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The feature length directorial debuts of co-directors Jason Gary and Greg Jacobson is Modify, a fascinating and incredibly explicit look into the world of extreme body modification.
Comprised almost entirely of interviews and footage of modifications and performance art pieces, the film concentrates as much on the individuals' motives for having these changes made to their bodies as much as it does on the 'freak show' aspect of their outside appearances. We learn through on camera interviews why these people have made these choices - some have done it for religious reasons, some for sexual purposes, some for vanity, and others simply because they thought it would look cool. The reasons are as varied as the modifications themselves, of which we are shown many. Those with a weak stomach might find themselves unsettled by footage of a man piercing his penis or of a woman having her nipples pierced but this footage goes a long way towards showing how determined these people are by showing us how much they have to go through in order for these changes to take place. While more rigid folks might think these people foolish, the interviews prove that most of them are extremely articulate, quite bright, and in full control of their faculties - they just have a different way of expressing themselves and a different idea of what outward beauty is than the rest of us. And if that doesn't do it for you, you can just zone out on the very real footage of tattoos, piercings, scarifications and stretchings shown on camera.
The documentary covers all manner of modifications as well. From more common and socially acceptable modifications such as tattoos and piercings to far more extreme examples such as genital flaying and implants under the skin of the forehead (in order to create horns), there are as many ways shown here as there are subjects. Gender modification is covered by way of an interview with a Las Vegas drag queen who makes his living as a Joan Rivers impersonator, and a dentist explains to us how he gave a man who wanted to become more like a tiger some actual fangs. We learn how implants have been used to place plastic pieces under the skin to create different effects on the human form and we see first hand how piercings and studs are placed under flesh in order to protrude outward to create the illusion of spines or spikes. We see men and women hung and swung from hooks that come up through the skin in their backs (apparently one well placed hook can hold up to three hundred pounds), an act which one participant likens to walking on hot coals.
The documentary is stylishly shot with the interviewees either appearing in some slick, shadowy environments or in the comforts of their homes and offices. The cinematography does a good job of highlighting and accenting the various modifications that have the participants have subjected themselves to and the filmmaker's are intelligent enough to ask each of the people on camera what they see as body modification as opposed to mutilation - some of the answers are quite interesting. The film treats those who consent to appear on camera and talk about such a personal matter with a great deal of respect and while visually it obviously has to point out and showcase the modifications themselves, it doesn't poke fun or ridicule anyone, instead it allows the subjects to explain their decision in their own words. Look for appearances from a few semi-celebrities including the infamous Lizard Man (who has had his entire body tattooed to make it appear that he has scales) and the lovely Masumi Max (pin up queen and actress) appearing alongside various piercers, artists and assorted living canvas types.The DVD
While this project appears to have been shot on digital video (presented here in 1.33.1 fullframe), the quality of the image is reasonably good. Some of the performance art clips are a bit murky as they were shot under stage lights in clubs but aside from that, the picture is solid. Color reproduction is decent and although some scenes are intentionally darker than others, the disc is encoded properly and it handles the constant barrage of blacks and shadows easily enough. Some mild compression artifacts can be found in a couple of scenes but they don't detract from the experience and there are no problems with heavy edge enhancement nor is there an abundance of aliasing.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix on the DVD is primarily dialogue based but it does feature a fair bit of eclectic background music as well. The various interviewees are always clear and easy to understand and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion. Levels are balanced well and the music has a nice bit of punch to it in the lower end that nicely accents a couple of more intense moments.Extras:
Well aside from some animated menus and chapter selection, we get a Photo Gallery (2:02) set to music which shows off some of the body art and modifications focused on in the picture, a Trailer (1:10) for the feature, a video for the song 'Porn' by the band tack (4:41) which uses some of the subjects seen in the documentary, and an EPK (6:14) which provides synopsis of the film alongside some stills, production credits, bios for some of the interviewees and musical credits. None of this material is particularly substantial but it's better than nothing.Final Thoughts:
Modify does an excellent job of allowing those who have had serious modifications done to their bodies explain why they've chosen to do this. That, alongside some particularly impressive and disturbingly graphic footage, makes the film quite compelling. Extras are slim though the presentation is fairly solid. Recommended for those with an interest in the subject matter or with an interest in unusual human behavior or counter-culture.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.