Edinburgh International Film Festival Diary: 19 August
Our film critic Alistair Harkness dons headphones to experience an innovative documentary that cleverly explores our relationship with sound via live remixing. Plus: a Spanish sonic mystery to check out at today’s festival
We take sound for granted in movies. It’s only when a filmmaker does something radical with it that we tend to notice. Take that scene in The Shining when Danny rides his tricycle through the Overlook Hotel. The loud-quiet-loud dynamic as Kubrick cuts between the hard-wood floors and the soft rugs is so unsettling it subconsciously suggest the violence within the silence of a space haunted by the malignant presence of past trauma.
I mention that scene because it features in 32 Sounds, a live documentary that played the Festival on Wednesday night and which took those of us lucky enough to experience it on a womb-to-the-tomb exploration of the importance of sound in our lives. And when I say “live documentary” I mean “live”: headphoned up, the audience was treated to director Sam Green narrating in person what was on screen while simultaneously mixing what we could see and hear as a way of highlight the effect of sound — or a lack thereof — on the viewing experience.
The documentary itself takes inspiration from Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, François Girard’s experimental biopic about the titular Canadian classical pianist whose 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is so ubiquitous in films you probably never notice it anymore, even if you know it well. But one of the things that always slays me about that recording is that if you really listen to it you can actually hear Gould humming along as he plays. In a profoundly moving way, you feel like you’re right there with him.
That detail doesn’t feature in 32 Sounds, but the concept does in a wonderful moment when Green delves into the ideas of Charles Babbage, the 19th century inventor who believed every sound ever created is recorded in the atmosphere somewhere just waiting for the right kind of technology to capture and replay it, sort of like aural time-travelling or sonic archeology.
I’ll wager Spanish filmmaker Juanjo Giménez Peña is a fan of Babbage too. His debut feature Out of Sync, screening at the Festival today, revolves around a stressed-out sound designer (Marta Nieto) who starts experiencing a lag in her hearing that knocks her entire life off balance but allows her to audibly experience the past in spaces she’s never been present in before. The film’s mysteries are best discovered for yourself, but Peña uses sound and silence to disruptive and discombobulating effect, reminding us once again that movies aren’t just about the visuals.
Out of Sync screens on 19 August. For more information and tickets visit: www.edfilmfest.org.uk