Aesthetic Silence

In his book Audiovision Michel Chion describes a scene in a war film in which a child is run over by a tank - is it a tank? Or even a war film? It doesn't matter. what matters is the sound. He describes how the footage of this child being run over is accompanied by a terrible sound effect, added in post-production which gives the impression to the viewer of the childs head bursting under the weight of the vehicle. The reality is that the sound it made by a watermelon being squashed. But the result, when combined witht the film is intensely emotive, sensorial, visceral. Viewers recoil from the scene, disgusted by what they see/hear. Curiosly, when the sound is removed, the film itself has none of this upcloseness created by the sound effect. the action is remote, intellectual, visual. The viewer understands what has happened, but is not brought so close to the physical, sickening reality of what they are witnessing.

In this example, used by Chinon to point to the fact that the reality of film is created as much through the audio as the visual, I begin to see a more profound division between these two aspects of film. The 'reality' of which Chinon writes is not what concerns me exactly, but certainly this combination of sound and vision impacts on the way any film is experienced. The sound brings the action close-to, makes the image thick and visceral; physically affecting to the viewer. Sound removed, the moving image has a markedly different quality. Soundless film (rather than 'silent film'), it seems to me, is characterised by a strange detachment, or distancing of the viewer from the relaity of the action. The image flattens and the visual itself becomes the focus. No longer a transparent, unnoticed surface which opens like a window onto the action which it depicts. The experience for the viewer is one of the visual surface. An aethetic view rather than an experiential one. And with this separation I would like to suggest comes a different type of interpretation - intellectual rather than emotive or sensorial.

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