Tag Archives: Charles Gatwood

Bizarre Rituals

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-Bizarre Rituals VHS packaging. Cover Photo © Mark I. Chester

I’ve been sitting on this post for weeks; every now and then I’d go into my drafts queue and tinker with it a little bit here and there, adding new photos or blurbs from suspension practitioners that were influenced by the film but never quite finished it up. Earlier this morning, iconic photographer, anthropologist and counterculture icon Charles Gatewood- the subject of the film- passed away. Dances has taken on a life of it’s own in the suspension community but ultimately is a documentary on Gatewood’s photography and is a great snapshot of one of the most important photoanthopologists of our time. We’ve screened it several times at the Overground Cinema in Philadelphia, with each screening converting a new fan. Rest in Peace, Charles- and thank you.

Charles Gatewood, November 8th 1942-April 28th 2016.


Canadian speculative science fiction author William Gibson first introduced me to the term ‘Nodal Points’ in his 1996 novel IDORU; the book’s protagonist Colin Laney sifts through vast amounts of data looking for points of particular relevance 1 and since I’ve always wanted to be a protagonist in a cyberpunk novel I tend to use the term quite often here on SD when talking about particularly influential moments in body modification history.

For the hook suspension community, the 1985 release of Dan and Mark Jury’s Dances Sacred and Profane was one such point. A documentary on photoanthropologist Charles Gatewood, who’s Forbidden Photographs would go on to help define the Modern Primitives era of the late 1980s/early 1990s body modification scene, DS&P has gained a cult following thanks to it’s admittedly brief footage of Fakir Musafar and Jim Ward performing their interpretation of a Sun Dance ritual and Fakir’s chest suspension from a cottonwood tree.

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Fakir Musafar ©Charles Gatewood

Thirty years after it’s initial release, Dances, which was retitled Bizarre Rituals by Gorgon Video 2 in 1985 when it was release on home video, has become a classic, influencing the pioneers of the modern hook suspension revival.

I saw Dances Sacred and Profane for the first time after I had already been into suspension for some years; somebody shared a link to it online, after the second Dallas SusCon I attended in 2010. After watching it I gained a different perspective, and appreciation for not just the history of modification, but also body suspension as ritual. I suddenly felt a certain reverence for suspension, and wanted to revisit its history with this new point of view. I have always been drawn more to the artistic and technical aspects of the form, and am heavily driven by the urban roots by which I was introduced to it. With Gatewood’s coverage of all the intersecting scenes, and the climactic, crazy, deep tissue chest suspension at the end, I had the realization that ritual and art were co-dependent, and that understanding suspension’s place in other environments would be the only logical way to make progress towards something unique with this medium. I guess nobody had ever explained suspension to me in that context before. It was either science and art, as with Stelarc’s body of work; ritualistic, as with Fakir’s approach; or purely recreational, which defines the majority of the modern state of body suspension. After DSP, the consideration was there that all of these things were somewhat co-dependent, and make for a more wholesome experience. In short, DSP was the trigger for my fascination with just how far we can go with our minds and bodies, with suspension as the carrier. It made me approach suspension with more reverence, respect, and patience. I would not want to insult those that came before us. – Orb Ism, Anchors Aweigh

I was captivated by the Kavadi. As much as I love suspension, bearing Kavadi holds a special place / appeal for me. The film and Fakir where a huge inspiration for me building my 1st Kavadi around 1995- Xeon, TSD

“I was captivated by the Kavadi. As much as I love suspension, bearing Kavadi holds a special place / appeal for me. The film and Fakir where a huge inspiration for me building my 1st Kavadi around 1995”Xeon, TSD Photo © Mark I Chester.

I started my piercing apprenticeship in the spring of 1994 and soon after read Modern Primitives, which led me to Dances Sacred and Profane. To put it lightly, I was overwhelmingly intrigued. But being from a smaller city in the midwest, where simply having a few facial piercings was enough to get you publicly ridiculed, I remember thinking that would probably be something I only ever got to read about. But the imagery and the ritual and the way the flesh looked being stretched and used to lift the human body were things that stayed with me. Fast forward to 2004 and I finally got my chance to swing from hooks. There was no ritual, no tree, no epic scenery, just me and some friends and some hooks. It was at that point that intrigue turned into a drving passion, to not only do it again, but to share it with others. In 2014 this all culminated with me getting to work with Fakir at a performance during Dallas SusCon 2014. Suspension has been nothing short of life-changing for me. Being a part of the suspension community has made me the man I am today. And I owe it all to seeing this amazing film- Mike Coons, HOOKED

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– 2004 Dances Sacred and Profane DVD main menu featuring Fakir/Kavadi photo by Mark I Chester.

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In 2004 the film was released on DVD by the Jury Brothers under the title Dances, Sacred and Profane Redux. This new digital version included footage of Fakir and Mark Jury reconnecting ten years after the completion of the film.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, visit Fakir Musafar’s site for more information: http://www.fakir.org/store/index.html

 

Notes:

  1. A nodal point is also a photographic term: noun, Optics. 1. either of two points on the axis of a lens or other optical system, determined by extending an incident oblique ray and the corresponding refracted ray to the axis for the pair of rays that are parallel outside the optical system. Also called node.- Source Dictionary.com
  2. Gorgon Video is a film production and distribution company focusing on the subgenre of extreme horror and “dark documentaries” based in the United States and Spain. The company is best known for the film Devil Doll (1964) and the Faces of Death series.- Source: Wikipedia.