, which opened at the Edinburgh Film Festival.