Readings #1 – Sight and Hearing

“What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear.’

I think this happens a lot in film, tv and theatre. It is definitely an idea that I heard while studying as an actor, can’t remember exactly where but I think it was in reference to postmodernism and the work of directors like Anne Bogart, Robert Wilson or Romeo Castellucci. Essentially, by duplicating vision and sound, the work is reduced to a radio play or silent film, the one channel provides no more information than the other. When I was bored in plays I could close my eyes knowing that the vocal expression was an accurate representation of the physical expression and that I wasn’t missing anything. However, in shooting the Lenny’s, creating this difference is really difficult. The advantage (or trap) of film and tv is that you have cuts and various shots sizes to effectively say – look at this, now look here – giving the illusion that there is new information or, if you don’t see what has been cut to, there is an important visual cue that could be missed.

“If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear.* One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear.’

My initial reaction to this particular statement was: Is this true? Are there exceptions? And I thought I had found one in the “Star Gate” sequence during Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey. My memory this of this 10-minute experience was that it was both all eye and all ear. The massive visuals it offers, full of colour, extreme close ups and vast wides, and representations of the unknown; paired with an epic soundscape that is operatic, orchestral and distorted. However, in watching the scene again, this sequence is a master class in proving the above statement. It is expertly crafted to give precise, distinguishable details to the eye or the ear while the other could become incomprehensible. The interchange between these two senses keeps the experience immersive and engaging. Tempo is a big component of it, while the image is still and slowly moving, there is significantly more intelligible detail in the music and when the image becomes faster, intercut with Warhol-esque close ups, the changes in the soundtrack become much more gradual and atmospheric. What I remember as all eye and all ear was simply the intensity that is created by these two mediums, which makes perfect sense for the scene.

References

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, DVD, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Beverly Hills, CA, USA, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Bresson, R 1986, Notes on the Cinematographer, Quartet, London, UK.

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