About a hundred years ago, when I was a teenager, my obsession with Philip Brophy’s underrated Body Melt (1993) began. At the video store, they had a rental deal – “rent ten videos for five bucks” or something – and Body Melt was tossed in to make up numbers. Who would’ve thought I’d luck out so damned good? Like most movie geeks, when I become obsessed with a film, I must track down everything else by the film’s director. It should have been easy with Brophy, considering he’s only directed one other almost-feature-length film – 1988’s Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat. But with only a limited Australian video release, it has taken me a long time to track down. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m even more upset that Philip Brophy’s directorial filmography stopped at Body Melt. The man is truly incredible behind the camera.


Australia, 1988, Philip Brophy

Almost entirely free from dialogue, Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat follows the repetitive life of an office worker (Phillip Dean) credited only as “The Man”. Our listless hero goes through the daily motions – he wakes up, brushes his teeth, goes to work, types on his computer, eats, shits, takes a colleague (Jean Kittson – yes, that Jean Kittson) out to dinner and falls asleep in front of the television. Sometimes, he vomits or masturbates. Brophy breaks the film into four sections – salt, saliva, sperm and sweat. Each section depicts the body as a machine of moisture as it consumes and spits out wetness. Throughout the film, we see the man’s computer screen which fills with text relating to the human body – most tellingly we have the repeated message: “Ashes to acid; dust to pus. One way or another, everything gets wet. Salt, saliva, sperm and sweat.”

The leading man expelling saliva

TV’s Jean Kittson

Much of this film is spent on the toilet

Within a short running time of around fifty minutes, Brophy achieves a lot. Stylistically, Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat occasionally reminded me of Jan Švankmajer – especially in scenes involving food – but the comparison is mostly superficial. Brophy is a unique filmmaker, and the technique I witnessed in Body Melt is very much apparent here. The camerawork is a constant assault of hideous close ups and intense point of view shots. The lighting is at times stark, other times tinted with blue – and always carefully tailored to the scene. Brophy has an uncanny ability to mix art and filth, and while I’d be hard-pressed to label it as an exploitation film, Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat can be stomach churning. The gross-out moments – of which there are many – are executed with the utmost creativity. Whether it be a shot of a turd slowly entering a toilet bowl or an extreme close-up of a sugar cube being crushed between a woman’s teeth, Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat is relentlessly horrifying. And very funny.

The birth of a turd

An awkward game of Scrabble with the girlfriend’s kids

Quality television programming in Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat

Despite having limited dialogue (it should be said, the dialogue we do get to hear is hysterical with muttered lines like “eat that, fuckbreath”, “hey dickbrain” and, my favourite, “praise be the sprog of fucking Jesus”), the sound is perhaps more important than the visuals. Brophy bombards the speakers with sounds of chewing, gurgling and dripping – the audio is extremely wet. Without the sound, scenes would most definitely lose much of their impact. The exaggerated squelches as a double-ended dildo is gripped, the infuriating white noise of demented television programs and the gentle sound of dual-wanking in the men’s room – everything helps in forming Brophy’s noxious universe. The electronic score – also composed by Brophy – is a work of art in itself; warping and warbling in perfect tune to the visions onscreen. (I would love to get my hands on a copy of the score.) Rarely do I watch a film where the vision and sound work in such perfect harmony from start to finish – both could be separated and still function, but together they are wonderful. Just watch this toilet-daydream sequence for an example:

The monotony of our lead’s life aside, Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat doesn’t seem to a damning vision of humanity, rather it shows us for what we really are. Squelching, pissing, shitting, eating, ejaculating bodies. Bodies that “couldn’t care less about being fit and healthy”, their only desire is to move. The truths of Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat about the world – “the world sprays you, drowns you, boils you, swallows you and spits you out” – can be unsettling, but also a reminder that perhaps we should tone down our arrogance as humans. After all, we are just walking and defecating moisture machines.