Director: Suzan Pitt
Year: 1979
Time: 18 mins
Richard Teitelbaum
Steve Lacy
Takehisa Kosugi
George Lewis
Steve Potts
Eye of Sound: Having been presented for more than two years just before Lynch's Eraserhead is no small honour, but in the case of this masterpiece it would be fair to ask whose honour it was anyway. There would be much to say about the many intersections of the works of Suzan Pitt and David Lynch, but it may be enough to state that, despite the growing trivialisation of the surrealist badge, very few other American filmmakers have been so deeply imbued with that vital nexus between formal experimentation and the exploration of the obscure forces that lurk behind human psyche and praxis. Defying analytical efforts since the 80s, Asparagus, arguably Pitt's finest work, is a symbolic reflection on issues of female sexuality, art and identity constructs. And that's probably how far one can go: the visual narrative is as lavish and vibrant as elusive and hermetic, and Pitt's claim that Asparagus is not designed to be reflected upon but to be felt seems reasonable enough in face of the immense interpretive difficulties raised by the struggle between its unstoppable flow of onirical but culturally familiar imagery and our equally untamed desire for exegetical decomposition. A woman, locked in an over-stuffed house that increasingly resembles her self, opens its red curtains to gaze at the outside world. This, perhaps, is not really an external world, not only because this oversized "exterior" reality is replicated, at various points, in the inner/domestic realm, but also because Asparagus, like an animated Klein bottle, constantly juggles with, and refuses, distinctions between within and without. Grotesque floral shapes that seem to border on the female carnal soon give way to openly phallic vegetable forms - the eponymous asparaguses - which are gently caressed by a giant creature whose face we are not allowed to see, but which we may suspect to belong to the woman who is watching it (and, indeed, the same asparaguses that are now caressed - and sucked later - are shown at the opening sequence being defecated by the same "character"). When this caressing hand disappears, we are sent back into the house to witness a more explicit illustration of the imbrication of reality levels that seems to traverse the entire Asparagus province: the woman closely watches a replica of the house where she is seen closely watching a replica of the house, and so on. Deep inside this final replica, on the farthest level of this continuous nesting of frames, we finally find a room where several masks (personas?) are kept, as if this is a costume room in a theatre backstage. The woman chooses one of these and, for the first time, although through the protection of a mask, we are shown "her face"; as "fake" as it may be, this is the closer she'll ever be to having one. After packing her inner, domestic and mildly eroticised world in a bag, as if these were props for a show, the woman finally ventures on the "outside", her identity defined - rather than protected - by the female mask she chose. This outer world is, again, populated by images of sexual consumption, phalluses being given the same erotic significance as hands. But hers is not a goalless rambling; she aims straight at a Theatre where we are promised "optical illusions", "feats of activity" and "dreams of art". The woman goes backsatge, behind these illusions, and she's obviously at home. So much so that she feels free to release her inner world on stage: the asparagus-couch she has fondled before, the omnipresent edenic serpent we first saw encircling her naked leg and many other objects that seem designed to marvel the eye as much as to capture islands of memory. After exposing her innner universe, the artist leaves her theater and finally removes her mask: she is faceless, nothing but as blank surface. Her memories and existential fragments now float in the air, apparently free to roam. Back in the domestic realm, to remove the mask is explicitly equated with undressing: she can now finally open the window that was separating her from the phallic shapes that lay "outside", those manifold asparaguses that required all that spectacle of release to become reachable, graspable, edible. A reflective edifice of immensely powerful symbolic correspondences, Asparagus has been strangely portrayed as a milestone in feminist filmmaking, as if any enquiry by a female artist into the realm of the erotic must be aligned with something other than the personal - an onus which males are usually spared. The carnal mysteries paraded here seem, however, to owe many of its concerns, techniques and vocabulary to psychoanalysis, a field which has been commonly accused of being built upon male chauvinism. As baffling as a mythical narrative and elusive as a rescued dreamscape, Asparagus remains, in all its beauty, density and glory, utterly unreachable, eliciting new readings at every viewing.


  1. There's been a problem with the Ubu server for this file, so in the meantime, please bear with Sendspace

  2. a superb review of a forever favourite. recently posted the vimeo transfer of this film hither & lovingly linked you in the process. thanks for making this available for keepsies

  3. thank you for your kind words. it took me a long time to write those few lines and, honestly, I'm not too happy with them... it's a very difficult piece to write about, and the fact that this preliminary approach somehow rang a bell on your side is rewarding.
    cheers and stay tuned

  4. I love your writing about this film. I saw this film in a class and now I'm doing a short paper on it. After watching it twice, I really had no clear understanding about what was going on, I just knew (or felt) that I really liked it. But reading your post about it really brings some clarification for me and for that, I thank you very much.