Poto and Cabengo (1979)
written and directed by JEAN-PIERRE GORIN
Poto and Cabengo (1979) is a documentary essay about American twins GRACE and VIRGINIA KENNEDY (Poto and Cabengo were the names they called each other) who invented a language of their own that they used until the age of eight. Shot in San Diego in 1979, in 16mm color negative by French filmmaker JEAN-PIERRE GORIN, the film attempts to capture the moment before they lost their language, before they were forced to adapt to English.
The film is about an unstructured discourse—the language of the twins—surrounded by structured discourses—the discourse of the family, the discourse of the media, the discourse of therapy, the discourse of documentary filmmaking. There are as well other structured discourses at work in the film: the discourses of science, capitalism, and education. They are each a method of using words that presumes a type of authority. Clearly the twins’ unstructured discourse challenges discursive authority: it erupts as a subversive act which has not been authorized by any social or ideological establishment. In a sense its special threat is that its “unauthorized” nature relativizes the arbitrary nature of those institutionalized discourses. The singsong of the twins reveals the shaky grounds of institutional power. It relativizes discursive authority from the family to the scientific community in their competitive and ineffectual attempts to “define” the twins who spontaneously flit about the screen exceeding any definition. In a fashion, I wanted the viewers to feel the twins made more “sense” than anybody around them. Or at least to perceive that the twins’ way to handle language offered a marker for the way people around them used language and were used by it, and were spoken through it. – JEAN PIERRE GORIN in conversation with LYNNE TILIMAN for Bomb Magazine
Poto and Cabengo (1979) is the first part of a trilogy devoted to language by JEAN-PIERRE GORIN. That film was followed by Routines Pleasure (1986) and Crazy Life (1992). Poto and Cabengo was also the starting point of the group exhibition Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças that took place this summer at Crac Alsace in Altkirch.