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Focus on Ability Blog
Last post, I mentioned the New Zealand film Silence, one of the 2016 school entrant winners. It's an excellent piece of purist cinema that has a lot going on in its 5 minutes, so let's take a closer look at it. Film-maker Richard Townsend tells the story of a young deaf man played by Jack Sutton and the film is notable for its use (and almost total absence) of sound.
Now, I don't know if Richard Townsend has read legendary French director Robert Bresson's 'Notes On The Cinematographer' (but all film-makers should at some point). It's a collection of short maxims illustrating Bresson's minimalist film-making philosophies and one of them is, 'If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear.'
Silence indeed gives 'almost nothing' to the ear and it's the 'almost' that is quite brilliant. For most of the film, we are immersed in Jack's silent world, learning about him through a series of finely crafted visuals - woken from sleep by a flashing light 'alarm', negotiating silent streams of traffic on his way to school, listing his puny savings for a cochlear implant. (I don't understand sign language but at one point the visual storytelling is so clear, it is as though I can. A classmate signs 'What are you doing?' Jack responds, 'You're being nosey. Butt out.') Without a scrap of dialogue, we understand that Jack's special talent is in art and, through his art, he is able to experience the world in a way that is rich enough for him, at the end, to ditch the idea of the cochlear.
There are just three short moments when the film uses sound and each time the intent is so precise it is almost surgical. The first is the opening of the film, as Jack stands watching the sun set into the sea. A fanfare of synth organ builds to a climax, combining with the super-saturated colours of the sky in a scene that reminded me of that classic apeman fanfare in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fanfare returns at the end of the story, when we see Jack's glorious painting of the sunset - with a similar awing impact. At the centre of the film is a stunning, emotionally transformative moment when, after watching a guitarist play on the school steps, Jack approaches and places his hand on the body of the instrument. With he and the musician silhouetted against the sky, the sound of the guitar slowly bleeds in as Jack 'feels' the music, building from a muffled throb to a full spectrum of sound. It's a superb bit of film craft and a worthy high point in a film full of cinematic skill.
To watch 'Silence' please copy and paste this link
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