The Silences of the Voice

By Pascal Bonitzer

An attempt to assemble critical pieces approaching cinema “from the standpoint of sound”. This article was first published in Cahiers du cinéma, issue 256, February-March 1975, and with revisions in Pascal Bonitzer, Le Regard et la voix (Paris: Union Général d’Editions, 1976). Translated by Philip Rosen and Marcia Butzel, as published in Narrative, apparatus, ideology : a film theory reader, ed. Philip Rosen (New York : Columbia University Press, 1986).

Ah, how repugnant imposing my own thoughts on others is to me!
— Nietzsche

The “Minimum of Commentary”

We know that, politically and ideologically, the issue of the point of view a film reflects is a crucial question, and often becomes the arena of violent controversy. For example, Lacombe Lucien (Louis Malle) and The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani) recently gave rise to contradicting interpretations of their ideological content: fascist, progressive, reactionary? Then there was the case of Antonioni’s China: certain “friends of China” analyzed its point of view as progressive and pro-Chinese, while others (not to mention the Chinese themselves) as anti-Chinese and reactionary. This leads us to questions on three points:

(1) A film produces a discourse.
(2) This discourse is, to a greater or lesser extent, implicit, veiled.
(3) And it is the spectators who, “in the last instance” utter (contradictorily) its truth.

Of course, it is true that the fiction film gives rise to diverse interpretations. Is not ambiguity the element in which all fiction is immersed? But a documentary or a montage of documents – on the contrary, isn’t its aim to shed light on the real with which it deals? to disengage from that real a readability and hence a point of view? Insofar as it deals with the real, isn’t documentary a matter of truth? Camera-views, montage: reality is seized and worked through at a certain angle in order to render something on the screen – to the spectators.

It is therefore necessary to envisage the work by which a film organizes its point of view, articulates its discourse. How is it done in the case of a film like Mai 68 (Gudie Lawaetz), which is precisely a film that brings together different points of view from divergent political extremes onto the same object? Does this imply that the film in its entirety produces no point of view? But why does this question have to be asked?

Mai 68 is connected to a type of film and a type of montage with its own traditions and codes, those of the “free confrontation” (produced essentially by television, but which cinema can take up, as is shown, for example, by the success of The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls)). The free confrontation is that of contradictory images and witnesses, a mise-en-scène of the multiple “facets” of an event by means of interviews and archival documentary footage. (The latter’s difference from nature is a sign of the richness of the investigation and of the information and so should be marked: in this case the interviews are shot in color, which has the additional effect of emphasizing the temporal gap 1968-1973, the “receding” of the testimony and of the positions taken.) The lure for the public is that of mastering a dossier – by leafing through it.

A formula credited by Gudie Lawaetz to Sartre rather well summarizes this genre of historical digest, whose success testifies to its seductiveness: “let the event speak.” This is an interesting formula not only because in it can be read the elision of (the author’s) point of view toward the event in question, but also because it displaces this “question of point of view”-which is so important for “politics”-to a problem of speech. It is because it is inscribed there that “it speaks,” that the just vision of an event depends on what the latter says, that the eye is carried by the voice, and under the circumstances, a voice which, if not silent, is at least without subject.

Without subject – this is central to the question. It is true that the event belongs to no one (and this is more true of May 1968 than any other event). Gudie Lawaetz’ film shows this well: if it witnesses something, it is the failure of those who appropriate the movement to themselves (see the points of view the film compares, which are all perplexed or worn down). So, is it “the event itself” which actually speaks in this film? Of course not. What speaks is its descent into the past, into journalistic information and into History in the old sense of the word: linear history, flat chronology, trifles of the recent past and the derision of senescence. Of course all the actors of May have aged. Of course the images of May have aged. But what is this? Is this the meaning-this aging, this slackening? It is like the final scene of Rentrée des usines Wonder, but taken out of its militant context, for which is substituted an “open ending”: Mai 68 repeats the end of May.

This film has the past in its eye. It is indeed a “point of view” which is thus organized, a discourse which is woven in silence. Is it without subject? But this aging, whose image the film offers across its impoverished informative chronology, is indeed that of a subject. Who is this subject? Who if not us, the spectators, in whom “the event speaks” silently. To “let the event speak” is to let it be spoken by the spectators, according to the paths traced in silence by the film and guided by the signposts of montage. It is thus important to analyze the structure, the montage, which conveys the “event” and what historical capacity is distributed to it-here, pretty much that of a Mirror of History. It is important to recognize that what speaks in a film is never the “event” (and what is an event, if not a nodal point of redistributed historical intensities?), but rather the subject who is supposed to know it.

At stake in this type of film is knowledge. What is desired from it is a knowledge of an object (history, May 1968, etc.), a knowledge that is in some way specifically cinematographic, obtained by the eye and the ear, optical and sound recording, the scene which their montage composes.

In this knowledge, it is important to allow the spectator to enjoy — that is, not to take the spectator’s place by uttering it. The principle “let the event speak” also signifies “Let the spectator enjoy (know).” Of course one can protest that this is a false knowledge, an impression of knowledge (in the sense of an “impression of reality”) obtained through the specular lure produced by the cinematographic apparatus [l’appareil]; whereas, in truth, knowledge requires something other than this specular impression, for it only exists as the effect of a labor of inquiry and theoretical elaboration, of placing the object in perspective and investigating its form. Undoubtedly.

But the enjoyment – the jouissance – of the spectator? A difficulty arises here, and one which is nodal for a cinema which, more than any other, utters its knowledge. This is the cinema whose principles are opposed to those practiced by Gudie Lawaetz – namely “militant cinema.” The latter has often been reproached for ignoring jouissance (of the spectators), and to a great extent this reproach is well-grounded. The difficulty thus revolves around a certain number of notions put in play in a specific way by the documentary or the compilation film: discourse, subject, knowledge, jouissance. The place of the spectators in the apparatus [le dispositif] – their role – is there implicated and acted out.

In the Lawaetz system (which is to say, in a classical system), one sees how jouissance under the form (if one likes) of the “impression of knowledge” is put into operation. It is from an absence in the body of the film that it is offered to the spectators. This absence is neither that of a discourse nor that of a subject- both of which, as we have seen, can be implicit and veiled, but never lacking. It is the absence of commentary, which is to say of a voice. More precisely, what is absent is the voice-off, that voice of knowledge par excellence in all films, since it resounds from offscreen, in other words from the field of the Other. In this system the concern is to reduce, insofar as possible, not the informative capacity of commentary but its assertive character and, if one likes, its authoritative character – that arbitration and arbitrariness of the voice-off which, to the extent that it cannot be localized, can be criticized by nothing and no one. This is a system of “no commentary” or “minimum of commentary.” This is, we maintain, a classical system for the documentary, the archival film, and the compi- lation film. In appearance it is a democratic system: it puts restraints on the arbitrariness of the voice-off, of commentary which does violence to the real and to the spectators (by not allowing them to think about the event). What is this system in reality?

The Voice Which Keeps Its Silence

In Mai 68, when Séguy speaks of May, the student movement, and the workers’ movement, his words are inflated by his face and have to be evaluated in connection with that face, with that simultaneously embarrassed and cunning air, those fleeting glances, etc. – that collection of traits which, with a light regional accent, connotes the “personality” of a union leader for cinema and television. For the spectators, having the image of Séguy (or any politician) imparts a relative critical power. Doubtless, this criticism is greatly limited and very equivocal (how could anyone honestly judge a politics by a physical image of those who reflect it? racism is not far away.) But it is still criticism, and spectators never fail to make more or less use of it. If he speaks facing the camera, one can laugh at what he says or insult him (and this happened in movie theaters of the Latin Quarter when Mai 68 was shown). Enclosed in the frame of the (large or small) screen and in some way visibly calling for our complicity, he is, in a certain fashion, delivered to us. Prisoner of a perceptible appearance, doubly mastered by the lens of the camera and the eye of the spectator, the authority of the voice is thus encountered as being submitted to criticism, or at least to a criticism-the most rapid one, that of the look. The image plays the role of fixative for the voice. It restrains the power in it (resonance, amplitude, ambience, its disquieting power.) It is completely otherwise when the voice absents and uproots itself from the image, and returns to haunt it from outside, from space-off, from off screen. It then secures a hold on the image and, through the latter, on the real which it reflects; and this hold can no longer be countered by an easy criticism from the look. So instead of looking, it is necessary to think-but this is precisely the problem: is there time to do so? Was Merleau-Ponty wrong when he wrote “a film is not thought, it is perceived?”

Voice-off. There are at least two types of voice-off, which refer to at least two types of space-off. Take the case of a narrative fiction such as a detective film, when the voice of a character comes from off screen. Even if there is no reverse shot to suture the gap opened by this voice, we know that it comes from a place homogeneous with that of the scenographic lure offered by the filmic image. This is a homogeneity in accord with realist physical space. Such a voice can be disquieting, as, to a greater or lesser extent, voice-off always is; however, it is so only within the dramatic frame of the fiction, which is to say, in a restricted way. Thus, in Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich), if the criminal whose identity and terrifying secret is sought by Mike Hammer remains off screen until the last sequences, it is unnecessary from the point of view of the detective enigma; for as he himself says, nothing will be learned from his face by the detective (or the spectators). But keeping it off screen (we only see his lower legs and only know him from his blue suede shoes) gives his sententious voice, inflated by mythological comparisons, a much greater disquieting power, the scope of an oracle- somber prophet of the end of the world. And despite that, this voice is submitted to the destiny of the body: the one institution of the narrative to whose law it is submitted renders it decrepit and mortal. It suffices for the subject of this voice to appear in the image (and thus it suffices that he could appear there) for it to be no longer anything but the voice of a man, in other words, of any imbecile. Proof? A gunshot, he falls—and with him, but in ridicule, his discourse with its prophetic overtones.

The contrary case is when the voice is inscribed in a space which is not in proper interaction (not homogeneous) with that of the image. This voice intro- duces a division of the filmic field that is much more enigmatic. In fiction films this division is rare and produces an effect of strangeness (an example of its utilization for this effect of strangeness is Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives). But as rare as this is in fiction films, it is common and seems natural in documentaries. And to the extent that this is the case, it makes for no problems in them.

In Kashima Paradise ( Bénie Deswarte, Yann Le Masson) the voice-off intervenes with a certain brutality. It forces the image from its discourse of class struggle, and counters naturalness and the perceptibly obvious. But who speaks, and from where and when?

Another practice can be found in China, whose commentary is rarefied and barely assertive. Antonioni does not inform the image with any theory (and especially not with Marxist theory), but rather principally with a circle of information about what is not shown, namely the conditions of the filming, the specifics of what is off screen, etc. For example, he describes, off, not what the filmic image reflects-the Chinese peasants are extremely fidgity, clearly uncomfortable with the camera, almost tormented by it – but, en abime, that which is supposedly seen by these peasants who are being stalked by the apparatus [appareil] (and which is precisely what they avoid looking at): Antonioni himself and his crew, in the disquieting strangeness of their Western disorder (beards, long hair, faded jeans, etc.) But if this permits him, ever so little, to situate himself (unlike the authors of Kashima), from where does he get the right, in their place, to speak the look of these peasants? And what effect is he seeking?

The secret power of commentary and voice-off is that these (and other similar) questions are practically never posed to spectators during the time of projection. The conventional realist homogeneity of narrative space calls up identification by means of the image, and thus all which intervenes from offscreen immediately causes questioning (at least of an anterior identification by means of the play of the shot/reverse shot, reframings, etc.). At the inverse of such narrative space, in the divided, heterogeneous space of documentary, the voice-off forbids questioning about its enunciator, its place, and its time. The commentary, in informing the image, and the image, in allowing itself to be invested by the commentary, censor such questions.

This is not, one surmises, without ideological implications. The first of these is that the voice-off represents a power, namely the power of the disposition of the image and what it reflects from a place which is absolutely other (from that inscribed on the image track)-absolutely other and absolutely undetermined. In this sense it is transcendent; hence, incontestable, uncontested, and supposedly knowledgeable. Insofar as it issues from the field of the Other, the voice-off is presumed to know: this is the essence of its power.
Power indeed.

For if the voice knows, it is inevitably for someone, who will not speak. To say it is for someone is to discuss both its addressee and its place. This someone is undoubtedly the spectator, but not only him. In the sequence from China cited above, Antonioni (the voice) speaks from the place of the Chinese peasants and addresses the Western spectators; and the inverse is also in operation (for in a certain way the film addresses itself to the Chinese as well, to see how the latter have grasped it; and speaks of China from the place of the spectators, to see precisely the position of Antonioni and of the spectator – privileged). The voice speaks from the place of the Other, and this also must be understood in a double sense. It is not charged with manifesting the Other in its radical heterogeneity, but on the contrary with controlling it, with recording it (that is, with suppressing and conserving it), with fixating it by means of knowledge. The power of the voice is a stolen power, stolen from the Other; it is a usurpation. In his article “Who Says What, but Where and When?” (Cahiers du cinéma, no. 250), Serge Daney gives a striking example of the use which Power can make of this appropriated power of the voice-off. It is the daily use which television makes of it:

A short time ago, O.R.T.F presented a short film on prisons. While the camera fluidly slid along the white walls of a model prison, the commentary-off reprised in its way and in its language a certain number of demands and problems posed elsewhere by the prisoners (elsewhere: everywhere, except on television – for example, in the C.A.P.). A “contentist” criticism could satisfy itself with this and see in it, deservedly, the effect – reading through it — of the real struggle of the prisoners, without which television would never have been obliged to make the film. But who does not see a difference in nature between a film like this and Attica?

For Attica speaks with, for, and by means of the voices of the prisoners. It is necessary to note that the film described by Daney is representative of a great deal of news reporting and magazine programs produced by television. Now, what is in operation in that smoothness, that fluidity? First of all the image, that image which shows nothing properly speaking (the blank walls of a model prison), only a metonymy (part for whole) of the carceral world, whose pure, abstract presence is made to shine forth by the small screen. This metonymic usage of the image is very frequent in television news. It fills in the hole of real information, the lack of serious inquiry, and functions as a kind of sign of information (it is necessary to fill up the image box, to show something). But above all, this radical metonymy, this near-emptiness of the image, makes the real shine forth (this paucity of things, these deserted shots, are indications that the camera has touched the real, which can, in turn, touch your eyes); and the commentary-off is then able to seize the real. It is the visual and perceivable support of the commentary – if one likes, its flesh. The action of this kind of film is thus a double reduction, a double mastery of the real, which is to say of that which burns (here, not only carceral space, but the entire social crisis which it reveals): mastery by the image, which manifests the real while denying it, and by the voice, which speaks the real while imposing silence on it.

Indeed, what is this voice which “reprised in its way and in its language”? Whose way and whose language? But these are precisely the questions which are barred, obscured by space-off. What speaks is the anonymity of “public service,” of television, of information in general-and, extending the circle of connotations, perhaps the compassionate and grief-stricken Law, Democracy enunciating its wrongs, Man… A little of all these silently speak in the anonymity of the voice-off, there vaguely tracing the great veiled and abstract subject in whose name it speaks [ça parle]. And this it is the homogeneity of the social order, which in reprising “in its way,” is straining to reabsorb the heterogeneous, burning discourse of the prisoners.

What the anonymous voice-off of “public service” accomplishes is in fact a double suppression of the voice of the prisoners. First, it suppresses their voice by not allowing them to speak, and second by substituting for them. The purpose – television also serves this purpose, and one could demonstrate that a program such as Dossiers de l’Ecran has no other rationale – is that the burning voice of revolt (and through it the burning fact of revolt) give way to the cold voice of order, normality, and power.

In its function as commentary, the voice-off neither is supposed to be nor can be a burning voice – ephemeral, fragile, troubled by revolts when they have for once managed, at great price, to break through the wall of silence. The atony of commentary recloses that wall.

True, it is not always atonic.

Indeed, this is what leads us back to the stake pointed out by the technique of the “minimum of commentary”: the jouissance of the spectator, the right of the latter to knowledge. The submission of the spectator to the master voice indeed has limits. Those limits are encountered when the voice is obviously deceptive – a privilege of the master, but a risky privilege – and when partisan passion is perceived in it. This experience is amusingly illustrated by Chris Marker’s short documentary Letter from Siberia (Chris Marker).

In it the same sequence is seen three times, in continuity, but each time accompanied by different commentaries. The sequence shows workers in an unremarkable Siberian city (Yakutsk) occupied with paving a street; passing through the foreground is an Asiatic whose squinty look crosses the monocular one of the lens. What Chris Marker wishes to demonstrate is that such an image, in itself, is not neutral but is at least ambiguous and is susceptible in its referential function (Siberia, the Soviet Union) to antagonistic, contradictory readings; and that the role of the commentary can be precisely to wrest from the image a strong, univocal meaning (the image opens a field of multiple connotations which the commentary closes in denoting it, in bestowing names on things). Thus, the first commentary for this sequence is a discourse of the sanctimonious Stalinist type: the meaning extorted from the image by this discourse is that of the joyous construction of socialism (“In the joyful spirit of socialist emulation, happy Soviet workers, among them this picturesque denizen of the Arctic reaches, apply themselves to making Yakutsk an even better place to live”). The image track presents the same series of shots and the commentary changes: the voice now extracts from it an eloquent expression of Soviet misery, as would be seen by a professional anticommunist (“Bending to the task like slaves, the miserable Soviet workers, among them this sinister-looking Asiatic, apply themselves to the primitive labor of grading with a drag beam”). For the third and last time, the film returns to the same shots and the end of prosopopoeia: Chris Marker stops parodying the discourse of others – of official joviality or of primitive anti-Sovietism (which, from a certain angle, are the same thing) – and finally enunciates what can be properly said of the material: a commentary which is neither black nor white and which is objective and nuanced (“With courage and tenacity under extremely difficult conditions, Soviet workers, among them this Yakut afflicted with an eye disorder, apply themselves to improving the appearance of their city, which could certainly use it.”)

In reading these (Commentaries by Chris Marker has been published by Editions de Seuil), one cannot avoid a vague sense of deception the third time the sequence is repeated. Is it a matter of nothing being said? Not completely. To begin with, in its entirety the sequence does say something, but in a negative form: it says that commentary should not do violence to the image. To do violence to the image and to impel its referential reality is to extort a surplus meaning from it, to interdict its ambiguity, to congeal it into a type, symbol, metaphor (paving a street = joyful spirit of socialist emulation; an Asian passing = by yellow peril, etc.). This is what makes for propaganda. The ethic here suggested is close to that professed by André Bazin, when he denounced the rape of the image (of its “ontological realism”) by montage, that power of montage to orient the haphazardness of events snared on film toward any meaning (toward a meaning intended a priori). Like Bazin, Marker denounces the reduction of the signifying field opened by the filmic image. He understands it as a terrorist reduction to the benefit of interests exterior to and transcending the cinematographic experience.

In one sense, this is not wrong, but only in one sense. In his brilliant caricature, Marker’s critique runs together without distinction the enunciation and the enunciated, voice and meaning. So one cannot avoid the impression that some- thing (in the functioning of commentary) is escaping notice.

There are two aspects of partisan passion: passion and taking sides. It is wellknown that passion is blind. It enables one to cast doubt on truth and is the very foundation of one’s partiality (retaining the equivocation between partial as meaning in part and partial as meaning biased and unfair). Moreover, it is violent and can settle nothing. (And it is intolerable when it occupies the place of power-“off.”) Marker is against this passion and blindness; he does not judge from a position of involvement. But is it necessary always to prefer detached reason, the “scientific” or ironic gaze? Chris Marker poses the question well (“But objectivity isn’t exact, either. It does not deform the Siberian reality, but stops its movement for the time of a judgment, and thereby deforms it all the same”). But he responds quickly and vaguely: “What counts is the élan and diversity.” Another response, which comes closer to what is in the power of the voice, is sketched out in another short documentary which is much older than Letter from Siberia: Bunuel’s Las Hurdes [Land Without Bread]. We will return to this.

What is certain is that the cold voice is imposed (see above) where the accents of passion give birth to mistrust. Ultimately, is this not what Chris Marker is saying in the sequence of Letter from Siberia? Isn’t he ultimately denouncing not the false character of passionate commentary, but its inoperative character? Here we refind the technique of “minimum of commentary.” What Chris Marker enunciates is the modern knowledge – Western and bourgeois, if one wishes – of what is the reserve of commentary that defines the regime of its mastery, its terrorist opacity. He does not enunciate solely the democratic, liberal ethic of the commentary of political information, but also and perhaps especially, the cynicism of a science, of a mastery of the commentary: it doesn’t say too much, it doesn’t devour the silent, open meaning of the image, it doesn’t counter the “obtuseness,” ambiguity, or power of silent assertion of the image. It is a layer protecting the filmic image, lubricating it and not forcing it.

The countertest of this “science” of the commentary is given to us as much by travelogues as by certain militant films, and also by prewar newsreels of the Pathé-Journal type. These experiment with the descent of the voice into falseness and ridiculousness. One laughs, one cries, one doesn’t believe one’s ears. It is so silly that it is comic, or odious, or both at once. What is evident in this is precisely an accent: the surprising twang, the forced note, the comic rapidity of the voice-off in Pathé newsreels; or the syrupy sentimentality of commentaries in travelogues; or the epic bombast, obligatory class hatred, and insufferable optimism of the commentary in certain militant films. What one hears, then, is something like the body of the voice – and its body is its death to meaning. The voice is no longer drawn for us from the image (presuming that the latter is not itself perceived as grotesque and abusive, which happens but in which case the problem is not posed), nor a fortiori from the real which is mirrored there. It detaches itself and becomes part of an ensemble which does not hold together. This is what permits aesthetes to love film in spite of itself by finding in it the charm of the old, an aspect of kitsch and nostalgia.

The Voices Which Are Heard

The voice ages. Its signifier (that in it which is heard) “labors.” In it is perceived an accent which is not that of a region of geography but rather a region of meaning, the accent of an era, a class, a regime – and this accent neutralizes meaning, defuses the knowledge imposed by that voice. This is why it is necessary for it to speak as little as possible. No commentary is the wisdom or the prudence of the master, of power. The voice expounds. It expounds more than the image, for one can play with the image, but then the ridiculous risked is not that of the ultimate, mortal ridiculous – of meaning.

That which has the “right to speech” (in the sense that it has the power to do so) should use it as little as possible. This is a curious rule. Does it hold for all films in the register of the real, of the document and of the documentary? Is it evaded in the limit case (such as Mai 68) when commentary is abolished and scansions of montage substitute?

To this second question one can respond that the accent – since it is this asperity of the voice which catches critical hearing (as a flood of light can catch the grain of a surface which is the “material” of a painted canvas) – the accent is also perceived, though less directly, beyond the voice in the shocks of montage and the frequency of cuts which are the means by which montage makes discourse. One does not thus escape the hindrances of discourse or truth (even though this is a platitude).

But who is it that is afraid of deception, aging, and dying? Is it everyone? Perhaps everyone, to the extent that, as it is said, he aspires to mastery, he defends his power, his knowledge, his memory. This is to say to the extent that he is one. Voice off: the voice of his master. And there can be only one master. This is why, generally in this system, there is only one commentating voice on the sound track (and most of the time it is a man’s voice). Sometimes, but more rarely, there are two alternating voices (man, woman) so that the superior unity of discourse arises from their discrete conjugal harmony. But if the voice is found to be geared down and with this the unity of the discourse is found to be broken, the system and its effects change. Space-off then stops being the place of the reserve and the interiority of the voice (that place where it “is heard to speak”); it is itself divided, and from this division takes on the dimension of a scene, is dramatized and is peopled. Something happens there, parallel to the image or interlacing with it, but unfixed from it. The voice is no longer simply planted in the image when there are many voices and they struggle with one another (as in Godard, notably during the period of the “Dziga Vertov Group”), or when they desire and love one another (as in Duras). But what is found to be subverted is the very principle of the documentary, its principle of reality (both as unique and as objective).

To encounter the “body” of the voice (what Barthes calls its grain), this refuse from meaning, is to encounter the subject of the voice with its division, the subject fallen to the rank of object and unmasked: thus, in Chris Marker’s exercise “the paranoid anticommunist” and “the jovial Stalinist” were carnival figures. On the one hand meaning is naked, neutralized, laughable (“the emperor has no clothes”); on the other hand, there is its “body,” its cadaver: its noise and cacaphony… Why is it that when it becomes perceivable, this bursting of the unity of commentary and of voice, this scission of sound and meaning, is accompanied by manifestations of revolt, by laughing and crying in the theaters? Against what is a revolt occurring? Against humbuggery. But this humbuggery does not give rise to a special reaction if it does not claim to dominate with its discourse the real that crosses the image. To recognize the humbuggery in the imperturbable voice-off by laughing is to lift the oppression of the commentary. The laugh explodes, its splits open: it breaks through the voice of the commentator.

If the unity of voice and meaning in the commentary-off defines a regime of mastery or of oppression, it is perhaps starting from its scission that one could begin to define another politics (or erotics) of the voice-off. Something of this order was devised by Buñuel in Las Hurdes: the commentary-off is cold, but the image shrieks. Over the image, it cracks, it rots, it cruelly grimaces; and by this, the circumspection, the reserve of the commentary becomes strange, becomes the atony of the disquieting voice, as if the abyss between the silent cry of the image and the discourse of the voice-off were imperceptibly traversed by a silent laugh which belies what this voice says. In the end, this voice is heard. Starting from the moment when it is heard, its discourse – which is never that of mastery – is found to be menaced, the function of the commentary is lacking. and that of documentary is placed on trial. What is devised in Las Hurdes is a radical testing of the mastery based on the commentary, on imperialism, and on colonialism, which are deep-seated in documentary.

All modern cinema since, let us say, Godard on the one hand and Bresson on the other, is instituted by simultaneously placing on trial the filmic image as a full, centered, and deep image, and the utilization of the voice as homogeneous with and in harmony with the image. It has often been said that what cinematographic modernity puts into play – no matter what claims it uses to promote itself – are effects of rupture, disalignings, “noise” in the filmic chain. A tearing in the effect of the real of the image and in the effect of mastery of the voice is brought about. The relation among voice, sound, and silence is transformed and musicalized.

This is what provides the site for limit experiments, such as those in the margin of militant cinema of the “Dziga Vertov Group,” or those of Straub or of Duras. Straub is certainly the filmmaker who has played the most richly, musically, and dramatically with plurality, with the capacity of voices in filmic space; it does not always know a lot, but in the end it will be heard. In Duras (who recently declared that she can no longer synchronize – she said “screw” – voices into mouths) this is, among other things, an experiment with silence and with the subversion of the voice with silence. This is true from Destroy, She Said and Nathalie Granger (Nathalie Granger is inhabited by silence not in order to reinforce, from an effect of reserve, the power of speech which is that of man, but to paralyze and to cast a spell over the latter and to return the voice as lapse, as trouble, as a liberty of the unconscious – to return the voice to women) to Woman of the Ganges and India Song (and perhaps Vera Baxter) where the silence of the image provokes the sonic peopling of space-off. Duras thus introduces the spark of desire and sends the question back to the spectators.

But these are fictions, which is to say works supremely unconcerned with that “reflection of the real” by which the truth of a documentary is measured and which imposes on the voice of the latter that specific discretion which is our problem. It would be necessary to discuss militant cinema, where the voice finds itself invested with a precise function which is, moreover, variable. For example, in Oser lutter (made in Flins in May-June of 1968 by established militants) there is that confused mixture of voices, over black leader, from which emerges in bits and pieces the “truth” of the struggle: “and above all, no negotiations…” To this mixture and burning confusion on the sound track is opposed, as the clarity of revolutionary knowledge, intertitles where that knowledge is all written, white on black. Or in Shanghai au jour le jour, there are two voices-off of women in dialogue, but they do not directly comment on the real which the image reflects (as, for example, does Antonioni, discussed above); but rather they comment on the image track and clearly are speaking in an editing room. Here there is something which blocks the terrorist indetermination of the voice-off-two women who speak to one another, who have a dialogue before the images…

If, in a general way, the problems here evoked are rarely resolved in an interesting fashion (and rarely even envisaged) by militant cinema, it is nevertheless from its place and starting from the problems posed by militant film makers that it is possible to begin to think and to realize a subversion of documentary and of that which secretly operates there: the discourse of power, the discourse-form of power. Indeed, militant cinema cannot be something like classical documentary plus rage and great, fine-sounding words. It has to be something else completely, something which organizes otherwise the relation to the real, the look, and the voice.

Here or there, in varying degrees this is being done, for what is called militant cinema never begins except from where classical documentary ends, in that which the latter smothers and erases: the speaking subject. The stake being risked is that of the subject. This is the reason classical documentary represses that stake, most often in the dogmatism of a voice-off without subject. The greatest difficulty in the order of the document and the real which there makes itself known is indeed that of not effacing the subject, the I and the you. Perhaps this leads toward a new way of approaching the real, a way which is more supple, and also more hazardous, more open to chance. Hazard, discovery – this is the chance of the new.

Hence, militant cinema loves the hazardous…

N.B. 1. It will have been understood that commentary is not point of view. Its problem is precisely how to silence a point of view. Not that the commentary exists before an organized point of view, which could otherwise say everything. But commentary is not for saying all: its role is to legislate on images of the real, to inject knowledge into them.

Rather, the question of point of view has to do with truth. It is about the way in which a subject is implicated in a process and what emerges from it. In discussing commentary, I have thus spoken of the signifier of the voice. I have placed hardly any emphasis on commentary which is written and which in film is called “intertitles.” The procedure of speaking through them has been singu- larly rare, so that today one barely finds it except in the cinema of Godard and, since May 1968, in a somewhat sophisticated sector of militant cinema: le Peuple et ses fusils (distributed commercially), Oser lutter

One immediately sees the difference between spoken commentary-off and commentary through intertitles: beyond the necessarily fragmentary, discontinuous, and compiled character of the discourse of “intertitles,” in them knowledge is designated as such, which is to say as didacticism. To the interiority of the voice-off is opposed the exteriority of the text presented for reading, which solicits the eye and appeals to the “consciousness” (in the political sense of the word) of the spectators. In comparison to voice-off, intertitles involve a kind of effect of distanciation or – as Philippe Ivernel has proposed to translate the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt – of “disalienation.” This is why it is essentially in militant cinema that intertitles are utilized.

It has to be added that they rarely make for pleasure. They will rather provoke irritation, even hatred. The spectators say they are offended that the dotting of the i’s is thus placed between the images for them. They would prefer instead to let the images speak for themselves; and with the images, the real.

With words and intertitles it [ça] is indeed interposed between the spectators and that which filters the real in the image. This is the appearance. The appearance is not disturbing when you are injected unawares from behind, with the voice-off. But in contrast, when on the screen, that appearance frustrates the eye and provokes resentment (or rather, one’s resentment is toward the authors of the film).

N.B. 2. In classical and modern cinema (with the exception of certain under- ground films), but specifically in documentary, filmic space, and even the ensemble of the cinematic apparatus [dispositif], is polarized by two concurrent orderings-the look and the voice. The look and the voice are not equivalent to image and sound. They are the two complementary and concurrent orderings to which the work of the image track and the sound track (shooting, editing, sound mixing, color and tonal grading of the image, etc.) are submitted. This prevalence of the look and the voice is a relation of the subject’s “flickering in eclipses” which regulates the filmic chain (the alternation and disposition of shots: the 30-degree rule, shot/countershot, etc.) and of which the spectator is the support (see Jean-Pierre Oudart, “La Suture” in Cahiers du cinéma nos. 210 and 212). This prevalence points toward that which constitutes the spectator as such: spectator of his or her desires (insofar as desires are constituted by the Other). It thus also involves the division, the identificatory alienation of the spectator, in the filmic chain.

Recently the question has been posed whether this “alienation” is irreducible, or whether it is possible to lift it by some perversion of the apparatus [dispositif]: for example, by inscribing in the film its own means of production; or by making the screen opaque through the multiplication of iconic or sonic traces to the point of nondifferentiation and unreadability, so that the scene of the phantasm becomes blinding and literally puts the spectator back in his or her place. One can have doubts about the interest of such an operation from the viewpoint of systematicity. It certainly mobilizes the look differently, makes it scan the surface which is the wrong side of the décor, and opens it to other adventures. It is not so certain that the latter would fundamentally be something other than tributaries of “representation”; nor, especially, that they would come socially – on the paths crossed by desire and the social – from a fundamental subversion. Beyond the facile conflicts of imaginary depth and real surface subsists the question of the object: what to do – what is to be done – with the look and the voice?


1. “It speaks” is a translation of “ça parle.” This is a phrase from Lacanian psychoanalytic thought. “Ca” (it) is the French word used to translate the Freudian term es (also literally it), which is rendered in English-language usage by the Latin id. This is, of course, one of three terms in a famous Freudian psychic topology, along with the ego and superego. In Lacan, the phrase “ça parle” emphasizes that speech is not controlled by the coherent subject (1, ego) but something else (it, id) which is potentially disordering and disorderly with respect to that subject; language is not a product of reason, but has its roots in the unconscious, the repressed, what is “other” to consciousness.
In this, its first appearance in the article, Bonitzer puts the phrase “it speaks” in quotation marks, which emphasizes the derivation from Lacan. However, there are other times when Bonitzer engages in the ambivalence enabled by the fact that in French a word which can simply mean it might also denote the id. Sometimes he chooses to associate the antecedent of it with the Freudian id, for example at certain points when the antecedent is the voice-off (speech from elsewhere than the realist space of the image). Since English-language usage maintains the distinction between the two terms, it has not been possible to translate the article’s employment of this ambivalence when it occurs. However, where it is especially important to the sense of a sentence, it is noted.-TRANS]

2. “Jouissance” is a term notoriously difficult to translate. “Enjoyment” does not capture the full range of intensities covered by the French term. “Pleasure” ignores the distinction-some- times exploited by theoreticians such as Roland Barthes-between plaisir and jouissance. There- fore, where it appears in the text, it has been left in French.
What might minimally be said about its significance is first that its meanings can range from enjoying something in the sense of legal possession to pleasure in the sense of sexual climax. In addition, there is a tendency in recent French theoretical formulations to give the term a special, privileged sense. For example, Stephen Heath outlines the distinction in Barthes: “on the one hand a pleasure (plaisir) linked to cultural enjoyment and identity, to the cultural enjoyment of identity, to a homogenizing movement of the ego; on the other a radically violent pleasure (jouissance) which shatters-dissipates, loses-that cultural identity, that ego.” Other thinkers, such as Lacan and Kristeva, have their own special uses of the term which are related but not necessarily identical to that of Barthes. Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p. 9; cf. Leon S. Roudiez’s comments on the term in the introduction to Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), pp. 15-16.
In Bonitzer’s text, the paragraph before the introduction of the noun jouissance includes two uses of the verb jouit, translated as “enjoy”-TRANS]

3. It has been pointed out to me that “end of prosopopoeia” is not completely exact. The discourse which Chris Marker opposes to two others (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) may not be an outright caricature; however, neither is it entirely that of Marker, whose dialectic is more subtle. It remains no less true that if “objectivity isn’t exact, either” (as all left-intellectuals even sightly tinged by Marxism know), Marker does not say why, or responds to the question obliquely, for want of envisaging wht is arbitrary in discourse-off (he is known, with Rouch, to be one of its most brilliant practitioners). See below.

4. [There is a linguistic play in this paragraph between generalized collective identity and linguistic gender. “Everyone” (tout le monde) is a masculine noun phrase, which is usually pronominalized by the impersonal “one” (on, often translated into English as “we,” but which, interestingly, still takes masculine complements.) In this paragraph it is pronominalized by the masculine il (“he”).
So in the text when the author writes, for example, that “he (il) aspires to mastery” the result is to emphasize, Ina somewhat unusual way. the masculine gender of the antecedent “everyone.” And. when the author writes to the extent dut he is one.” the point is not only the pulling together of “everyone” into “one,” but also an association of this social homogenization with a hierarchy of gender. because the masculine linguistic gender of ‘-everyone” has been so stressed. — TRANS.’

5. (On the peculiar use of “it” here. see note I.—TRANS I

6. Here I think especially of militant cinema and of the Dziga Vertov Group; the earlier films of Godard and Numéro Deux make use of intertitles and letters in ways which are not reduced to didacticism. but cause fantasies of the unconscious, permutations of language, witticisms, etc. to intervene.

Music is also in the space

An attempt to assemble critical pieces approaching cinema “from the standpoint of sound”. A conversation between Serge Daney and Noël Simsolo on Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone, first broadcasted on 24 February 1989 on France Culture. Part of Noël Simsolo’s series “Musiciens pour cinéastes”. Translation found on

SIMSOLO: This was the music of Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone’s last film, hopefully not his final one. Serge Daney, you remember that one day we had lunch with Sergio Leone and what had struck you that you didn’t know at the time was this sort of precision in what he was doing. Despite appearances, he was very conscious of what he was doing. And although he was attacked by critics at first: destruction of the American western genre, phoney filmmaker that caricatures things, bit of a joker, etc, he slowly established himself as an obvious style, rejected or embraced, but clearly a style, total and consistent. When he makes Once Upon a Time in America, there is a use of the mythology of the cinema of Hollywood, of archetypes of the America of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. And with Morricone, his old accomplice as he said very clearly in the interview we just heard, a research so that the sound outline of the film, sound and music, integrate elements of originality and dramatisation but without illustrating. He is not a filmmaker that uses music as an illustrator, like Hawks for example, but uses music like total element of the fiction. So I’d like to put the question to Serge Daney, film critic but also sport and society critic: how do you feel the effects of this unique work?

DANEY: What strikes me is that we have realised very late that music in the American cinema was broadly a rehash of the Viennese School through the Jewish, German, Austrian and Hungarian musicians who left Europe for America. And we accepted this so naturally that we forgot to ask a very simple question. There has been a serious American music, and I do say “serious”, which is not bad at all, and which almost doesn’t feature at all, apart in some musicals, in the American cinema. And one only has to listen again to some records on 20th century American music to discover people that are relatively known, like Ives for example, to realise that there has been a music that tried to take into account European classical music and something specifically American (marching bands, choral societies, guimbards, hymns from North and South, of the Civil War, etc). This music is not in the cinema.

SIMSOLO: except a bit in Ford’s films.

DANEY: A little bit with Ford. Wagon Master for example. Things like that but rather in the minority. And it came down to an Italian filmmaker, a childhood friend of an Italian musician: Ennio Morricone, a pupil of classical music, to bring back through Italy – the pure conscience of classical music – that there had been an American music which was called Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thompson. People like that with a bit of jazz, a lot of popular music. And so it was thanks to Italy, and musically as well, not just the relation between Leone and Ford – Leone as the ultimate heir to Ford – but also Leone as the ultimate heir to Ives, let’s say. With a sort of village cacophony, with very simple melodies, and some very complex things, mixed together and having nothing to do with the serious music of the Viennese School.

SIMSOLO: A sort of return of America and its music via a European. Whereas until now Europe had fed Hollywood and Europe had fed from Hollywood.

DANEY: Yes, I would say that it’s the Europeans who have sent the pupils of Schoenberg or Bartók to Hollywood. But it’s also one European, two Europeans, two Italians, late, in the sixties, who implicitly said to the Americans: listen as well to your own musicians, the locals, from your village.

SIMSOLO: I’ll give you an anecdote that Sergio Leone told me. Maybe you were there. He said “The first time that I saw Morricone, I asked him: What did you do before?”. And Morricone said “The music of some western film”. “But that is bad Tiomkin.” And Morricone replied: “But what if they had commissioned bad Tiomkin?” And I think this is very revealing of what you have just said. For a while, through the imitation of the Hollywood system via the Italian or German series of fake westerns, musicians were asked to compose fake Tiomkin music or fake Waxman or fake Steiner music. Morricone was doing this but when he meets Leone, this is no longer what needs to be done. One has to return to the real.

DANEY: And the real when it comes to America is something quite simple. It’s a rather exploded culture, with many different parts, with a mix of very serious and very popular things, something lost in Europe. And what Morricone does with some magnificent melodies but also very refined orchestrations is to bring – apologies for the slightly pompous word – a carnivalesque dimension, in the way Bakhtin meant it, a heterogenous mix of things. So in the music that Morricone composes for Leone there are the guimbard (which in the end refers to the Jew’s harp), Viennese waltzes, and there is mainly military music. And military music is extremely important with Leone because he is perhaps the last filmmaker that is profoundly pacifist, anti-militarist actually, to make films. There is a description of war in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a hate of war, which apart from Ford, the Ford of The Horse Soldiers, had never really been shown in the American cinema.

SIMSOLO: And what also happens is that the music of Hollywood, illustrative or contrapuntal, or to think of it in as a function in the fabric of cinema, played either the theme of the character, and Morricone knew how to do this, as we’ve seen with Addio a Cheyenne, or of the situation, but rarely played the profound origin of people. It’s only with Ford that when a character arrived, we heard in the music some Irish rhythms to guess his origins. Whereas with Leone and this is what we will hear now. Since in Once Upon a Time in America, it’s about the Jewish mafia, one character is going to play the pan flute, as someone could have played it in the Palestine of the 1910s. And it’s mixed with the rest of the music, which means not only there is the character and the situation but there is also what the character fundamentally is, and he can’t function in any other ways than through his profound origins, and that music becomes in this instance not only part of the fabric but also an element of the analysis we can make about the cinema.

DANEY: We could say that this is the music that De Mille couldn’t create.

SIMSOLO: So as we reach the end of this series of broadcasts, there are a few things I’d like to say which are a bit anecdotical, slightly beside the point. But it’s true that when we got to know each other at the end of the 60s, at the time of the Cahiers du cinéma, before Cahiers du cinéma take an ideological turn, we sometimes found ourselves in popular film theatres with people like Jacques Rivette who watched films by Leone, who had been rather despised at some point, and who found an immense force in his cinema. And it’s also true that the force we found in Leone wasn’t just the mise en scène, in the flattest possible sense of the term, meaning how one enters the field of camera, how one cuts, how one constructs a close-up, but also the whole of the tapestry, of the mechanic that was rendered. And it’s true that even though critics like those at Cahiers du cinéma and other precise critics didn’t take the music in film as a fundamental element of the quality of a film. There was even this sentence if you remember that said “when the music of a film is good, we don’t hear it, we don’t remember it.” Leone and Morricone have reversed this problem. It is not possible to think of Leone without Morricone’s music as the interview I conducted with him in Annecy just reminded us. And we have the impression today, twenty years later, is that this crystallization that he managed to operate between a very present music and a very present cinema modified the way in which people use music in cinema.

DANEY: And you inadvertently just said the word that allow me to make a link…

SIMSOLO: Why “inadvertently” Serge?

DANEY: Hold on. You don’t know which word I mean. It’s “crystal”. I didn’t invent that. It’s in the tome two of Deleuze’s book where there are some beautiful things about the cinema. And he talks about certain filmmakers, not Leone because perhaps he doesn’t know him well enough, but he talks about Renoir, people like that, about Ophüls with whom it is already more telling, and he talks about the structure of the crystal. This means that the ensemble of the things that happened, character by character, action by action, memory by memory, is in a crystal. So we can’t touch it. And inside the crystal, there is a small merry-go-round. And each character is riding his own merry-go-round. And the merry-go-round is circular meaning that the characters can’t escape the crystal. It is the past. Fossilized but always ready to return, with the same intact emotional force.

SIMSOLO: Yes, like in the finale of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly where the dead punctuate the duelling trio.

DANEY: Exactly. It takes place in front of a cemetery, in front of the dead. And perhaps because of Leone and also Demy with Les Parapluies de Cherbourg as it’s around the same time, there has been the possibility for a film to have a music that was both in complete synchronicity, in complete osmosis with the film, a music that said the same thing as the film, that there was this unforgettable and slightly idiotic crystal where people turn round in circles, are in cycles, do the same gestures, the same mistakes, the waltz of the shadows, and that we could remember the film or the music individ… indifferently. It set a precedent, for better or worse, often for the worse. And the most moving moment is the starting point: Leone. Leone is the first who made films, with Morricone as a magnificent accomplice, where the crystal was eternal. And what could we see inside the crystal? We could see both refrains, which is very Italian, like Nino Rota, differently but in the same way as Nino Rota. Something that an American can’t do. An American can’t create a refrain because he is caught in the countdown of an action. He can only compose a melody with a final catharsis like Tiomkin. Italians have always composed melodies, even refrains and choruses which they have even integrated into classical music. Morricone did this and it matches perfectly with the Leonian project which was to say: look at the cinema we no longer know how to make, let’s say Ford to be quick, before it disappears, and look also at the cinema that is coming: a cinema where we are going to take sample / signs, where we will be between fashion, advertising, short forms, recitative forms, extremely pathetic, where each character do their act, in a loop, with accompanying music.

SIMSOLO: I remember showing to an editor, Khadicha Bariha who worked with Chris Marker, films by Leone that she didn’t know but knew of reputation: popular films, etc. And seeing these films as the technician that she was, as someone who sticks together images and sounds to make a film, she told me “it’s strange, these are auteur films, totally”. Meaning there isn’t one element that has not been thought of. The films are popular but are fundamentally auteur films, as much as Straub or Garrel. And what’s very peculiar in the crystallisation that I was referring to. Leone, while playing a card completely distinct from popularity, but by mixing different elements, managed to give back to the popular cinema its great lyrical force, while never abandoning anything from his own project. And this is where others like Peckinpah have tried but not succeeded as well. For them, the musician, the actor, the archetype, the script, the décor, and always the music, came like an opera which was the musical opposite of the libretto, like a permanent counterpoint, to give a breathing to the modern cinema that we were expecting. That Leone and Morricone gave to us and that for years nobody had seen it.

DANEY: Nobody saw it but everybody took it, everybody copied it, digested it. His films have entered a sort of vague and obscure collective conscience. And now we see very well that Leone was the first, not only to have announced things that are common today, but to have said: this is the river bank we are leaving behind, and this is what is in front of us. What we leave behind is the painting, the symphony. And what we are heading towards is the sampling. We sample qualities from a character, a character from a décor, a rather empty décor. We become incredibly sensitive to a mix of hyper realistic documentary (Leone has observed the true West a lot) which becomes a neo-neorealism [term prompted by Simsolo] and we could say that if there was a history of the sur-figurative, Leone would be its starting point, but more friendly and moving than its current forms because Leone still knows after what this is coming. So this is really a mandatory passage. It’s like the bridge in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We blow it up in the end. But once it’s been blown up, we’ll have a lot of difficulties in continuing to tell stories.

SIMSOLO: There’s also something more technical. What has always titillated me with Leone is that I have listened to a lot of soundtracks which were illustrative, contrapuntal, theme of a character, theme of a situation. But with Leone, something very strange happened. The feeling of the montage: close-up, medium shot, relations between the two to be structuralist. The instruments played a role. When the pan flute plays, it indicates a certain framing of the image. When it’s the Jew’s harp, it’s something else. Music is not here just as a total element of the tapestry, it is sometimes like in painting or in modern music, a given element that can redefine itself and recompose itself. And it’s particularly striking because it’s only Morricone with Leone, not with the others.

DANEY: What Morricone does with music is the equivalent of what Leone does with his shots. He gives a feeling of what is close and what is far. Of what we are getting close to and at what a musical close up would look like. What we often take as melodies, magnificent of course, are close-ups. And what we take for complex orchestral things, are simply long shots. And to have worked with someone who was doing in his domain, his art, music, the same effort of distancing to take a general view, or of tightening to get to a close-up is something absolutely unique. And it’s true that Morricone didn’t do it with the others.

SIMSOLO: That’s the problem. Because with the others, it was: here’s the music, do what you want with it. With Verneuil, with Don Siegel, with great filmmakers. What’s surprising with Leone is this osmosis that we haven’t found elsewhere. Like Rota with other filmmakers than Fellini.

DANEY: This what everybody can understand today with the Dolby, the compact disc, or spatialised music. Music is also in the space. And people in the sixties must have felt implicitly, very directly, that the space that Leone was fracturing in a very inventive way, by keeping in turns the general picture and the close-up, the other one, in music, was doing the same.

What Were They Saying?

By Serge Daney

An attempt to assemble critical pieces approaching cinema “from the standpoint of sound”. This article was first published in Cahiers du cinéma, issue 304, October 1979, and reprinted in La Rampe: Cahiers critique 1970-82 (Cahiers du Cinéma/Gallimard, 1983). Translation found on

By habit and laziness, racism too, whites always thought that emancipated and decolonized black Africa would give birth to a dancing and singing cinema of liberation, which would put them to shame by confirming the idea that, no way around it, blacks dance better than they do. The result of this “division of labor” (logical thought for some, body language for the others) is that the Western specialists of the young African cinema, too preoccupied with defending it through political solidarity or misguided charity, have failed to grasp its real value and originality: the oral tradition, storytelling. Are these “stories told very differently”? Yes, but in a cinema that is literal (and not metaphorical), discontinuous (not homogenous) and verbal (rather than musical). To begin with speech, not music, is what already characterized the early films of Ousmane Sembene, those of Oumaroou Ganda, and Mustapha Alassane, as well as those created in exile by Sidney Sokhona. The same is still true for the most recent – and most beautiful – film by Sembene, shot in 1977 and entitled Ceddo.

The film recounts the forced Islamization of a seventeenth-century village, situated in what would later become Senegal: the conversion of King Demba War and his court, and then of the villagers, even though they are convinced (as their spokesman says several times) that “no faith is worth a man’s life”. The king is secretly assassinated, the nobles are elbowed out of power, and the villagers (who are the ceddo, the “people of refusal”) are vanquished, disarmed, shaved and shorn, and rebaptized with Muslim names, ready for the slave market. (The next instalment, in a sense, will be Roots). Alongside this first story whose center is the village square, Sembene pursues a parallel story whose site is in no man’s land, somewhere out in the bush. The princess Dior Hocine, the king’s daughter, has been carried off by a ceddo who is trying to protest against the Islamization of the court, and who mercilessly kills anyone who tries to free her (first a brother, then a loyal knight). He is finally assassinated on the orders of the imam who has meanwhile taken power. Only at this point does the princess become conscious of the subjection into which her people have fallen. When she is brought back to the village, superb in her pride, with tears in her eyes, she kills the imam: a freeze frame on this last image, and the film is over.

Thus people in Ceddo lose freedom (the village), lives (the king), blinkers (the princess.) But there is worse. Ceddo is the story of a putsch, with the intrusion of religion into politics (as in Moses and Aaron, for instance) and the transition from one type of power to another (as in The Rise of Louis XIV), but it is also the story of a right which is lost: the right to speak. A right but also a duty, a duty but also a pleasure, a game. If the imam wins, it is not because he is militarily stronger, it is because he introduces an element which will cause the traditional African power structure to implode. And this element is a book, a book which is recited: the Koran. Between the beginning and the end of the story told by Ceddo, what has changed is the status of speech.

In the beginning, it is clear that we are in a world where no one lies, where all speech, having no other guarantor than the person who produces it, is speech of “honour”. When he films this people who will soon be reduced to silence, Sembene first insists on restoring their most precious possession: their speech. It’s an entirely political calculation. For what the defeat of the ceddo signifies is that African speech will never again be perceived by whites (first Muslims, then Christians) as speech, but instead as babble, chatter, background noise “for poetic effect” or, worse, “palavers”. Now, what Sembene brings before us, beyond archaeological concerns (which we are too ignorant of Africa history to evaluate) is African speech in so far as it can also have the value of writing. Because one can also write with speech.

In the court of King Demba War, in the coded space where the plot develops and the protagonists of the drama appear, each person is one with what he says: the king and his people, the Muslims and the “pagans”, the pretenders to the throne. There are rhetorical games, theatrical turnabouts, negotiations and oaths, declarations and rights of response: speech is always binding. Only in Pagnol can one find such incandescent moments where speech, functioning as writing, lays down the law. In this way Sembene’s film becomes an extraordinary document on the African body (today’s actors and yesterday’s heroes) upstanding in its language (here, Wolof), as though the voice, accent and intonation, the material of the language and the content of the speeches, were solid blocks of meaning in which every word, for the one who bears it, is the last word.

Is this an ideal, naive vision of a world without lies? The utopia of a world before ideology, ignorant of the gap between the statement and its enunciation? Not so sure. The societies which are a bit hastily considered to be “without writing” have resources all their own for extracting from spoken language that which can have the value of the written. One such resource is the use of what Jakobson called the “phatic” dimension of language (concluding one’s phrases with “I said!”). Another is the use of gestures with a performative value (Madiac, the heir to the throne dispossessed by the new Koranic law, repudiates this law and makes himself an outlaw; he demonstrates this position by trading a slave for wine which he solemnly drinks before the disgusted imam, who holds his nose against the smell.) Yet another resource is the use of undecidable statements (Madder the outlaw speaks only in proverbs.) Finally – and this is the most striking aspect of the film, the most unknown for us – there is the existence of an essential character, without whom communication could not take place: the official spokesman, the pot-bellied nobleman Jafaar.

It is as though an entire aspect of language – speech which is not binding – had fallen to a single man: Jafaar alone can lie, exaggerate, flatter, trick, play every role (including his own), occupy all the positions of discourse. Two characters standing face to face still need him to signify that they are speaking to each other: “Tell him that…” Yet Jafaar is not a spokesman in the Western sense (he doesn’t speak for a statesman who, remaining hidden, can always deny what has been said) and nor is he a buffoon, nor the king’s fool (so common in the Arab tradition.) He is not the one who speaks the truth while all the others lie, he is the only one who has the right to lie while all the others are sworn to truth. He is the one with a monopoly on the gap between statement and enunciation. Without Jafaar there is no communication; he is, if I daresay, the “blank spot” who spaces the speech of others and transforms it, in a certain way, into writing.

Therefore, even more than recounting the fall of King Demba War, it seems to me that Ceddo recounts how someone is dispossessed of his role as spokesman. At the end of the film, the imam sends Jafaar away (despite all his grovelling attempts to keep himself in favour), and replaces him with one of his loyal followers, Babacar. In fact, the function changes. Babacar speaks on the orders of the imam, who himself supposedly speaks in the name of a book (the Koran) he knows by heart. But a book is nobody. This vertical transfer of speech replaces the horizontal circulation of African language where a liar, put at everyone’s disposition, allows each one to “keep his word”. It is after Jafaar’s defeat that the reign of ideology, if you will, can begin. That is to say, the set of positions, not to say postures, that can be adopted before an untouchable Text: poses, travesties, excesses of zeal, hypocrisies, disguised unbelief. This is where Sembene becomes deliberately polemical: the ferocity with which he composes the portrait of the imam speaks clearly of his disdain for the servants of all dogma. More than an anti-Islamic film, Ceddo is anticlerical. Sembene hates priests.

So much for Ceddo-language. Ceddo-music remains. I said above that there were two films, two stories, two “positive heroes”: the people who collectively resist and the princess who becomes aware of the situation out in the isolation of the bush. The two films only converge in the final images, which are all the stronger for their forced, fictional quality. For when the princess kills the imam, it can only be an improbable end, an emblematic denouement: the final liberation of Africa yet to come. Sembene, more dialectical in this than filmmakers such as Leone or Kurosawa, knits together two stories without ever confusing them; he maintains the distance between the description of resistance and the fiction of liberation, between the people and its heroes, the collective and the individual, archaeology and convention. In short, the princess is not Zorro.

In fact, if there are two Ceddos, they are treated by means of two different approaches to cinema. Where the archaeological part is based on speech, the allegorical part is based on music. Each time the film calls on known situations, belonging to a diffuse, trans-historical memory of the history of the African Diaspora, the music – by Manu Dibango – seems to play as a reminder, a connotation. Speech against music? Not really, more a kind of dichotomy: to music belongs everything that refers us to our ignorance – which, in the case of Africa, is boundless. The result is a fascinating displacement of affects. When the villagers are branded with a hot iron, when they are hustled onto the square to be rebaptized, the cruelty of the situation, far from being underlined by the music, is held at a distance, as though someone were murmuring ironically: but you already knew all that… The music (Negro spirituals, balafons, choruses evoking free jazz) does not reassure, exalt or dramatize, but makes meaning. For once, film music has something like the taste of ashes. For this is the music that the ceddo people and their children will make later, elsewhere: in the USA, in Brazil, in the Caribbean. And they don’t yet know that. We know it (and more, we like that kind of music). The music is a future past, it will have been. In the same way, the ceddo people don’t know that for we Westerns, they will become beings of music, good-for-song-and-dance – precisely to the extent that they will lose the right to speech. It’s one thing to perceive in the music of the oppressed the reflection and expression of their oppression, but it’s another to ask oneself this question: before being condemned to sing their condition, what did they say and how did they say it? Ceddo risks an answer. Above all, Ceddo allows us to ask the question.

Interior view

by Claire Bartoli

An attempt to assemble critical pieces approaching cinema “from the standpoint of sound”. This article was originally published in the booklet of the sound recording of Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle Vague (ECM, 1997). Translation by John M. King.

In a first period
– the old testament –
a human being
(a man)
is rescued from ruin
by another human being
(a woman).
In a second period
– the new testament –
a human being
(a woman)
(the same)
is rescued from ruin
by another human being
(another man).
But the woman discovers that the other man
is the same as the first
that the second is
(still as before)
the same as the first.
So this is a revelation.
And if man proclaimed the mystery,
it is woman who revealed the secret.

I’ve listened to Nouvelle Vague, yes, the film Nouvelle Vague. I’ve heard it. I can’t see it.
Despite my blindness I go often to the cinema. It gives me a lot of pleasure and intrigues me. Naturally, I go for films without a strong visual emphasis, those that contain many dialogues. Assisted by someone who describes a few scenes or décor elements, I use my imagination. I could see up to the age of twenty-three; I have also retained many visual memories and thanks to my imagination, the colours and images replenish the present stock of my “internal cinema”. The films populate the space within, producing bubbles of visual perception or coloured emotions. Listening to a film is a pleasure, but it also means an effort, concentration … Evoking precise memories to render the interior world as rich as possible, imagining and inventing to bridge the silent gaps. There are some film sequences I am convinced I have seen “with my own eyes”, so powerful and clear is the impression left on me by their scenes and colours.
So, just as in everyday life where all my gestures and movements require constant vigilance, cinema also demands intense concentration if I don’t want to lose my thread.

I listened to the soundtrack several times, on my own, without knowing anything else about the film, then I recorded on my tape-recorder (the notebook that never leaves my side) my first impressions. It was in summer, in a little village in the Ariège, in the middle of the Pyrenees. I don’t take my braille material with me on my travels. Back home, I made another copy of these notes, the first outline for my work. Then, much later, I became immersed in listening to the film once again and had one of my reader assistants record the dialogues published in the L‘Avant- Scène Cinéma (no. 396-397).
Again I noted pell-mell my feelings and thoughts on my little recorder. I appreciate this mode of writing, as it is capable of keeping up with the rapid flow of thought. For this reason my writing occasionally bears the features of the spoken idiom, as it does here now.

I made another copy of these words in braille, rereading the whole to sift out five main subjects, a bit like the chapters of a book.
To achieve this aim, I used a cutting technique. I snipped away at the braille page with my scissors, cutting out, subject by subject, little scraps of paper that I then put together again when I thought they matched. I play with the scissors, but unlike Jean-Luc Godard, hardly by choice. Not having a braille computer yet, I use only a braille typewriter which does not allow me to make any corrections. I systematically recopy the whole page.
After this to-ing and fro-ing between my tape-recorder and the write-up in braille, a friend came to help me check certain dialogue excerpts in L’Avant-Scène. She was somewhat horrified to see me among all these pieces of paper littered all over the office. At that stage I wasn’t at all sure I would ever escape from it all.
The next day, my mind clear, everything sorted itself out in the editing. No story, no chronological order, no events. I could not, as I could with other films, accurately depict in my mind’s eye what the sounds evoked, I could not visualise them. What remained was a melody, a musical mosaic. I had navigated to the rhythm of the thinker: overlapping outlines of thought, on the surface or deeper down, like the waves of the sea.
Jean-Luc Godard said: “… my film, if you listen to the soundtrack without the images, will turn out even better.” I’ve started playing this game.
I conceived the layout myself: my own thoughts occupy the whole width of the page; the indentations are a textual description of the sounds as I perceived them (in small capitals), with my interpretation of these sounds; and in italics are the fragments of the film dialogues.


First sensation: I can’t tell what is going on. The sound fails to reveal the action, just a few décor and movement elements.
Tell-tale sounds: steps on the paving, the stairs, the chimes of the clock …
Birds singing, crunching of gravel under car wheels, a horse whinnying, barking, sweeping of leaves, birds in the tree tops. The voices outside do not have the same tonality as those inside.
The jet engines of a plane. The resonance and fading out of the voices.
Grinding sounds, machines, wheels turning, mechanical hammering at a factory.
Elsewhere, a boat engine, a diver, swimming, pleasure and distress in the water of the lake. Then, other sounds: the waves, the thunder, the gulls do not indicate a location but are like the elements of a musical score, words among other words.

And then, a feeling of being lost: some things are said and I cannot hear them completely.
Amidst this fragmentation, the superimposition of all those words. I endeavour to follow one particular voice rather than another but fail. Slipping away, it eludes me.
Anything else to listen to … Yes, the relief of a landscape, composed of elements in successive layers, where words and sounds obscure and bump into each other, fusing together.

It’s a story I wanted to tell …


No place, no time for me, another reality, the metamorphosis of the universe of sound.
Godard, with large cuts of the scissors, divides the material into fragments, producing sound miniatures, as pure elements.

THEN COMES THE RUMBLING OF THE STORM, FOLLOWED BY THE NOISE OF A VACUUM CLEANER, SWEEPING, AND A MAN’S VOICE – There wasn’t enough time to discover, like a lamp that has just been switched on, the chestnut-trees in bloom.

My attention sharpens in an attempt to discover the faintest drop of sound: a beating of wings, the chimes of the clock, some snatches of a song, the trickling of water, nuggets deposited with the gentle care of a goldsmith or an alchemist.

STEPS ON THE PAVING, inside a house, THE VOICE CONTINUES, also inside. IT SPEAKS OF FRAGILITY. And everything one hears renders it fragile: THE RUSHING OF THE WOMAN AND THE SERVANTS, THE RINGING OF THE TELEPHONE… – things of our times that fill life and yet hollow it out, rendering it empty, void.

If Godard adjusts the sounds with the subtlety of a composer, creating shadows and sparks by rubbing them together, I deem him to be a magician capable of producing a bird from a hat, the individual elements being contained in each other.

THE DISTANT SOUNDS OF A CAR HORN ARE ENGENDERED IN THE MUSIC ITSELF, THE LATTER IS AMPLIFIED; SPEED, TOOTING, SLAMMING OF BRAKES. The fusion of the two elements generates the intensity of a perturbing, tragic sonorous event.

Interlude, A SONG BY PATTI SMITH, A more reassuring rhythm and beat in the closed metallic cage of a car. The words stop dead: You’re injured? Still at the side of the road: A BIRD SINGING, CARS PASSING … But what has happened? An accident, maybe?

Godard, the magician, the ferryman from another reality.

BEES BUZZING, a little grain of sound announcing Richard Lennox’s arrival.

Godard dislodges the sounds of the world, fashions them, isolates them from the life peculiar to them: a bark, a strain of music, a few words by a writer, the ring of a bell, the sound of waves returns to them their peculiarity; playing their significant roles of intervention, rupture, tragedy and mystery they become events. The emotion is engendered by the very substance of the sound.


Nouvelle Vague invents concrete music that does not hew to the beat, that toys with the irrational. Can’t we tell that we are made from the fabric of dreams?

The uneasy dialogue between the financiers awaiting Richard Lennox’s arrival is interrupted by A SONG, THE TOOTING OF A CAR HORN, imparting a musical note and substance to the danger of the situation.

And then the words … Ebbing and flowing, confusion and clarity fade and return between the various planes of sound. Passing words from amplified, then obscured voices interrupting each other, stammering, echoing in the panorama of sound.

No doubt a factory, a building site … EXCHANGES BETWEEN INDUSTRIALISTS IN CLEAR VOICES. They are discussing concrete problems. Other voices, deafened, say: Love, Creation …

Godard loves words, but he does not burden them with a concept, he hollows them to fill them with something else. They touch each other, ring, bounce back again, shatter into little pieces of useless glass, composing a score of notes, juxtaposed or bundled into chords.

Women are in love and men are alone.
A woman cannot do much harm to a man …
Love and attachment… attaché from an embassy … movement … movie … cinema.

In an appointed disorder words assume poetic substance. Separation and reconstitution: certain words are sucked down towards the depths, covered up again, then swell, thread their way along the surface, weaving from wave to wave.

Dorothy Parker: I’ve already told you there’s a price to pay when you’re good and when you’re bad. ELENA’S VOICE SUDDENLY LOUD AT THAT MOMENT: A memory … By virtue of its contact and intensity, the word then seems to respond to and reverberate with what has just been said.
THEN THE VOICE BECOMES INDISTINCT: … is the sole paradise we cannot be driven out of.
Richard Lennox: … catches up with the wave receding and falling back into clear water … a hell we are condemned to in complete innocence.
A PHRASE FROM RAOUL, AT FIRST SONOROUS: What she then discovers … – THEN ROLLING TOWARDS THE HORIZON: … is that her lover has committed the unforgivable mistake of being incapable of existence. – THEN RESURGING TO THE FORE: Leaving melancholy. Here is a rhythm, a space, far and near joining in harmony: oh, yes, melancholy.

The voices trumpet, penetrate the air, ring out. Small insertions of a noise, some notes, the object resounds. These cuts in the sound mark the beat or bring things to a halt.


Words are no longer words, the sounds of the world are no longer the sounds of the world. A new polyphony, magic.

People will say … A BIRD CALL MIXES IN WITH THE VOICE: It was the time when there were rich and poor, fortresses to be taken, ladders to be climbed, desirable things that were forbidden to preserve their attraction. Chance was one of the party. Nostalgic meditation? Author’s comments? THE NOISES CONTINUE TO JOIN IN, THE VOICES OF EVERYDAY LIFE. THE STORM THREATENS, BREAKS … because the world breaks. Danger. Only the birds and the dog hear the voice of the heavens.

Fragmentation and dispersion by means of which Godard drags us into a quest for desperately desired reconciliation between the earth and the heavens.

It is quite right that I should hear now and then the earth gently groaning, sending up a ray of light to rend the surface.

The more sombre and grave voices, such as Richard Lennox’s, seem to contain a little of this light. Others, distinct, loud, those of the merchants, freeze with their own emptiness. Behind Lennox’s firm words explaining the economic situation the gardener sweeps untiringly: the union of opposites, the fleeting and permanent nature of the seasons, modern times, the collapse of the old world?
A pleasure for the ears. Words losing their privilege. Certain noises mask them completely (the plane, the car, the machine), music also obliterates them.
Amongst the apparent calm of the conversations, business lunches, contract negotiations: under-cover terror. All profundity hammered by a contemporary world devoid of love.
Nostalgia that I feel palpitating between the bandoneon and the violoncello, in the faint or grave voice of the gardener,

A garden is never finished… but if it is abandoned …,

or in the deep one of the man, or of other characters that are simultaneously “I” and all the others, in multiplicity. I hear that nostalgia in the call of the bird rending the screen of useless words, with the savage force of an older world, or in the lapping of the waves bringing the sands their burden of memory and a new beginning. Nostalgia like the myth of a lost paradise. I think of Mircea Eliade: The life of modern man teems with half-forgotten myths… with obsolete symbols…
Godard reminds me of everything passing between “I” and the other that I am, between the others that approach me and what, of them, crosses my path. His predilection for disruptions and contrasts, these powerful relations he inserts between the words; the voices, the words and the sounds reveal (in a highly sensitive manner) the complexity of a conscience composed of literary reminiscences, of social, moral or aesthetic prejudice. The mystery of love, of a woman, the solitude of a man find themselves degraded, erased, relegated to the backdrop of a torrent of commonplace concerns.

Nostalgia and the dance of “all those images”.

What are all those images, sometimes free, sometimes confined … a tremendous thought?

Draft for another reality: the earnestness of life and the imbricated dreams, ephemeral and permanent states, melancholy and imagination. Will this modern man, cut off from the energies of nature that he only sees as a pleasant décor, stem the current, will he rediscover contact with the universe around him?
Beyond the realm of words, the music, expressed as the inexpressible fluid enchantment, returns like a memory, never to abandon us. It is also fragmented, inserting itself into the score of sound. And yet I feel its permanence, in slow waves.

THE FLUID TO-ING AND FRO-ING OF THE BANDONEON ACCOMPANIES THE FIRST PHRASES OF THE FILM – It’s a story I wanted to tell … and still want to … – giving way in some gaps to THE CALL OF A BIRD, A DISTANT STORM …

Shadowy and gently caressing, the music advances, as if predetermined. It lunges forward with the spoken words, charging them with intensity:

More generally speaking, a memory is the only hell … – THE MUSIC STOPS – … we are condemned to in complete innocence.

In accompaniment, the music may rise up at the same time as a cry.


It becomes finely engrained in the mosaic of the spoken word, fuses with it, anticipates it, punctuates it, interferes with it:

WITH THE ORGAN: Oh, how far toil is, how far the angels.
Alternatively: Tell him that you will really love him.

It harmonizes with the echoes of the interior dialogue.

In the second part, THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN HIM AND HER. He replies in a very concrete and superficial manner; suddenly an older phrase – The presence you have chosen accords no farewell. BRISK TREMOR FROM A VIOLONCELLO.

ACCELERATED RHYTHM just before they take the boat out onto the lake … Danger… Elena falls into the water, THE MUSIC BECOMES FRENZIED, HARSH TONES, PANIC … the imagination has a completely free rein. IT WAXES SOFT AND CHARMING AGAIN WITH ELENA’S WORDS IN ITALIAN. It caresses, becoming tender and comforting, nursing the wound. This interior sound opens doors, frees the emotion the neutrally spoken words do not reveal. The agitation between the words.

In its incessant equilibration it welcomes the moving, fluid force; it is accompanied by the words of the time, of the tangled time and new beginnings:

They felt big, immobile, with the past and the present above them like identical waves.

It can disguise comprehension or give it the beat, like the percussion.

Every transaction is sane – MUSIC – S.A.I.N.T. – MUSIC.


The slightest word that would tell us where we are, where we are going would be of incomparable value.

What are they? All those words at liberty, shot like arrows that will never fall to the ground, fleeing, irretrievable, escaping from books or enclosed within them?
I am almost drowning, confusion… welcome this gushing chant of words, words punctuated to the point of becoming magic formulas. The solitude of words.
Are they replying to each other? These little phrases cast like bottles into the sea. Bygone words, blue words, sailing in deep water.

The love that seeks itself:

It is neither time nor lassitude that must be feared in love; it is the impression of security, a state of inadvertence. One forgets that this charming being is transitory, one hardly enjoys it like a summer that will return, allowing so many beautiful days to be lost.

Love is more than love.

The memory of the world:

All of them, outlined against the backdrop of the lush green of summer and the royal glow of autumn and the ruins of winter before spring blooms again … it’s not as if they were defending the living against the dead with their enormous, monolithic weights and masses, but more like the dead against the living; nay, protecting the empty, pulverised remains, the innocuous dust and without any defence against the anxiety and inhumanity of the human race.

The words immediately echo each other:

Roger Lennox: I will remember … the voice of the interior monologue: A memory is the sole paradise we cannot be driven out of.
The Chairman: In any case, he can’t be any worse than the other one.
Raoul: But in that case there is a way to do it, and a way not to.

Little pebbles falling into the water disturb the surface, in ripples far and near.

Leaving melancholy …

Before we met, we were already unfaithful to each other.

The summer echoes itself in the gardener’s lyrical and grave words. Distant waves surfacing at another time of the film.

Summer is early this year and a little wild …

Like that pile of leaves burnt by the summer …

Perhaps it’s the famine that is ripening in this summer heat and almond fragrances.

Echoed notes resound in the heart of the other.

Lennox: The presence you have chosen accords no farewell.
Elena: Accords no farewell. -The regret…of having paid too high a price for a profit of some kind.
Lennox: Of some kind.

Here the words bounce upon the skin of an imaginary drum. A deaf, subterranean word submerged by the shouts of the merchants makes us wish we could hear better. A plethora of foaming, noisy, gentle or fallacious little phrases. A pro- fusion of puppet-like words.
In this chaotic polyphony I perceive the breathing of nature, springing forth in bird calls and whinnies. Which ear is meant for hearing the movement of the water? The silence of the words would be necessary.
Godard weaves a thread of continuity between the world’s memory and man’s.

All that grass there, is it within me? Is it grass when it is without me? And if no one gives it a name, what is grass when it is … nameless?

In this world built on the values of money and production I feel a constant fragility; the rumbling of the storm and the call of the bird pierce the screen of words.

Summer was early this year, everything came into flower at the same time, the white lilac, the cherry trees …

Here, even a fine summer evening made us feel our fragility.

To whom is the solitude of the word addressed? Roughly-hewn words, cast without any outcome or origin, like the objects of our day and age thrown away after hardly any use. Solitude in the uproar of the silence of the others.

You talk, you talk… How could you understand that there are others?
I say “me” but I could say a man, any man.

This man in possession of knowledge, in possession of progress exercises an influence on the whole world, and yet he is alone, lost, exiled in himself.

You haven’t understood anything about my silence.

But there is no silence: the sonorous landscape is teeming with a thousand sounds and words. Man’s silence is inside the sound; it is necessary to search for it in the slowness, the distance, the space that disturbs the word.
Roger Lennox’s words, their emotion, laboriously clear the way towards the outside.

How could you understand that there are others, others who exist, who think, who suffer, who live? You only think of yourself.

In this mass of auditory impressions, I divine the opacity of the secret.

We have been given the positive, it is our responsibility to create the negative.

A garden is never finished… but if it is abandoned …

The fervour:

The miracle of our empty hands …
love is more than love.

The spark of life:

It’s still winter but rather tender gleams lend the mist an iridescent quality, in the evening a grey cloud is fringed with fire, a sign of light, the discreet annunciation which will be forgotten in the rains and deceptions of March.

The light twinkles, eternal, once it has passed beyond the individual and time.

The words travel through a landscape in full relief and perspective. Godard mingles the dialogues with internal thought.

Your face…
He: What face?
She: I can’t see you.
He: Look at me …
And then, the other one in him:
There is never anything else in my being but all the words that will re- vive me…
The presence you have chosen accords no farewell.

Slight variations in intonation permit distinction between what is expressed and what is restrained.

She thinks: It’s us against all the others… I had to do what I did.
She says at the same time: You mustn’t worry for my sake.

The clarity and the obscurity of the secret. The man before in the depths of the heart of the man after. Does Godard want to lose us in the interior monologue by mixing all the times and the silences of the time, by spouting it from almost all the mouths of one who is in fact the other? Who is pursuing whom, to which fate?
Polyphony of voices interrupted by those of everyday life: a jumble of material concerns, a flashing of ephemeral thoughts. Incessant effervescence of thought. Everyone follows the trajectory of a little solitary planet. We are travelling between different levels of consciousness, perhaps.

IN THE DISTANCE, A TENDER ATTENDANT VOICE: Women are in love and men are alone.

A woman you love deprives you of other women and sometimes of love.

HARDLY AUDIBLE: … the extent to which you have been alone all your life you cannot imagine …

Jean-Luc Godard loves words. He jubilantly hunts them down in books, he shakes them about like a puppeteer, knotting and unknotting their thin invisible strings from one quotation to the next. A servant quotes Schiller:

Friends, what a pleasure to serve you. But what I do stems from a sincere disposition, thus I reap no credit and am deeply distressed. What may I do? I must learn to hate you, and, my heart full of loathing, to serve you, since this is my duty.

Her brother: Is it possible that one should say “women”, “children”, “boys” without having suspected that these words, for a long time, have not had any plural, but only an infinite number of singulars.

The permanent feeling there is another self. Everyone can be the commentator on what is happening to him.

He: They had the impression of having already experienced all that …

And everyone in turn contributes his thread of the warp to the weft produced by the meditation of Godard.

The gardener: One always learns something from the imbeciles lost in a drama.
D. Parker: Men organise the mystery and women find the secret.
Raoul: What women then discover is that their lover has committed the unforgivable mistake of being incapable of existence.

The mosaic of our existence, a fragment of all the others.

R. Lennox: Whatever I say, there is never anything else in my being but all the words that will revive me.

Raoul: She does not suspect the extent to which she is sometimes surrounded; even when she thinks she is alone with her lover there are many people there with them, her lovers former and future …

Abrupt cuts, haunting repetitions, incantations between the earth and the heavens.


She and he meet, and love travels like a question. To what extent do they meet each other?

What a miracle it is to be able to give what one doesn’t have …

Love does not possess, it’s the face of the shadow of the world of possession.
It rows across their voices,


She and he reply to each other in the filigree of a tangled web surfacing and submerging… waves …

Intimate spaces are near at hand. His badly shaven face, his hands that she kisses …

My love, my love … it’s of little importance that I was born, you are becoming visible where I have disappeared.
THE DOG BARKS. Perhaps a link with the outside world? One is never alone with one’s love.
I will work as long as the day.
Amidst the promises of our love … before we met, we were already unfaithful to each other.
The “promises” and the “before”, inseparable, like the wave and the gull. Waves of things said and done with that will always return, and promises of love like the beating of wings.
HIS VOICE HAS BECOME DISTANT, vague. Elena’s words, deaf, hardly cross her lips:
Let us clasp in our hands, so to speak, this happiness now begun …
Her warm and mysterious voice closes the space between the hands touching each other. The gull flies towards the horizon … The love they devise for each other …
Thank you for accepting …
He restores the distance. BUT THEN HIS VOICE VIBRATES A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY, becoming more sensual: Say no more.

I say to myself: one of the voices is his speech, the other his thought. And all lapse into music again.

Say no more.
For me it’s a dance, soft, drawn out, sorrowful, too. Retreating and returning, from one to the other.

A point on the horizon in the sound panorama, the dialogue proceeds at its own slower rhythm, like the ripening of a fruit…

She: The miracle of our empty hands…
He: My mother used to say to me: giving a hand to someone was always what I expected of joy.

The hands always reappear, testimonies to a bond of love, all charged with what their words will fail to say.

Let us take into our hands this happiness now begun …

The sensual presence of their love. The words do not fragment it, do not hollow it out. Hands extended to each other, given or not given.

On the lake: Give me your hand …

The one that is not taken, the one that brings death.

What are you up to here?
Arousing pity.

His profound words do not reach the surface of the discussions.
She alone hears them and REPLIES IN ITALIAN, only for his ears:

Five more minutes and we’ll be together again.

Amidst these illusions of exchanges, as revealed by the decoupage and the superimposition of the dialogues, she and he answer each other, in a thin, unobtrusive voice. Privileged moments in a labyrinth of solitary paths. She occasionally soft, a wave touching the deep ocean of his solitude. Almost at the same time she slips onto the sand of futile investments.

“Rimorso” regret …

He doesn’t just reply to her, he takes up her thought and interprets it. This is real listening.

… the feeling of having paid too high a price for a profit of some kind.

He continues:

of some kind – a heartfelt echo.

This man of silence, withdrawn into himself, replies to the others,


It would be nice if you said something.
He: I know, but I always wonder what.
Their words are coupled with other vibrations: THE RUMBLING STORM, THE WHINNYING OF THE HORSE.

Two sides – two worlds in confrontation: the intimate and the everyday, the exterior and the interior, the severed moments of two individuals.

He, simple and humble: Your dirty money…
She, her voice stifled, colliding with his own. Firm, self-assured, business-like: It could be yours as well.

Then it is he who becomes implacable.
He answers everything with a blanket of words.

She: I think that love has made me blind… I can’t see you.
He: But look at me!
The man before is wrapped up in himself.

On the lake again. AMOROUS MELODY IN ELENA’S VOICE. DOUBLE, INTERLACED VOICE: I love you… it’s us against all the others.

The stories are revived.

With the same harshness he says:
Kiss me, as if she had said: Give me your hand.

Interplay of voices, of multiple persons, restrained, caressing. This cinema makes me hear the invisible, the connection, the border between what is neither one nor the other, what separates them and pulls them towards each other. I sense the imperceptible margin between the words and the persons, the indecipherable element, the transparent knot between the threads of their destinies.


The disassociation of the visual and the sound elements: each sound existing in its own right in a very indirect liaison with the image. Two impervious worlds? Not quite. Imperceptible links, beyond all logic. So I toy with the sounds, fractured and stuck together again, creating my own pictures. This is the artist’s present: allowing myself to leave an illusory reality to re-enter that of the imagination. What one sees is not what one hears, what one hears is not what one sees. I cannot divine a person’s physical appearance on the basis of a voice, but it provides me with a more interior, less regulated truth.

At first the unity seems to burst into pieces subject to the fragmentary and dispersive action of Godard. He fragments sounds and words, interrupts, contrasts, creates distances, superimposes. I immerge into this strange movement between the right and the wrong side of the words, into the incomplete phrases that never cease to elude. The outside world, everyday life, the superficial words cross the interior world, in splinters, fragments or deep waves.
A work of demolition, and the nostalgia, perhaps, of a lost unity. The words of an old domain regularly lap onto the shore.

Before we met …

A memory is the sole paradise …

It was the time when there were still rich and poor, fortresses to be taken …

A melancholic embrace, the energy of the fragmented words is broken by a moving slow pace, where the vagabond characters of this tangled time meet and pass each other by. The drawn-out interior dialogue, violently broken by the noises from the outside (machines, engines, the telephone, voices …), redistributed in the speech of one or the other, is a deep current that fades and is then reborn: a thread in the weft of an iridescent material. The unity of man fades with it, the unity of the world, and here the magic bond between them quivers. I feel the power and the originality of this film in the gentle touches of the chosen elements, the harmonious or dissonant encounters between the notes, the transparent threads between the things and the people, the caresses, touches and clashes.

Just as Jean-Luc Godard loves to divide, he also displays the power to reunite.

Memories… they return to become – inside us – blood, looks, gestures; when they no longer have names, no longer differ from ourselves, only then can it come about, at an extremely rare hour, from their midst, that …

I listen. A feeling of dispersion, of flight, oppresses me a little, then I taste this alchemical concoction. Its unity is recomposed for me by the emotion. Opposites are no longer opposites, as they beget each other like reflected reflections.


I listen. Neither time or space, but an intermingling of all time and all space. Words of the present, the past, thoughts of all times. The man after, the man before, no endings, only new beginnings. Little waves in a large sea, unfolding and subsiding: it’s the same water, but not the same wave. Godard juxtaposes moments, creating another time where past and future are contained in each moment.

Time seen via the image is a time out of sight. The individual and time are quite different. Light twinkles, eternal once it has passed the individual and time.

Losing my sight made me feel that the eye projects towards the outside. The ear takes us back into our interior world. Time is both inside us and outside us. That’s what Nouvelle Vague reminds me of in its interlacing of moments, memories, seeds for the future, where it is the interior being that re-assembles the scattered moments of life. Robert Pinget describes Monsieur Songe’s reflections: ... the minor events of his existence that have no connections between them or, better, incommensurate connections, or that occur all together or that he has already experienced and that recur relentlessly.
The individual that seeks or finds itself in itself does not experience continuous, progressive time, but fragmented, divided time. Lo and behold, there is no evening after day, no morning after night, but what exists is a splintered, fragmented line of slow or flashing moments, parallel or broken, without any outcome. The continuance is not that of the action with its first fruit and consequences. The factory scene occurs just after the meeting between Elena and Lennox.

INTERIOR, EXTERIOR SOUNDS, OF LEAVING AND RETURNING. Which time transpires between all these moments?

The time lags behind, assuming a different rhythm. It leaves the path of linear progression, opting for the escapades of brief eternities. Jean-Luc Godard hurls these little fragments of time up into the air, maybe to find out the sound they would make when falling. And yet it is not a game of chance, but the composition of a score, in flashes, showers of moments, in series, in multiplicity. In the movements of the stars, those of nature, there is no more regularity than in ourselves.

The society we have lived through may be considered to be defunct …
If it is recalled in future centuries, it will be thought of as a charming moment in man’s history, people will say …

He stops. The thought processes re- quire time to mature. Society has realised this and that’s why it spares no effort to glorify love. It’s a key to productivity.

Pauses and sighs in the score, but no gap. A profusion of memories that do not have the time to burst to the surface, of unsatiated desires … and the present pounds away at it all. In the foreground, men reduced to insects, devoured by utilitarian time, historical time. They live according to the rhythm of the fluctuations of the dollar rate; for them nothing exists outside that time.
But Godard resists this belief in the reality of this time, opening up the horizons of the “grand temps”.

Elena says, vehemently: It would be nice if you said something for a change.
I perceive the distances in the interior dialogue …
Much later, he says:
I have no need to say anything, I help her just the same, she recognises it, besides, sometimes she returns to the midst of the people … Sometimes she doesn’t …

Godard arranges the sound material, he gives it its rhythm. Neither a classic progression nor a traditional series of sounds that would reveal the length and the effects of an action. Incidentally, this explains why I cannot divine any part of the action or the image solely with the power of hearing. I find myself in a revolving time where events are resuscitated, like the lake scene.

The presence you have chosen accords no farewell … A memory is the sole paradise we cannot be driven
out of.

The voyager through this time constantly comes across the signs of the morrow.

The incongruous words of the chauffeur – Have you ever been stung by a dead bee? – assume the message of urgency and prediction: A woman cannot do much harm to a man, she can disturb him, annoy him or kill him, that’s all.

The past breaks through in the voice of one or the other, a distant wave from the same ocean.

Is it possible for us to believe that we have to catch up on what has happened before we are born?

A memory is the only hell we are condemned to in complete innocence.

In the passage of time a man mentions the summer of flowers, ripe fruit and almond fragrance … a wild summer. Untiringly he sweeps the leaves of the summer coming to an end. I hear him and associate him with the permanence of the waves. All of this story could germinate and ripen in that summer. The gardener unfolds the seasons, timeless words, almost a legend, an old round dance whose steps have been forgotten. The gardener returns to the subject of summer at the end of the film. Has a year passed or has the meaning of the dance been altered? The music is inscribed in the passage of time. Melancholic, it comes and goes, unable to keep silent, it unfurls and then retires. Creating movement and permanence.

These signs of light will be forgotten in the rain and the deceptions of March.

I hear the light. The music bears it, many other noises also contain it: the bird song, the wind, the water, the heart of the world. The heart of man.


A composer … a poet … Godard dices the sounds, the words, their echoes. A hollow world becomes populated with words seeking, eluding, finding each other.
Jostled along the paths of my listening, I am thrown off course. He identifies the opposite poles; acknowledges them in our reality but clashes them so violently that we pass beyond these polar tensions to rediscover unity.
He blends lucid analyses of behavioural patterns (his own and others’) with compassion, words of love, violence and the harshness of business and moralising talks; rough contours, unexpected landscapes…
As in a novel, Jean-Luc Godard borrows several idioms: that of a class, a professional group, common, anonymous and everyday language or that of a certain character. They combine to form the speech of the author, who strides through every one of them, observing his own visions.
A man lost in himself, lost for the others, women in love, men alone… Their shadows come together, come apart in a world of no certainties.
An intriguing roundabout of complex and composite beings, masks and silhouettes; their existence seems stronger in the shadow than in full light:

Distant, deafened voices express more about the essence than strong, clear ones.

and the shadow of a single poplar behind me is sufficient for me, in its mourning.

The gravitation of all these travelling beings: the being one welcomes in one- self, for reasons of love, the other within oneself, the voices of shadow and sea depths, all the marionettes of modernity, stirred by the slightest breath.
All those voices… I have developed a strong liking for them. Each one has its own colour, its own accent, its own consistency.
I ran after each of them, in every direction. I could not keep hold of all the strings of those kite-words slipping into space. With Jean-Luc Godard one must accept losing. He does not supply us with things in their entirety but merely embers and wisps of smoke.
The error was wanting to hear everything in order to understand everything. The path he proposes is rather to hear the “entirety”. All those pulverised voices compose another one for me now, one alone, a human voice, fragmented but alive, spinning tales, containing gyrating atoms of the same cell, planets of the same cosmos.

What are all those images, …
That tremendous thought…

Cinema, eye and ear, observer of an outside world, reaps little pieces of reality… this deconstruction, symphony and distillation … to release a new reality of images, his, mine, multiplying endlessly.
… The thought, powerful and migratory, stemming from a distant exterior, the thought yet to be born, explorer of the unthinkable.
The voices outside are ferrymen: voices of the frothing waves, a passing fancy or straw fire, cymbals and frosted mirrors, those inside: immersed, grave, wrapped in a cocoon of flesh, a subterranean fire… And my listening is intent on pursuing the movement of the mantree rooted in the depths and reaching up to the skies.
But the character cherished by Godard may be that new wave, the water abolishing the form to produce it anew. The door is open but no-one has the keys, neither the characters nor the author. He has deposited in a corner of my ear an area of mystery which delights me.
The film – once listened to, dreamt of, reinvented – leaves me with a little subversive taste of the invisible and the eternal.

Ear Below Eye

By Trinh T. Minh-ha

An attempt to assemble critical pieces approaching cinema “from the standpoint of sound”. This article was originally published in Ear 9:5/10:1 (Fall 1985); repr. as “Holes in the Sound Wall”, in Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red, 1991, pp 201-206.

Your soundtrack is a disaster!
Why? I asked HIM who knows the rules of precedence. Who can evaluate with certainty what ranks above what ranks below in the art of ordering film sound. There are many not-to-do’s in the field and a small quarrel may bring about many a ruin.
(Silence. Surprised? Indignant?) … because . . . because of the silences … the …. the repetitions!
Don’t I know? Haven’t I learned through COMMON SENSE that nothing is more dreadful to the trained ear than sounding HOLES. Haven’t I noticed through the many films I saw that one of the golden rules of sound cinema is not to leave any empty section on the soundtrack; not even in moments where silence serves as dramatic sound? Above all, no hole. Please no hole. And should there be any, let’s block it up. With music. This, Henri Colpi rightly observed, is one of the cineastes’ cries of terror. Music makes such a successful marriage with the moving image that not using it so as to cover up silence, to combat audience disturbance; and to breathe into the shadows on the screen some of the life that photography has taken away from them seems like an irremediable error, an utter loss, a … di-sas-ter.
Good film music was formerly differentiated from bad film music by its “inaudibility.” It played in such a way as not to impinge on the viewing, and ear always came after eye in the creative process. Belonging to an area of secundary perception, it was more likely to escape critical evaluation, therefore to manipulate affection. In a sound film, there is always something to listen to: either continuous music from the beginning to the end, or sporadic music with sound effects (things crumpling, rustling, rubbing against each other, footsteps, machines running) and especially chatters, a surfeit of dialogues. With this constant train of sounds/OMNIPRESENCE, silence is avoided like a disease/ABSENCE/DEATH.
Music should not disturb the representative continuity. Should not call attention to itself/detract from the images/ remind men and women of their mortality. BE DISCREET. Have a regular and cohesive structure that cements and gives shape to an otherwise incoherent amorphous film. Remove the sound (from it) and we would be confronting a profoundly disjunctive set of images. We might find ourselves yawning at moments of intense actions and laughing at death scenes. In other words, emotional UNDER-scoring is lacking. Filmmaker loses his-her power to transmit the message, filmviewers fail to interpret it. MUSIC IS THE OPIUM OF CINEMA. Music determines characters, expression, mood, atmosphere, transition, orientation, meaning. Music drowns out all life noises that accidentally break in on the created world/Reserved realm that has the force of neither life nor death, is neither one nor the other but ONLY an imaginary site where both remained unassumed, both are re-presented, SEEN or HEARD with enough distance to banish temporarily all fears, to divert temporarily the pangs of death from life/Music more often than not dictates how the viewer should respond to the images. Without the thousand and one anchorings achieved through sound, the film would disperse in numerously diverse directions, giving rise to ERRORS OF INTERPRETATION. Says Hanns Eisler, the magic function of music … consisted in appeasing the evil spirits unconsciously dreaded ….. The need was felt to spare the spectator the unpleasantness involved’ in seeing effigies of living, acting, and even speaking persons, who were at the same time silent. The fact that they are living and non-living at the same time is what constitutes their ghostly characters, and music was introduced … to exorcise fear or help the spectator absorb the shock. The soundless image is mortal (death has already occurred or will soon ensue): it drifts on to infinity, without ever taking root, hence its dreamlike reality – a dream within a dream. A dream that soon becomes a nightmare with deafness, muteness, and death scenes in it. A DREAM then, whose nightmarish potentials must be blocked by the insertion of a descriptive music that would make it resemble REALITY – on the one hand less of a dream because it is temporarily rid of its ghostlike features, on the other hand more of a dream because it grows unconscious of its unreality in its perfective efforts to imitate-duplicate reality. We surely don’t mind (if not enjoy) seeing violence and death on film (representation of death), but we hardly tolerate seeing them built in the very sound-image relationship that makes up the film (representation as death process). Acknowledge them as part of filmmaking.

SILENCES are holes in the sound wall/SOUNDS are bubbles on the surface of silence. Sound like silence is both opening and filling/concave and convex/life and death. Sound like silence may freeze or free the image. In many civilizations, definitions of music and silence are interchangeable. Music is life. But entering into LIFE is also entering into the DEATH process. Every day lived is a step closer to death and every sound sent OUT is a breaking IN on silence. Music goes on permanently and hearing it is like looking at a river which does not stop running when one turns away. The eye hears and the ear sees. Music is neither sound nor silence. It is contained in each and encompasses both, invisible and intangible by nature, it is especially effective in bringing forth the tangible and the visible. As the Hindus put it: “the great singer has erected worlds and the Universe is her-his song.” In the realization of a film soundtrack, clear distinctions have been made between speech (dialogue, voice-over, or oral testimony), noises (sound effects), and music. More often than not, these three elements are used as subservient INSTRUMENTS to promote an end instead of being dealt with as autonomous TOOLS for creativity. They are constructed as signifying units to help the spectator to assimilate the narrative. Thus, language is consumed exclusively as meaning, noises are reproduced mainly for their informative power, and music is tailored to fit the film’s action. There is, on the whole, no room for silence (environmental sounds from the movie-house). The need to fill in every blank space that would reveal the “unrealistic” nature of the image is usually greater than the impulse to break open/in and out the sound-image wall to unveil the void of representation. A certain repulsion for silence is widely shared among filmmakers. Many of us prefer to turn a deaf ear to the death bell – DEATH STROLLS BETWEEN IMAGES – and to make of Art a human aspiration for immortality, a product SEPARATED FROM LIFE, invented so as to postpone death to infinity. The stance is, naturally, highly paradoxical: to turn away from death, one must also turn away from life. Thus, even in experimental films where the conventional narrative structure is questioned, the audience often faces a soundtrack whose continuous, drug-like flow of music does not fail to compromise the subversiveness of the visuals by indulging the viewers in an “artificial paradise” from which they cannot depart without wanting immediately to return. Drift on uninterruptedly. From one paradise one inebriation one oblivion to another. Above all, no hole. Please no hole. And should there be any, let’s block it up. With music. While the images reach a high stage of deconstruction (or do they?), the sound is satisfied with tying some pop, rock tunes, reintroducing thereby in a forceful manner the mainstream devices ( of description, expression, association, identification) the images’ attempt at undermining. INTERNALIZED AESTHETIC CLAP-TRAP. The effect of music combined with film differs from that of film or music alone. One can easily annul the other when their relation is taken for granted, that is to say when their interaction is not thoroughly questioned. The myth of storytelling in music is still very alive in the film world. To challenge the monotonous universe of illustrative logic in which film music usually moves, it is therefore necessary to play an exacting game with all securely anchored audio-visual habits.

Silence: people having faith in each other. If the main motive of cinema is not expression nor communication, not telling a story nor illustrating an idea, then … the coast is clear(ed). Everything remains to be done in the field of film music. Everything seems possible and the constraints are above all a question of relationship. (Relationships that are determined by a specific situation – here, a sound film – but that also exceed it: they interweave beyond the limits set; relate one work to the other, film to life/death; expand layers of reading/listening; connect film, filmed subject, filmmaker, filmviewer, and context in which film can exist. One way of defining filmmaking is to say that it consists of entering into relations with things and people and making as many of these relations come into view/hearing as possible.) Whether noises are music or not, for example, depends en the hearer’s way of living: how one listens to them, absorbs, and recreates them. This no longer sounds new to our ear. Yet looking at the widespread practices of sound cinema, I cannot help asking: why use noises so consistently for their informative power? Why not explore at the same time their musical potentials? Move from that which is easily identifiable to that which is at the limit of being identifiable. Listen to them non-knowingly but alertly. Enjoy their materiality. SUSPEND the MEANING of sound, by multiplying their naturalist-realist role to the point where no single anchoring is possible, no message can be congealed, no analysis can be complete. Let it go; let it exceed all control, for an excess of intentions (conscious control) is always mortal. A sound that one does not recognize (because it is decomposed, recomposed, changed-cut, repeated, emphasized differently) provokes, among other reactions, a renewal of attention for the image whose (form and) content becomes the only point of reference left, and vice-versa. One may also want to use codes so as to displace more effectively their informative content. Intermittently give the illusion of real (synchronized) sound so as to reveal more keenly their illusive nature. A soundtrack can lure the spectators into a definite mood and take an abrupt turn as soon as they enter into it, thereby keeping constantly open the space of their desire for the finished product. The same holds true for the use of voices and dialogues. Language exceeds meaning. I define it first and foremost as the music of a body and a people. The eternal chatter that escorts images is an oppressive device of fixed association. To bring out the plural, sliding relationship between ear and eye and to leave more room for the spectators to decide what they want to make out of a statement or a sequence of images, it is necessary to invent a whole range of strategies that would unsettle such fixedness. Here, silence and repetitions can play an important role. Cutting a sentence at different places, for example, assembling it with holes, repeating it in slightly different forms and in ever-changing verbal and visual contexts help to produce a constant shift and dislocation in meanings. Silences and repetitions are rejected as a failure of language when they are experienced as oblivious holes or as the utterance of the same thing twice or more. WE SHOULD NOT STAMMER, so goes the reasoning, or we only make our way successfully in life when we speak in a continuous articulate flow. True. After many years of confusions, of suppressed voice and INARTICULATE SOUNDS, holes, blanks, black-outs, jump-cuts, out-of-focus visions, I FINALLY SAY NO: yes, sounds are sounds and should above all be released as sounds. Everything is in the releasing. There is no score to follow, no hidden dimension from the visuals to disclose, and endless thread to weave anew.