R.Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer, 1986, London: Quartet
A sound must never come to the rescue of an image, nor an image to the rescue of a sound
Bresson’s brief, succinct quotes are great for provoking relfection on how filmmakers use sound and image. Coming from a scriptwriting and painting background words and image have dominated my thinking in terms of story telling. The editing we are currently undertaking is really making me reflect on how sound can be used, when is should be used and why it should be used.
Bresson pushes this to the point of saying:
When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer.
An example of a film where sound and image seem to play a really balanced role in terms of telling the story and engaging both the eye and the ear is the animation The Triplets of Belleville. Here is a brief clip from the film:
With no minimal dialogue, the film relies on sound and image to communicate and propel the story. The start of the clip is all foley artist work, capturing the upending of the car and the pleasure of the ladies and their hound (woof). As the shot pans out to the small car making its way over a bridge, the sound is slow, French and almost melancolic. This is disrupted by the arrival of the mafia. The music moves to a kind of jazz action as grandma faces off the mobsters. Back to foley work as the car dissapears down the funnell of a passing ship, and then a perfect accord of sight and sound as the explosions fire of red, white and blue and we have a riff of La Marseillaise. The Movie Insider noted of the sound design for this movie:
Belleville features unique sound design constructed among the squeaks and squeals of life, but there is so little dialogue nobody bothered to add subtitles.
Bresson also says:
Image and sound must not support each other, but must work in turn through a sort of relay
The Proposition directed by John Hillcoat is an example of a film where the film is propelled powerfully by story and the violence and rawness of the Australian outback in the late 19th Century. The soundtrack of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis uses both Cave’s orgininal songs and the mourfnul violin of Warren Ellis. The example in this track is a little different from the rest of the film but intersesting as it uses diegetic sound to counterpoint the terrible flogging of a young man Mikey with the silent, waiting of his brother, Charlie, and his gang who only know that Mikey is being held as leverage to force Charlie to hunt down his outlaw brother Arthur.
This is a great example of image and sound working in relay. The angelic voice contrasting powerfully with the brutal flogging.
These notes from Bresson have been a really useful reminder to me that I am a visual person and I tend to prioritise the image over sound. This has helped me think about the value of sound and how and when it plays a part. Undertaking the abstract edit at the same time was really useful as it highlighted to me how I do put vision first and encouraged me to engage and experiment with the sounds.