“Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound”

July 11, 2007

    Sound is almost like a drug. It’s so pure that when it goes in your ears, it instantly does something to you. And you can tell if that’s working for you. – David Lynch

David Lynch’s attention to and unique use of audio in his films is well documented. Having read Chion’s Audio-Vision and recently purchasing his book David Lynch I’ve set about to see some of the Lynch films I haven’t seen with a critical ‘ear’. I hired Mulholland Drive and heard/saw a powerful and typically eerie audiovisual moment. In the Club Silencio scene Lynch insists that we notice an obvious audiovisual disjunction:

Many readings of the film decide that Club Silencio marks a portal where Dianne’s fantasies (the first two thirds of the film) end and she returns to her real life. Makes sense I guess. She freaks out, finds the box, opens it up, Betty disappears, Dianne gets sucked into a black void and bang – reality.

Timothy Takemoto’s reading sees the film in a different light, pointing to Zizek’s criticisms of such films and –

    Their revelation of a clear and definite reality to which the hero and audience can return. The truth Zizek claims, is more unsettling: there are only layers of fantasy behind which, at best, a “grey fog”.

As Zizek might have, this blog thought that, “The Real of Mulholland Dr is not Diane’s supposedly waking world, but the paradoxically entrancing insomniac realm of Club Silencio.” The Real in a Lacanian sense – Club Silencio as brief glimpse of the traumatic and impossible Real.

The audiovisual illusion in Club Silencio puts the audience through the same audiovisual disruption as Dianne. The truth is spelled out clearly, ‘There is no band. What you will hear are recordings’ but Chion’s audiovisual contract in which the phenomenon of synchresis, ‘the spontaneous and irresistible mental fusion, completely free of any logic, that happens between a sound and a visual when these occur at exactly the same time,’ gives the suited magician type guy an undeniable and definite power. It is impossible again, to void the woman’s ‘singing’ of the emotion held within the song. Betty, Dianne and the viewer cannot resist the seduction of the illusion and when the singer falls, and the music continues, we are all shocked.

Lynch has used a powerful illusion to give Dianne (and the viewer) a glimpse of reality. And what do we learn? Fantasy and illusion is inescapable and essential to reality. Now, what’s this got to do with audiovisual relations?

Chion, who provides the audiovisual theoretical framework for my work, also applied Lacanian psychoanalysis to Hitchcock and Lynch. (I know, a weird co-incidence). When you look at some of Chion’s terms; audiovisual illusion, disparity, projection and contamination, there’s a definite deep, dark, psychoanalytic feel to them. Then we have Lynch, exploiting this illusion with powerful moments of audio-visual disjunction and disruption, and with some Lacanian thought, potentially remarking on the human psyche, and the irresistible seduction of fantasy in constructing the self.

What’s left is a pretty intense and dark approach to audiovisual relations, which potentially has little to do with the pursuit of audiovisual fusion/harmony. Beyond pointing out the phenomenon of synchresis, Chion did not write on the artistic potential of pursuing this ‘irresistible fusion’. He rather approaches the technicalities of film sound, particularly in films like Lynch’s where audiovisual dissonance is used to powerful effect.

We know the audiovisual illusion is a powerful one but is the pursuit of audiovisual fusion, the pursuit of a fantasy? Are the senses as disparate as Chion thinks so?

    “Every time I hear sounds, I see pictures. Then, I start getting ideas. It just drives me crazy” –David Lynch

2 Responses to ““Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound””

  1. […] My earlier post on David Lynch provides a wonderful example of Lynch exposing this illusion. In ‘Club Silencio’ (and many other scenes) he creates a moment of almost reverse synchresis. He provides an AV experience that feels unnatural, the vital point being that we cannot help but be affected and fooled by this AV trickery. Lynch does this in many ways, whether through eerie drones, the lack of recorded sound, or audio and visual effects/distortions, think the Red Room in Twin Peaks) he exposes an inescapable illusion. […]

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