Swimming in Your Skin Again (dir. Terrence Nance, 2015) begins with a flurry of isms––a disclaimer that begins and ends as such: “This film is not promotional, representative, or reflective of any existing religious or cultural practice including, but not limited to, Santéria, Candomblé, Vodou, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahá’í, the Church of Bey, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Pastafarianism, Judaism, Calvinism, capitalism…This film is sound and images juxtaposed. And means nothing.” As the narration speeds ahead, a black and white animations and photographs flash by, illustrating the monologue. Sketch-like, the drawings are simple but offer a dynamism characteristic of much of Nance’s work. Under Nance’s artistic vision, simple lines mutate into endless avenues of expression, making whimsical cinema that explores nature, family, love, spirituality, and Black selfhood.

Terrence Nance’s inclination towards music––to which he credits his father as being a ‘jazzhead’––shapes many of his short films, which often experiment with movement and sound. In Swimming in Your Skin, a woman dressed in white dances in a forest of dense shrubbery. Her movements are made audible with creaking noises, as if her limbs were moving branches, they groan like breaking bark. Legs planted into the dirt, suggesting almost that they are deeply rooted in the earth, her moments are narrated by another movement:

“Anyway, the more I sat in the same place and ate the food the ground gave me, the more I knew staying means listening and hearing and talking and sharing and knowing of something. But this, alas, also the less I move, the less I knew because moving means not knowing, and stasis is the key to ignorance.”

The nature-heavy soundscape, filled with the buzz of insects and the chirping of birds, is replaced by mechanically produced noises; transforming into an electronic song, the dancer’s movements adapt to match.

The same lyricism (and celebration of movement-based work) runs through Nance’s 2015 You and I and You, a short dance film set to music by psychedelic rock band The Dig. Nance says of this piece: “The songs are playing at transcendence and simplicity and unseen forces…I think that those things worked their way from the music to my subconscious, and then into the film.” The spontaneity to which Nance hits at translates into a stream of consciousness structured seven minutes, which seem to evolve continually and never pause for clarity. Using rapid dolly zooms and fade transitions, the camera tracks the film’s actors ceaselessly as they travel through different spaces and times. Nance’s whimsy presents itself in surreal, exploring elements of the spiritual––or the magic––in costumes and computer generated images.

Univitellin, Nance’s 2016 short, is more narrative driven than Swimming in Your Skin Again or You and I and You. The film takes place in Marseille, France, and tells the story of two star-crossed lovers. They meet, fall in love, and then tragedy ensues. Univitellin doesn’t experiment with music or dance, but Tance’s knack for the surreal appears in equal measures to his other shorts. Full of self-reflexivity, the film captures an heart-wrenching tale while making cinematic commentary. The narrator directly addresses the audience: “Watcher of the film.” The next lines muse on the ways we consume film––how we relate to the images in front of us: “Assume that he becomes quickly enamored with this face…As you are now. Conflate the ways in which he could cajole reciprocity from her.”

*Swimming in Your Skin Again, You and I and You, and Unvitellin are all available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Sources/Further Readings

“The Dig: You and I and You.” Nowness, 2015, https://www.nowness.com/story/terence-nance-the-dig-you-and-i-and-you. Accessed 3 December 2020.

Ugwu, Reggie. “Is America Ready for the Mind of Terence Nance?” The New York Times, 26 July 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/arts/television/terence-nance-random-acts-of-flyness-hbo.html.