May 032012

Isabella Rossellini’s “Noah’s Ark” begins with her asking “How did Noah do it? How did he manage to organize all animals into couples?” The Bible then appears like a children’s pop up book, heralding a campy scientific quest to understand this conflict between the multifaceted forms of copulation in nature and the limiting way Noah – and we perhaps by human extension – might see it through our blinding goggles.

“Seduce Me” continues the work Rossellini did with “Green Porno,” her three season web series produced with The Sundance Channel. Each of the original under-two-minute shorts explores the sexual or mating habits of various creatures. Rossellini spends development time researching the scientific basis of the work and in the later Green Porno films even collaborated with Argentinian scientist Claudio Campagna.

“Noah’s Ark” takes this exploration of creature sexuality a step further by focusing on the tension between the biblical narrative of Noah’s attempt to collect animals two by two and the biological reality of several animals in the world that do not submit to the one-male-one-female logic of Noah’s collection.

This conflict first illustrates how our ideas of sexuality anthropomorphize other creatures, assuming they must pair male and female for procreation the way humans do, a narcissistic turn where we look to the world of animals expecting to find our more heteronormative selves or to differentiate ourselves from animals. Here we dream up what we think is “natural” or what is “civilized.” Even those of us who might find in nature the reassuring example of black swans are playing the same narcissistic game. What does it mean that we seek ourselves in nature? What does it mean when we don’t find ourselves?

In the case of Rossellini’s work, what we have is a rupture, a representation of all we might choose not to see because it doesn’t reflect us back. How can we fathom sexual identity, as it is with the snails, as something decided by where you are in the pile of creatures reproducing? Or maybe our imagination is just limited for lack of effort or experimentation?

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Rossellini is candid about her reasons for telling these stories this way: “I think that if you know how incredibly mysterious and varied and eccentric and strange and fascinating nature is, you hopefully will take care of it. I mean, I hope. I don’t know how to dictate that. But I try to convey my emotion when I see animals, which is that somehow animals strike me as funny. And then also infinitely mysterious and scandalous at times.”

All of the “Green Porno” and “Seduce Me” films use a cartoony, campy paper aesthetic for the creatures, the costumes and the sets. This aesthetic and Rossellini’s willingness to cross dress as various creatures in copulation playfully moves us past our limited perspective on sexuality and into what is hidden or unknown about the animal kingdom’s sexual habits. She de-naturalizes human sexuality. In the face of the many varied ways creatures copulate, the heteronormative missionary position looks boring, a tad unimaginative, and maybe even unnatural. Through Rossellini’s imagination we are invited to laugh at these limitations. A laughter, perhaps, tinged with regret that we don’t have the dating options of the hermaphroditic earthworm, especially one as fetching as Isabella Rossellini.

— R. W. Gray

  4 Responses to “Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Isabella Rossellini’s “Seduce Me: Noah’s Ark,” Introduced by R. W. Gray”

  1. Cute, Rob. I particularly like the lesbian lizards. This reminds me of an animal behaviourist friend of mine who once told me about slug sex (squirming balls of multiple participants, each has one end that’s male and one end that’s female, with individuals attaching themselves blindly and indiscriminately to someone else’s appropriate receptor — in the passing of years, I may have gotten this mixed up, but the idea of balls of large numbers of mating slugs has stuck with me, possibly to my detriment).

    Thank goodness human sex is so simple, right? 🙂


  2. Interest post! I love what Rossellini says about animals being funny, mysterious, scandalous – and, so, worthy of affection. Glad to see the “Seduce Me” video posted, since following the link to Sundance gets a “No longer available” message.

  3. Interesting post, that is.

  4. This is fascinating, Rob! I love the pop-up book idea. Less creepy than clay-mation. Thanks for your thoughtful discussion of Rossellini’s film!

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