Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
Ann Hornaday writes for The Washington Post about the sound in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar:
“When “Interstellar” screened at the Regal Majestic earlier this week, I was actually able to hear most of the words, unlike “Inception,” which left me wondering to this day exactly what Ken Watanabe was saying. Then there’s the notorious case of “The Dark Knight Rises” and Tom Hardy’s Bane character, whose vocalizations were so impossible to discern in an early trailer that Nolan reportedly — grudgingly — re-recorded his vocal track.”
Read the full article here.
Hornaday clearly targets the sound-mix Nolan chose for his films. She notes David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Malick’s Tree of Life as further examples of this increasing trend in cinema-going experiences. She notes how audiences are “surprisingly forgiving of the directors” and details the success of Gone Girl and Interstellar as examples – but still pushes her argument that “plain old comprehensibility” is an important part of film-making.
I know from film and television fans that the use of subtitling at home has only increased in the last five years. Personally, watching The Wire in 2008, my wife and I decided to whack on the subtitles as the dialogue and terminology was so alien to us, we needed clarification as to what was said. A “burner”, “mope” and “red-top” were all terms used throughout the five-season run and, spoken so fast, one could lose the thread of conversation and miss what was spoken completely. Since then, the decision to use subtitles has become regular. Appreciating the context, whether it is the 1920’s context of Boardwalk Empire or fantasy-world of Game of Thrones, you want to know the word. Especially if it is purposefully new – the last thing you want to do is mistake “milk of the poppy” for a healthy dairy treat.
With this in mind, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher walk a dangerous line. On that initial viewing, there is a risk that a difficulty in hearing will alienate viewers. It may justify their lack of understanding and only support a lack of clarification in the already-tricky plots. “I have no idea why that happened – in fact, half the time, I didn’t understand what they were saying!” etc.
I would counter this. I recall my pre-subtitle days. I would watch films late into the night. I would argue that the first viewing is rarely about understanding the dense dialogue at all! The first watch of The Godfather is about Michael taking on the role of ‘The Godfather’, Vito – his growing self-awareness and change in attitude perfectly expressed through Pacino’s acting and Coppola’s direction. The first viewing of Heat is simply whether Hanna will catch McCauley – the awesome heist scenes and tense stake-outs demanding your attention. It is on the second, third and fourth watches whereby you dig deeper. The Godfather is about family, legacy, the American Dream. Heat is about the male-role in the family – husband, father, bread-winner – and the parallels between cop and robber. This is where we gain our appreciation of the film, and what raises it to the level of a masterpiece. The first viewing is a one-off virginal moment that soaks up the aura of our cinema-obsessed mind. The second viewing is far more fulfilling.
Interstellar was released on Friday. Whether it will last the test of time is yet to be seen. Reviewers are mixed. Peter Bradshaw criticises greatly, knocking the film to a 3* mediocre disappointment, while Robbie Collin hails the film as Christopher Nolan’s best – “brazenly ambitious” he reveals. It is early days and whether Collin or Bradshaw is “correct” you are pushed to see for yourself. But don’t worry about the dialogue just yet. Get lost in space and the scale of Nolan’s vision – follow with your eyes. Get entrenched in the investigation of the missing Amy Dunne in Gone Girl – the perfect edits of montages and flashbacks fill in the details. When you watch it a second time, with subtitles, you will pick up those niggling moments. You will clarify the details, almost as a picture slowly comes into focus. Nolan and Fincher don’t want you to watch it once. They want you to watch it again – and dialogue that is lost in the story is about drawing you in deeper – and if you are drawn to it a second time, the director already has you in the palm of their hand.
Simon Columb – Follow me on Twitter
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