Breasts - A Documentary (1996) is a terrific 50-minute film for both men and women, consisting of mostly disrobed women of all shapes, sizes and ages talking about their breasts. Men will be drawn into the "inside look" nature of the program which is highly educational yet very entertaining, while women will be endlessly fascinated by both shared experiences and the widely varied attitudes woman have about their breasts.
The straightforward show is neatly divided into sections which discuss everything from puberty to the inevitable effects of age and gravity, from breast-feeding to breasts as objects of desire. Interspersed throughout is intriguing and often very funny archive footage: risque cartoons from the silent era, sex education films from the 1950s, bra commercials from the '60s - there's even a trailer for Lolita (1962).
The 22 women (and their 41 breasts) range in age from six to 84 with most disarmingly frank talking about matters as trivial as the nicknames they and their spouses give the woman's breasts, to more serious matters such as feelings of inadequacy because they believe their breasts to be too small (or, sometimes, too big). Two mother-daughter pairs are especially interesting talking about generational differences, and both sets are enthusiastic and perceptive.
The film is mostly great fun, but it also sensitively addresses the issue of silicone implants. Made soon after the Dow / silicone implant scandal, looking back at Breasts ten years after it was made it's interesting how the film has become a kind of record of the fear many women were experiencing at the time, walking around with these potential time bombs. The DVD cries out for updates here - what happened to the women who got these implants? Were they removed? Did their health improve or get worse?
Near the end, the film also addresses breast cancer and mastectomies, and the dialogue is riveting and informative. For this sequence alone Breasts is a must-see.
Video & Audio
Originally made for cable television, Breasts - A Documentary is presented in its original full frame format. Unfortunately, the image is, inexplicably, quite bad, looking like an especially bad PAL transfer with harsh horizontal lines breaking up the image that it's like viewing it through pebbled glass. Conversely, the stereo soundtrack is just great, with much separation and clarity accorded to the show's great soundtrack by John M. Davis, Ananda and Rehana Ellis. The program has no alternate audio or subtitle options.
Supplements include about 27 minutes of Deleted Scenes which are nearly as entertaining as the footage that made the final cut.
An above average Interview with Filmmakers Meema Spadola and Thom Powers runs 10 minutes. Original Music from Breasts is a welcome CD-style extra containing the entire soundtrack, while Filmmaker Bios offers brief text about Spadola and Powers.
During the interview, Spadola aptly describes the project as "stealth feminism," a film whose title attracted men expecting something sexy whose initial disappointment quickly gave way to rapt attention about a subject they knew nothing about. Women, meanwhile, will be amused and perhaps find comfort in these women's stories. Only the truly disappointing transfer stops this short of being Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.