The surface aim of this video essay is to illustrate Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the radical elsewhere (1986: 19) in relation to composition of cinematic images that conceal racy subject matter in R-rated films. My thesis centers on how cinematic acts of offscreen sex insist rather than exist in a figurative space. This references Deleuze’s theory of the radical elsewhere as a place where things are not shown, but felt by the viewer. Adult subject matter is often left to the imagination. The text that I based my video on dealt with the speaker’s sexual awakening at a young age, spurred on by identification with the media object. I sought examples of sex scenes in particular, because it is so common in cinema for sex to be suggested onscreen but not explicitly shown.
At first, I built the structure of the video around a clip from a cheap 1980s American comedy called Pink Motel (Mike MacFarland, 1982). The anonymous text that inspired this video essay mentions the memory of a sexual act that took place off-camera. Pink Motel does feature a sex scene obscured by the framing of a bed that blocks the action. But the sexual act was technically within the boundaries of the frame, and was just hidden by an onscreen object. I soon scrapped Pink Motel from my examples because I decided it was not faithful to Deleuze’s concept. The more I thought about the radical elsewhere, I decided to only include sexual acts that occurred outside the borders of the frame. That seemed truer to Deleuze’s statement that everything outside the frame “insists, rather than exists.”
I chose to visually express the concept of a radical elsewhere as a pink neon outline that I created in After Effects, which signified everything outside of its borders as taking place off-screen. The pink neon and the hum sound effect that accompanies it were inspired by the motel sign from Pink Motel. While I scrapped Motel, I did retain the pink border and it became useful as a visual representation of off-screen space, as well as a mysterious object that compels the viewer’s attention.
It was my initial goal not to assume the sexual orientation of the anonymous source text, and I searched for both hetero and homosexual sex scenes. Eventually, I decided that making some kind of assumption, correct or not, was inevitable in this exercise, and that ultimately, I would be the one considered responsible for whatever assumption or decision I made on behalf of the author. I chose to feature gay sex scenes because I thought they were probably too risqué to be filmed with an explicit approach. Certain shots were composed to exclude incendiary body parts, leaving them to the imagination. This was exactly what Deleuze was talking about.
Originally, I had audio narration throughout the video, but I removed it, which resulted in an enigmatic, experimental approach. This was truer to the nature of my intent; to create a mood and let the textual excerpts carry the argumentative burden. As I edited, the video essay became more and more mysterious, rather than didactic. But while my examples show radical elsewheres in films like Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982) and Shelter (Jonah Markowitz, 2007) in concrete ways, my ulterior motive was to establish how this Deleuzian concept is shared across multiple movies. The scenes where River Phoenix sits by a door were meant to suggest that there is a radical elsewhere on the other side, composed of several movies. The technical glitches I embraced further press the dream-like quality of off-screen space, and of the unknown. I feel my video essay can be interpreted in different ways and would not insist that there is only one way to understand it.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
Philip Józef Brubaker is a writer and filmmaker who makes videographic non-fiction about the art form of cinema and his relation to it. He studied at the Rogue Film School with Werner Herzog and the Experimental Documentary MFA at Duke University. He has made 100 video essays for Fandor.com and is known around the globe for his work.