Abstract This article proposes that the philosophy and methodology of film-phenomenology offers a fresh perspective for the analysis of screen adaptation. In the article’s first section, I explore why adaptation studies as a discipline has turned a blind eye to the subjective experience of screen adaptation, preferring modes of analysis that foreground adaptation as an objective intersection or layering of texts. But, as I suggest, any analysis of an adaptation is impoverished without also attending to their material texture. Using the theoretical insights of phenomenology—and how they have been taken up in film studies, particularly by scholar Vivian Sobchack—I probe the sensual contours of Jane Campion’s 2003 film In the Cut, her adaptation of Susanna Moore’s erotic-thriller novel. In doing so, the phenomenological method reveals how Campion makes palpable the experience of the novel’s first-person narrator for the spectator in what I term ‘tactile orientation.’ The analysis of this case study reveals the broader value of the phenomenological method for screen adaptation and renews an appreciation of adaptations as works of art. Screen adaptation, film phenomenology, Jane Campion, tactility, embodied spectatorship, synaesthesia PROBING SCREEN ADAPTATION This essay proposes that film phenomenology offers a fresh perspective into the dynamics and pleasures of screen adaptation. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan claim that the discipline of adaptation studies shows a persistent ‘will to taxonomize’ in order to ‘mark out its territory’ in what is a particularly inchoate field of study (2). These taxonomies gravitate around the mechanics of adaptation, helpfully disciplining adaptations into categories based on different relationships between texts (and usually revolve around the degrees of similarity or fidelity between them). But common amongst them is that while they may be quick to suggest new models of analysis that abstract adaptations into various categories, they are even quicker to abstract the spectator’s body from the adaptation’s experience. Adaptation is not only a process of change between texts; screen adaptations are also products that appeal to the eyes, ears, skin, and viscera. This essay broadens and enrichens the discipline’s theoretical scope by arguing that attending to the sensual dynamics that connect the spectator to the screen grounds how an adaptation is meaningfully lived by its beholder. In this essay’s first section, ‘Sticky and Fuzzy: The Stigma of Subjective Impressionism in Adaptation Studies,’ I tease apart some of the recent theoretical developments that posit adaptation as a form of ‘intertextual dialogue’. Then, in ‘Beyond “Intertextual Dialogism”: Phenomenology, Film, and a “Fleshly Dialogue”’ I propose that the philosophy and critical methodology of film phenomenology offers the means to return adaptation studies to its senses, so to speak. Finally, in ‘Flesh and Skin: In the Cut’ I mobilize theoretical approaches to embodied spectatorship to analyse Jane Campion’s 2003 adaptation of Susanna Moore’s novel In the Cut, a neo-noir erotic thriller about a literature professor who is caught up in an investigation of a series of brutal murders of women. In the Cut is an apposite case study for theorizing an embodied approach to adaptation for Campion’s cinema, as Kathleen McHugh argues, enjoys an ‘ongoing and focused exploration of the relationship between spoken or written words and moving images,’ creatively employing film aesthetics to ‘[convert] the abstraction of language and diagram into images, bodies, action’ (31). Rather than a methodology that calls for an intertextual reading of the adaptation, this essay argues that (following phenomenological film theorist Jennifer Barker’s terminology) a handling of the adaptation’s textures is critical to a more holistic understanding of screen adaptation (25). Specifically, I argue that Campion invites the spectator’s tactile perception to closely align them with the sensual experience of her heroine. I call this invitation ‘tactile orientation’ as a means of thinking beyond ‘focalization,’ a term drawn from narrative theory that privileges optical point of view. This essay responds to Thomas Leitch’s provocative claim that ‘the future of adaptation studies is best indicated by essays that… raise more interesting questions, questions that are more productive of further, still more probing questions’ (‘Adaptation’ 68). For just as an itch on the skin is only intensified by scratching fingers, this essay only begins to probe the surface of the tactile dimensions of screen adaptation to invigorate the discipline to the possibilities of an embodied entanglement. STICKY AND FUZZY: THE STIGMA OF SUBJECTIVE IMPRESSIONISM IN ADAPTATION STUDIES The task of this essay—to foreground the spectator’s subjective experience—in many ways bucks the trend of recent approaches in adaptation studies that seek to maintain objective distance from their objects of study. I trace this reluctance to the lingering stigma of the binary between iconophobia and logophilia as well as that of fidelity criticism. Robert Stam points out that film adaptations themselves have been dogged by an ‘anti-corporeality’ sentiment in which the screen adaptation ‘offends through its inescapable materiality, its incarnated, fleshly, enacted characters, its real locales and palpable props, its carnality and visceral shocks to the nervous system’ (‘Introduction’ 6). Stam contrasts this ‘iconophobia’—a historically pervasive distrust of the image that can be traced to Plato—with ‘logophilia,’ a celebration of the written word. According to this dichotomy, the image (and the moving image in particular) is irrational and facile in its appeal to the body’s senses, while literature is rational, complex, and transcendent in its use of the imagination (‘Introduction’ 5–6). Although few adaptation critics—particularly now that the discipline has moved away from its traditional roots in departments of English literature—would agree, I suggest that iconophobia has nonetheless thwarted sustained interest in the sensual properties of an adaptation in fear of appearing regressive for taking the sensory as the grounds of their critical inquiry. So too, the lingering stigma of fidelity criticism has blocked sustained research into the sensual and embodied dimensions of screen adaptation. Although Dudley Andrew rejected fidelity-based criticism some three decades ago as the ‘most frequent and most tiresome discussion of adaptation’ (Concepts 100), it appears to maintain its hold in some quarters of the field. Leitch laments that ‘[despite] innumerable exceptions to the rule, adaptation theorists have persisted in treating fidelity to the source material as a norm from which unfaithful adaptations depart at their peril’ (Film 127). Although I disagree with Leitch’s summary of fidelity in adaptation theory that exaggerates the prevalence of fidelity-based approaches, the question of fidelity does remain a sticking point as a criterion of evaluation, particularly in the popular press. What interests me is less the way that fidelity criticism continues to colour subjective evaluations of screen adaptations, but rather how this discourse has stimulated a disciplinary kneejerk response away from subjective responses wholesale. Similar to the Platonian distrust of the senses that characterized iconophobia, the emotional response that underpins fidelity criticism has been dismissed for its critical impropriety. As Rachel Carroll explains, ‘[what] seems improper about fidelity is not merely the critical passivity which it is thought to induce, but also the emotional investments by which it is motivated’ (54). Elsewhere, Shelley Cobb considers how subjective responses such as sensation and emotion are positioned against detached rationality and critical engagement. Cobb explains that emotional responses are for many critics ‘subjective, personal, and relational [while] criticism is analytical, public, and institutional’ (32). Positioning emotion against criticism in this manner leads the critic to compile an ongoing list of binary oppositions: subjective/objective, passive/active, affective/rational, and so on. I acknowledge that emotional evaluation should not be a critical endpoint alone; however, the stigma of fidelity has encouraged adaptation studies to be quick to dismiss the senses and emotional responses as if they were diametrically opposed to critical objectivity. The rigid objectivity offered by (post-)structuralism appealed to adaptation critics to ward off the seductive and sensual allure of subjective response, the kinds of criticism that Brian McFarlane dismisses as ‘fuzzy impressionism’ (29). Stam, for instance, offers a model based on post-structuralism to ‘[transcend] the aporias of fidelity’ (‘Beyond’ 64). He appropriates the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin and Gérard Genette to draw attention to an adaptation’s intertextuality. As Stam describes, the ‘concept of intertextual dialogism suggests that every text forms an intersection of textual surfaces. All texts are tissues of anonymous formulae, variations on those formulae, conscious and unconscious quotations, and conflations and inversions of other texts’ (64). The intertextual model helpfully expands adaptation studies from fidelity models that examine the process of adaptation as a one-way transfer between original and derivative. Rather, film adaptations ‘are caught up in the ongoing whirl of intertextual reference and transformation, of texts generating other texts in an endless process of recycling, transformation, and transmutation, with no clear point of origin’ (66). Genette’s analysis of transtextual ‘palimpsests’ grounds many successful approaches to adaptation. Andrew, for instance, describes an adaptation as a ‘palimpsest… but a peculiar one, in that the surface layer engages, rather than replaces, a previous inscription’ (‘Adapting’ 191). And indeed, the metaphor of the layer is productive for an analysis of the sensual contours of an adaptation. As Andrew helpfully points out, the celluloid itself is another layer in the construction of an adaptation as ‘meaning rises from the images and sounds inscribed on its surface’ (190). As adaptations have an ‘additional dimension… of depth provided by the substrate text that supports what is on the celluloid’ his analytic model is decidedly textural as he explores how these various ‘layers’ align with and inflect one another (191). As he argues, ‘[when] the layers appear nearly congruent—the film filling in with vibrant colors the fading skeletal lines of the original—the effect and the value of the adaptation are greatly multiplied’ (191). But while Andrew usefully gestures towards the importance of analysing an adaptation’s ‘design and texture’ (192), he seems to quickly slip back into a model of fidelity. He describes the appropriate analytical methodology as first an ‘[investigation] into its congruence with the shape of its source… and next into the appropriateness of its “feel” (the texture of detail, point of view, tone)’ (193). Andrew’s discussion of what is an ‘appropriate’ choice in capturing and expressing the ‘texture’ of an adaptation reinforces fidelity theory’s morally loaded discourse. Further, why should ‘value’ be only given to those adaptations that are ‘nearly congruent’ with its structuring text? This is also a weakness of McFarlane’s study as, while he carefully analyses how different ‘narrative functions’ can be ‘enunciated’ in different media, he privileges those that are more amenable to transfer rather than change (13–20). Therefore, although these approaches make inroads into a more dynamic analysis of screen adaptation, they are not wholly satisfying. Despite returning focus to the text, they skirt around the film’s sensual dimensions and texture: how they visually, audibly, tangibly, and viscerally entangle the spectator. Such entanglement might be congruent with the ‘skeletal lines’ of the original, or the adaptation might express ‘vibrant color’ and texture in wildly creative ways. But either way, the ‘skeletal lines’ of the source material is always brought to life in a screen adaptation through the spectator’s flesh. Although novels certainly have the power to viscerally affect their readers, film’s inherent sensuality impacts on ‘our stomach, heart, and skin’ (Stam, ‘Introduction’ 6). The image (particularly if viewed in theatrical conditions) can dazzle the eye with light and colour (or have us peering through shadows) while sound—whether a whispered caress or a piercing blast—sonorously envelops the spectator. Indeed, describing sound as a ‘caress’ or a ‘piercing’ testifies to the synaesthetic and kinetic nature of the film experience. Not only audio-visual, films also invite tactile responses, be it through the indistinct ‘haptic imagery’ that appeals to the skin or camera movement that rushes and jolts through space in a way that ranges from the exuberant to the dizzying. So too, the inner rhythms of the viscera—connected to smell and taste—physically and emotionally affect the spectator, while recent neuro-cinematic research reveals the way that mirror neurons make meaning below the threshold of consciousness.1 Screen adaptations therefore enrich their sources by crafting this brute sensual data into more specific codes, such as the ability to bring characters to life through screen performance. But even before such organization, the cacophony of sensual information is—quite literally—vital to the experience and interpretation of screen adaptation. In sum, as Stam points out, ‘the cinema has not lesser but rather greater resources for expression than the novel’ as it ‘thickens, takes on flesh’ and becomes undeniably tangible (20, 27). BEYOND ‘INTERTEXTUAL DIALOGISM’: PHENOMENOLOGY, FILM, AND A ‘FLESHLY DIALOGUE’ A new model is required to grapple with the tangibility of screen adaptation. I propose that Vivian Sobchack’s semiotic phenomenology of film experience provides a philosophy and methodology that will enrich analyses of screen adaptation. Radically countering the psychoanalytically-informed claim of Christian Metz that ‘the cinema requires a silent, motionless spectator, a vacant spectator’ (96), film phenomenology instead describes the spectator as being sensually filled by their perceptive experience in a manner that grounds all cinematic intelligibility. Sobchack’s phenomenology is drawn from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential philosophy of perception that demands, as Richard McCleary notes, that to understand the world ‘we must first describe the life-world we perceive and then reflexively determine the essential meaning-structures of the self in its relation to itself, to other persons, and to the world’ (xiv). Therefore, a phenomenology of film experience entails not only a description of objective phenomena, but also necessitates reflection on how such phenomena are subjectively lived and made meaningful. Thus while social etiquette in the cinema might still require a ‘silent, motionless spectator’ as suggested by psychoanalytic theory,2 a phenomenological analysis reveals how the spectator nonetheless ‘speaks back’ and is profoundly moved by their encounter in a way that is first expressed through the fleshy contours of the lived-body. The ‘lived-body’ refers to how conscious experience of the world is always embodied in the flesh, and is enacted through an existential structure of ‘intentionality’ that correlates acts of consciousness with its object. As Sobchack explains, the lived-body is both a subject in the world and an object for the world that is ‘lived in its subjective modality as perception and in its objective modality as expression’ (Address 40). Intrasubjective in its commutation of perceptive and expressive modalities, the lived-body also forms the grounds for the intersubjective ‘primacy of communication’ as ‘every conscious lived-body is semiotically and hermeneutically competent in its ability to commute perception to expression and back again’ (41). Indeed, as Sobchack summarizes, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy offers a sustained investigation into ‘the sensuous contours of language, with meaning and its signification born not abstractly but concretely from the surface contact, the fleshly dialogue, of human beings and the world together making sense sensible’ (3). Sobchack therefore parallels the reversibility of perception and its expression through language, gesture, and movement with the perceptive and expressive capacity of the ‘film’s body’. Although materially different from the human body, the film’s body is similarly embodied in its world, and similarly demonstrates an intentionality that is ‘constituted as and marked by the intrasubjective and intersubjective exchange between perception and expression’ that is enacted by its own technologically constructed ‘organs’ of camera lens, projector, and screen (13, 206). As Sobchack explains, ‘the film experience is a system of communication based on bodily perception as a vehicle of conscious expression. It entails the visible, audible, kinetic aspects of sensible experience to make sense visibly, audibly, and haptically’ (9). Phenomenology not only provides a philosophy of experience but is also a methodological procedure that interrogates the appearance of phenomena and how they are meaningfully lived. Called the ‘phenomenological reduction,’ the procedure involves the systematic ‘bracketing’ and setting aside of any habituated presuppositions through close description of phenomena as they appear. Following this, phenomena are ‘horizontalized’ and ‘thematized’. Horizontalization refers to the way that phenomena are equalized to unpick any ‘hierarchies of significance’ that might structure its natural attitude (Sobchack, ‘Phenomenology’ 436), while thematization involves imaginative experiments that seek to determine invariant structural features to determine ‘the shape of the phenomenon as it is intended in the experience’ (Address 48). After performing this series of reductions and imaginative variations, the phenomenological method calls for interpretation, to ‘reveal the meaning of the phenomenon as it is lived meaningfully’ (48). As performing the phenomenological reduction allows the critic to bracket prior assumptions about the phenomena under investigation, a phenomenology of film adaptation sets aside any previous theoretical paradigms about adaptation that dictate particular ‘readings,’ such as its fidelity to its source. However, the comparison between textual forms can assist a phenomenological analysis as it offers one of the ‘imaginative variations’ that is required to fully grasp the ‘shape’ of phenomena. Earlier I drew attention to how a model of ‘intertextual dialogism’ describes texts as ‘tissues of anonymous formulae, variations on those formulae, conscious and unconscious quotations, and conflations and inversions of other texts’ (Stam, ‘Beyond’ 64). But rather than considering the ‘anonymous formulae’ that comprise the layers of an adaptation’s ‘intertextual surface,’ a phenomenology of screen adaptation insists on intersubjectivity and the very personal lived-body as ‘meaning and its signification [is] born not abstractly but concretely from the surface contact, the fleshly dialogue’ between body and world, spectator and screen (Sobchack, Address 3). FLESH AND SKIN: IN THE CUT But what does it mean to say that we have ‘surface contact’ with a film? We might be able to turn on a camera, press ‘play’ on a device, and smudge a screen with fingerprints, yet it is less clear how the bodies of film and spectator come together in a tangibly felt way. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological discussion of the ‘flesh’ is helpful here. According to Merleau-Ponty, perception is enacted through ‘the thickness of flesh between the seer and the thing [that] is constitutive for the thing of its visibility as for the seer of his [or her] corporeity; it is not an obstacle between them, it is their means of communication’ (135). Also known as the ‘chiasm,’ the flesh is a metaphysical structure that grounds all perception in a communicative membrane where the perceiving self and the phenomenal world intertwine. Not only does the flesh weave together the perceiver and the perceived, but it also enacts the translation between the senses. Indeed, clear from the term ‘flesh’ itself, the relationship between vision and touch is especially significant. Merleau-Ponty extends the meaning of the word ‘flesh’ beyond the biological tissue of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold together the body. His choice of word tellingly points to how his theory of perception describes how our entire ‘corporeity’ is ‘caught up’ and held in its perception of the world. Rather than a sense that maintains distance from perceiver and perceived, vision is a ‘palpation with the look’ that possesses ‘tactile qualities’ (Merleau-Ponty 134). Phenomenological film theorists such as Sobchack and Jennifer Barker draw on Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the ‘flesh’ to probe how the spectator’s screen experience is ‘fleshed out’ beyond responses to audio-visual phenomena. Sobchack positions the spectator as a ‘cinesthetic subject,’ a term that describes how when we are seated at the cinema we draw on both the inherent synaesthesia of the senses as well as our kinesthetic perception of the orientation, position, and movement of the body as a lived whole (Carnal 67). The spectator, then, ‘both touches and is touched by the screen,’ and is ‘able to commute seeing to touching and back again without a thought’ (71). Following Sobchack’s lead, Barker investigates the palpable—yet ambiguous—relationship between spectator and screen. She claims that when we ‘[watch] a film, we are certainly not in the film, but we are not entirely outside it, either. We exist and move and feel in that space of contact where our surfaces mingle and our musculatures entangle’ (12). Therefore, despite the way we often say we get lost in an engrossing narrative, ‘[we] do not “lose ourselves” in the film, so much as we exist—emerge, really—in the contact between our body and the film’s body,’ a tactile relationship that involves the skin, muscles, and viscera (19). Drawing on phenomenological film theory and the spectator’s ‘fleshed out’ entanglement with a narrative world—enacted through the translation of vision to touch—enriches any discussion of the way that screen adaptations ‘bring to life’ an earlier source. I draw on Jane Campion’s In the Cut (2002), her handling of Susanna Moore’s novel, to probe this possibility. Moore’s erotic thriller—filled with graphic sex and sexual violence—is certainly a good fit for Campion who ‘[crafts] visual stories drawn from genres that are especially attentive to women’s bodies, to their agency, their vulnerability, and to their dispossessing passions… [generating] crises where ethics, vulnerability, sexuality, and violence (or its threat) coalesce’ (McHugh 2). Both novel and film follow a female protagonist that embarks on a dangerous voyage of sexual self-discovery. In the novel she is an unnamed English teacher, but in the film her name is Frannie3 (played by Meg Ryan). Frannie is quite repressed: although she loves words, slang, and poetry, she is not very good about expressing her desires and seems distant from the world and other people. This changes when Frannie watches a woman performing oral sex on a man in a seedy bar. The woman ends up dead, and Frannie becomes attracted to the detective investigating the murder, Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), who she suspects is the man from the basement (and is therefore a likely killer). Convinced that he killed her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Frannie runs into the arms of Malloy’s partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici), who takes her to an isolated lighthouse where he reveals that he is the killer. In the novel’s shocking climax, Frannie narrates her own death as Rodriguez sexually mutilates her, switching from a first-person perspective to third to signal her loss of subjectivity and ‘objectification’ into a corpse. However, in the film Frannie kills Rodriguez with Malloy’s gun and returns to him, the film coming to its conclusion as they embrace. Moore and Campion share many thematic concerns, including the expression of (female) embodiment, the evocation of the sensual in general, and in particular the tension between the visual and tactile dimensions of erotic allure (and the threat of violent pain). Michiko Kakutani notes in her review of the novel that it contains ‘[sensationalized]… highly graphic descriptions of violence and sex, as if she were trying to translate the work of Joe Eszterhas and Paul Verhoeven to the page’ (C15). Kakutani does not mean this as a compliment, baulking at the vulgarity of the body in terms of both its presence in the text as well as its intended effect on the reader’s body. Therefore, it is ironic that she writes that Moore’s ‘strong, tactile prose’ saves In the Cut from being another ‘run-of-the-mill hothouse thriller’ (C15). What Kakutani means here is that language has a palpable force, reflected through both the literary allusion and reflexivity that structures the narrative, as well as Frannie’s professional interest in words, metaphors, poetry, and slang. Written in the first-person, Frannie’s observations and reflections evoke the stream of consciousness literary style that her students think is ‘like writing down your dreams except without punctuation’ (Moore 3). But Kakutani criticizes In the Cut for producing a ‘disembodied creature subject only to perverse desires and whims’ (C15). Perhaps this is the novel’s ultimate irony: although its stream of consciousness narration allows us to constantly see through Frannie’s eyes, and although Moore’s commanding prose is impeccably articulated, we never really get close enough to Frannie to feel her passion or get a handle on her motivations, and she remains dislocated from us until she is but disarticulated remains. Campion, however, brings Frannie’s experience well within the spectator’s grasp, as she is equipped with the full sensory capabilities of the cinema. Noting the affective quality of the film’s cinematography, A. O. Scott describes that when ‘it surveys the grimy streets and cramped apartments of Lower Manhattan, [the camera] trembles as if it were running a fever… jumpy and bleary-eyed’ (n.p.). By using such anthropomorphic language to describe the camera’s ‘look,’ Scott intimates how the camera also expresses subjective experience, one that focalizes (albeit maintaining a bleary-eyed focus) around Frannie’s experience. Edward Branigan applies Genette’s model of literary point of view to the cinema, describing how focalization offers us access into the way in which characters live in their world, involving ‘a character neither speaking (narrating, reporting, communicating) nor acting (focused, focused by), but actually experiencing something through seeing or hearing’ (101). Branigan describes how events can be either externally or internally focalized around a character. External focalization means that we retain some distance from a character, although we largely infer what they are seeing and hearing through the use of eye-line matches that approximate the character’s visual perspective, diegetic sound cues, and so on. Internal focalization ‘is more fully private and subjective’ and is not accessible to other characters in the narrative (Branigan 103). As Branigan describes, internal focalization ‘ranges from simple perceptions (e.g., the point-of-view shot), to impressions (e.g., the out-of-focus point-of-view shot depicting a character who is drunk, dizzy, or drunk), to “deeper thoughts” (e.g., dreams, hallucinations, and memories)’ (103). Campion’s choice to employ a highly subjective style of cinematography is compelling in her adaptation of a novel that uses stream of consciousness narration, for as Branigan describes, focalization is the ‘attempt to represent [the] “consciousness” of’ narrative events (106). Thus, although Frannie is not verbally articulate, and while Ryan’s somnambulant performance rubs some viewers the wrong way,4 the film largely expresses her experience through both internal and external focalization. As Frannie is in the majority of the film’s scenes we are often externally focalized around her point of view, while at other times Frannie’s fantasies and dream sequences provide us specific internal access to her subjective perspective that give us (literal) insight into her psychological motivation and behaviour. Although Branigan’s discussion of focalization is certainly useful, it does not grasp the whole picture in this case, as—except in one extraordinary sequence that blends drunken stupor with nightmare—the fuzzy and blurry layers of the image are not used to convey Frannie’s impoverished vision. Rather, their effect is to provide a more diffuse ‘tactile focalization’ of how she feels in her skin. I call this ‘tactile orientation,’ as although Branigan makes it clear that focalization also includes acoustic cues, ‘focalization’ all too easily privileges visual perspective. ‘Tactile orientation’ is a more holistic term that accounts for both how the spectator can be aligned with tactile phenomena as well as gesturing towards the function of proprioceptive awareness and spatial relationships in character engagement. When Malloy sees that the walls of Frannie’s apartment are wallpapered in quotes and poems she explains to him that she has a ‘passion’ for language. The extreme experience of passion, according to Sobchack, ‘brings subjective being into intimate contact with its brute materiality’ (Carnal 287). Therefore, the way that Frannie’s passion for words is expressed by the film and grasped by the spectator offers a compelling example of the dynamics of tactile orientation in screen adaptation. At several points in the narrative Frannie reads the poetic phrases emblazoned on the walls of subway cars as part of New York City’s ‘Poetry in Motion’ programme. These phrases not only catch her eye but pull her from her experience of the real world. This is adequately described in the novel, for example when reading a poem by García Lorca ‘the word that thrilled me was espesura. I whispered it many times, breaking it into syllables, trying it this way and that, rushing it, slowing it down… Espesura, or thicket. Also a beautiful word, thicket. As in bajo espesura de besos. Under a thicket of kisses’ (Moore 28). This passage provides a good example of the novel’s ‘strong, tactile prose’ (Kakutani C15), for not only does Frannie drift into reverie as she contemplates the poetic phrase, but the words take on tangible and malleable form. Grasping the words she plays with their sensual and temporal dimensions, ‘breaking’ them down, ‘trying it this way and that, rushing it, slowing it down’. However, while the novel describes the effect of words on Frannie, the film enacts the affective experience of these words when she is riding the crowded subway. The shot’s constrained framing emphasizes the crowded car as Frannie’s face is captured in profile in the bottom right of the screen, framed (and partly obscured) by the arm of another commuter. Frannie’s mouth opens and closes in silent speech as she looks off-screen, while the sounds of the rattling carriage fades and are replaced with a smoother and slightly atonal humming. The next shot aligns the spectator with Frannie’s point of view as she reads the poem (Frannie’s imagination is heard in voice-over). Not only is the shot unstable as it jiggles and shakes, but it shifts its focus as well as the words of the poem swim in and out of focus as she reads. When she is out on the subway platform, the poem repeats in Frannie’s imagination as she jots it down. Frannie exits the subway platform in slow motion, her eyes drawn to a woman walking in the opposite direction down the stairs. Cutting to Frannie’s perspective again reveals that the woman is wearing a tank top that is decorated with an abstract face with pursed lips, the word ‘kisses’ scrawled several times over the fabric. We hear the words ‘under a thicket of kisses’ again as the woman walks past the camera, while the atonal humming of the subway car takes on a more melodious prominence. Thus we are offered first-hand knowledge of Frannie’s intense passion for language. As the camera adopts Frannie’s visual perspective, the sequence could be described as using ‘internal focalization’. However, the dynamic and shifting focus exceeds this term as the eye does not physiologically behave in the same manner. Rather, the shot invites tactile orientation as the blurry focus—compounded with the claustrophobic framing—lends a haptic sense of intoxicated dizziness. Further, the repeated murmur of ‘under a thicket of kisses’ seems to act like a magical incantation, slowing down the world around Frannie as she emerges from the subway. Therefore, the ‘Poetry in Motion’ is not only hypnotic and pleasurable for Frannie, but the film invites the spectator to grasp Frannie’s passion by putting poetry into motion. In her analysis of the sequence, Lucy Bolton argues that the film’s cinematography ‘does not simply represent what Frannie is doing, but pauses the narrative to enable us to be privy to what Frannie is thinking and feeling,’ effectively ‘[demanding] that the spectator’s hand, ear and mouth become the eye’ (77, 148). Bolton draws on Luce Irigaray’s feminist philosophy to explain that due to the ‘role of vision in the patriarchal objectification of women’ female erotic experience is more closely associated with touch, necessitating ‘representation… in realms other than the visual’ (150). Therefore, In the Cut’s capacity to evoke what Frannie is ‘feeling’ is not only an aesthetic flourish, but also employs ‘haptic visuality’ as a political strategy to destabilize the sexual hierarchies of ‘visual pleasure’ to craft a more encompassing space for erotic pleasure. As Laura Marks explains, ‘haptic visuality’ is characterized by an ‘intersubjective eroticism… reversing the relation of mastery that characterizes optical viewing’ that structures Laura Mulvey’s conception of voyeuristic spectatorship and scopophilia (183–5). For Mulvey, ‘erotic ways of looking’ rely on separation and clearly demarcated distinctions between the ‘active’ subjects of the look (frequently coded as male within the diegesis, with whom the spectator—via interpellation of the apparatus—identifies) and the ‘passive’ object for the look (the woman, who is displayed in such a manner to emphasize her ‘visual and erotic impact,’ her ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’) (11). While ‘optical visuality’ insists on maintaining distance between the perceiver and the perceived, haptic visuality is a mode of seeing in which the eyes seemingly brush against the surface of the image much like our fingertips do when we reach out and feel the sensuous contours of an object. That is, ‘rather than [plunging] into illusionistic depth’ our eyes skim across the object’s surface ‘not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture. It is more inclined to move than to focus, more inclined to graze than to gaze’ (Marks 162). In doing so, the image is brought ‘close enough that figure and ground commingle, [so that] the viewer relinquishes her own sense of separateness from the image’ (Marks 183). Therefore, rather than an ‘erotic’ engagement with film resting on a ‘sense of separation’ between subject and object of the look, Barker argues that an erotic connection between spectator and screen emerges in the ‘mutual exchange between two bodies who communicate their desire, not only for the other but for themselves, in the act of touching’ (34). Therefore, In the Cut not only offers a ‘re-vision’ of the erotic thriller and the visual politics of voyeurism as Frannie takes pleasure in the erotic spectacle of a man. But further, it might be more appropriate to approach In the Cut as a ‘touching up’ of the genre, as the film’s catalytic sequence of voyeurism collapses the distance between Frannie and the man—and the spectator and the film—by heightening an awareness of tactile sensitivity. Frannie’s voyeurism occurs in a dimly lit and cluttered basement. In long shot, and aligning with Frannie’s point of view, the camera reveals a man sitting in a chair with a woman between his legs, her head moving in his lap. The room is lit only by a red neon light that casts a hellish glow and a dim sickly yellow-green light that spills onto the woman’s head. Noticing Frannie’s interested look, the man grips the woman’s hair and raises it to expose her mouth on his penis, and the camera cuts to an extreme close-up of the woman’s blue fingernails as she performs fellatio. Following this is a series of more extreme close-ups: blue fingernails that scratch the cheap pilling fabric; his fist gripping her hair tightly; his tattooed wrist. Thus, aligned with Frannie’s vision, we share in this act of voyeurism. However, the sequence troubles the clear demarcation between subject and object by reflexively directing us to the contours of our vision. Our eyes grope through the shadows of the basement; further, our eyes press against the textured landscape of the basement, bathed in coloured light, creating a stifling and humid environment. Sound, too, lends a tactile density to the sequence. As the noises of the bar drop away non-diegetic music begins and amplifies as Frannie watches on. It begins as a metallic hollow whooshing—a bit like the hum of stale air being sucked into a dilapidated air conditioning vent—but it begins to take on a throbbing density as stringed instruments slowly grind out bass chords. The effect signals the shift from a mood of fear and danger to one that begins to signal Frannie’s desire (indeed, although in its bass rumbling the score never loses the trace of menace, it is telling that a more fully developed—and more romantic—version plays in future love sequences with Malloy, fusing danger with eroticism). The humidity evoked by the neon glow is also further enhanced through the soundscape. Punctuating the score is a slowly dripping tap that slowly plops in cool wetness that contrasts with the sounds of hot sucking wetness of the woman’s mouth, while her blue fingernails scratch and snag the fabric. In sum, although it is scene of voyeurism, the tactile richness of this sequence implicates our full sensorium. The way Frannie’s vision touched her is given concrete form in a later sequence after Frannie meets Malloy and (mis)identifies him as the man in the basement. The sequence acts as a mirror to the sequence in the basement, reversing Frannie’s voyeuristic pleasure in her look to expressing an exhibitionistic pleasure in being looked at as she masturbates. Frannie lies on her bed, dimly lit in a pool of yellow light, while the camera swims in and out of focus as it crawls down her body to her curling toes. Something appears to catch Frannie’s eye, but, rather than an expected eye-line match, the next shot is instead a projection of Frannie’s inner sight as she imagines being watched by the man in the basement. More clearly defined as Malloy, he leans forward and squints at Frannie. The camera is positioned behind Frannie as she removes her bra, and shoots through the bend in her arm so it looks as if she is cradling his head (the sequence uses a telephoto lens to collapse space between the two bodies). Along with the fantasy of being watched, Frannie fantasizes about the tactile contact between the woman and man in the basement, repeating the extreme close-ups of hands in action: fingernails scratching the fabric and the man’s pulsing wrist as it grips the woman’s hair. After these shots we retreat out of Frannie’s fantasy, and the camera again crawls up and down her body, capturing Frannie’s hand as it grips her leg in orgasm. This sequence (and as I argue, the film more broadly) illustrates Christiane Voss’s suggestion that ‘in its mental and sensorial-affective resonance with the events onscreen’ the spectator’s body ‘“loans” a three-dimensional body to the screen’ to embed the film’s narrative in a ‘somatic space of meaning’ (145). While elsewhere, Elena del Río claims that an ‘inherent affinity or continuity between the human body and the technological artifact’ exists, a relationship that hinges on an ‘affect-driven vision that is corporeally and temporally grounded’ (97). She argues that as sight translates to touch, it is impossible to maintain the distinction between the looker and the looked at. Rather, it is more appropriate to think of each as ‘surfaces in contact, engaged in a constant activity of reciprocal re-alignment and inflection’ (del Río 101). As Frannie takes her pleasure into her own hands and fantasizes about being watched—literally ‘scratching the itch’ caused by her vision—she actively demonstrates the synaesthetic pleasure of sight as it translates to touch. But not only does Frannie translate visual pleasure into tactile stimulation, but this is also expressed to the spectator through the ‘affect-generated layer’ that is the film’s body (del Río 102). Of course, the novel can describe Frannie’s voyeurism and pleasure. Indeed, it does so in quite graphic detail, documenting what Frannie sees and hears in the basement, such as how she could see ‘his cock moving in and out of her mouth, her hand around him, sliding him up and down in time’ and how ‘the sound of her mouth was loud’ (Moore 9). So too can the novel describe her tactile experience. For instance, she says that ‘my hands were shaking’ after her voyeuristic spying, and that when masturbating ‘[my] clitoris swelled under my fingers… My legs stiffened. Inside, I rose and rose, sometimes stopping short, but not without pleasure even in the prolongment (Moore 11, 21). However, film translates and expresses the tactile pleasure of Frannie’s masturbation so that they are made habitable for spectators. As Tarja Laine argues, the spectator’s skin ‘gives shape to our affective engagement with the film [by] “spreading” affect over our entire body’ (96). The warmth of the lighting design and the camera’s cataract vision gives the sequence a fuzzy texture, while the resonant score is palpably felt in the chest as an ache of desire. Combined with the camera’s movement and tight framing that almost caresses Frannie’s body, the sequence indeed evokes a textural layering of bodies in contact: Frannie, the film, and the spectator. A FINAL TOUCH This essay has pointed towards the value of getting back in touch with the lived-body’s experience of screen adaptation. Although intertextual approaches posit texts as ‘tissues of anonymous formulae’ (Stam, ‘Beyond’ 64), embracing a phenomenology of screen adaptation insists on intersubjectivity and the very personal lived-body as grounds for its intelligibility. Attending to the sensual dimensions of a screen adaptation—their look, their sound, how they grasp us and pull us along for the ride—allows the critic to more fully appreciate the adaptation as an artwork. In this essay, I argued that examining the phenomenological structure of In the Cut revealed how the film forms an ‘affect-generated layer’ that diminishes the distance between spectator and screen, heightening a haptic sensitivity and access to the narrative in what I have termed ‘tactile orientation’. Not merely an aesthetic flourish, Campion’s ‘touching up’ of the erotic thriller uses ‘haptic visuality’ as a political strategy. The adaptation is tactically tactile so to speak, serving to disrupt and challenge the genre’s familiar objectification of the body and to carve out a space for the expression of feminine erotic pleasure. But gender politics aside, such a handling of In the Cut’s textures reveals that vision is never abstracted from the body in the film experience, as employing a phenomenological analysis always insists on a rigorous reflection on the body’s own materiality and sense-making capacity. Phenomenology—both as a philosophy and methodology—has been criticized for appearing reductive and universal in its goal to describe and interpret phenomenal experience. As Sobchack explains, the ‘“lived-body” of existential and semiotic phenomenology has been explicitly articulated as “every body” and “any body” (even as it has implicitly assumed a male, heterosexual, and white body)’ (Address 148). Christian Ferencz-Flatz and Julian Hanich term this ‘the problem of incompleteness… because despite their universal aspirations [phenomenological analyses] cannot account for all experiences, marginalizing and excluding female, queer, and other types of viewers’ (49). But as del Río makes clear, a film’s ‘affect-generated layer’ is also “subjectively-inflected… an individuated form of perception and interaction that exceeds the image’s ready-made signifying status’ (102). Thus, although in this essay I have described the phenomenological shape of the film, and analysed how it might be inhabitable for others, it is still my experience that grounds this interpretation. That is, while the film’s fuzzy cinematography, warm lighting, and resonant score might invite but does not guarantee that spectators share in Frannie’s sensual experience. Scott writes that In the Cut presents a ‘fascinating mélange of moods, associations and effects… images and ideas that stick like splinters under your skin’ (n.p.), while Manohla Dargis describes the film as a fusion of ‘hot sex, icy sentiment and warm-running blood… filled with surreal hothouse flourishes’ (n.p.). However, other viewers felt their experience less pleasurable, evident in vernacular responses to the film. On the Internet Movie Database user ‘hconover’ writes that the film is a ‘stuttering, hazy, out-of-focus mess,’ while ‘081454’ suggests that the ‘sheer stupidity of the characters and the ugly way they were portrayed made my skin crawl. Somehow I felt the whole mess could be cleared up by an encounter with Prozac or the purchase of 2 or 3 lamps from Ikea’. I gesture to these professional and vernacular reviews not to highlight a correct interpretation of the film, or to suggest that the film has a complexity that has gone ‘over the heads’ of unsophisticated film viewers. But what this selection of both positive and negative reviews indicates, however, is the specific way that the spectator’s body—even if seemingly unresponsive to the film—is still implicated as an important site of meaning regardless. Far from suggesting that In the Cut has gone ‘over their heads,’ these reviews colourfully and evocatively articulate how the film has gone through their bodies. As Ferencz-Flatz and Hanich make clear, ‘film phenomenology only makes sense if we do not assume that everyone makes entirely idiosyncratic experiences, but that there are structures of experience that are shared, at least on some level of generality (and this level of generality might then be contested)’ (50). Therefore, this essay responds to Leitch’s call for ‘essays that… raise more interesting questions, questions that are more productive of further, still more probing questions’ (‘Adaptation’ 68), for it has only begun to scratch the surface of an embodied account of screen adaptation. However, it is my hope that film phenomenology provides the language for a ‘fleshly dialogue’ between body and world, spectator and screen, and the dynamics of adaptation. Footnotes 1 Neuro-cinematics is a strain of film studies that is informed by Vittorio Gallese’s research into mirror neurons and what he terms ‘embodied simulation’ (3–7). Arthur Shimamura’s edited collection, Psychocinematics: Exploring Cognition at the Movies, provides a range of perspectives that attend to spectators’ neural activity. 2 However, the cinematic experience is rarely completely silent, and nor is the spectator ever completely motionless. Indeed, the physically and audibly reactive spectator forms an important role in some contexts. Julian Hanich, for example, explores the pleasurable dimensions of the cinema as a communal experience (246–8). The pleasure of horror and cult cinema derives from how they are experienced as communal events with emotions—disgust, fear, and relief—rippling through the crowd like waves. 3 I refer to both novel and film characters as ‘Frannie’ for ease. 4 Roger Ebert writes in his review that Frannie droops around as if she is on ‘hog tranquilizers’ (n.p.), but I do not agree with his dismissal of Ryan’s performance. Not only does Ryan convey her character’s emotional reclusiveness through a series of facial expressions, gestures, and postures, but her restrained performance invites reflection on her previous roles. Indeed, Campion was shrewd in casting Ryan, as In the Cut ‘disarticulates’ fantasies of romance. Known for her leading roles in a string of romantic comedies— such as Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998)—Ryan is associated with an extroverted exuberance. Chirpy and blonde, these characters embodied an indefatigable optimism of love and romance, a sentiment that is absent here. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am grateful to Jane Stadler, Lisa Bode, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on this essay. REFERENCES Andrew , Dudley . “ Adapting Cinema to History: A Revolution in the Making .” A Companion to Literature and Film . Eds. Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo . Malden : Blackwell , 2004 : 189 – 204 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS ——. 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Adaptation – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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