Thursday, December 14, 2006


I just discovered a good little note I'd jotted down a couple days ago in a discussion of Fassbinder's use of mirrors: Fassbinder's constant use of mirrors indicates what might be read as a heavy reliance of the acousmetre; by attaching voices to their 2-d mirror representations rather than the "real" subject on screen, Fassbinder grants many of his characters the status of semi-acousmetres. This both allows them to slip more easily into full acousmetric presences (such as the voice/body split that occurs in the slaughterhouse early in 13 Moons - also, in Fassbinder, as in Fellini, the voice dubbing is loosely synchronized, and, as Chion explains, "these post-synched voices float around bodies" rather than inhabiting them), but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, Fassbinder's conception of the image grants it so much power/primacy/control/whatever that the only way to compensate for that, and to compete with it, is by granting the voice a certain degree of acousmatic powers (hints of omniscience, omnipotence) that come from separating it from the mouth/body. The word I originally used to describe the image's power as Fassbinder conceives it was "overwhelming-ness" which is kind of poetic, in an awkward, accidental sort of way.

My favorite explanation of the acousmetric properties comes in Chion's discussion of Ordet (p. 129-30 of The Voice in Cinema, 1999):

"At the end of Dreyer's Ordet, the madman Johannes pronounces before the body of Inger the words that are supposed to bring the young woman back to life. Dreyer could have filmed this scene in either of two ways. He could have shown the face of Inger when the offscreen words of Johannes are heard, or the camera could remain on Johannes as the latter declaims the words of life.

"The first solution would be more magical - Johnanne's voice would function as an acousmatic voice with all the power of acousmetres. The second solution keeps thing in the human dimension - Johannes is nothing but a man, and the words have no power other than by the grace of God. That is the solution Dreyer chose. In the entire film, vocal production is filmd directly, head-on, with very few offscreen voices. Speech draws on the symbolic force of 'embodied' language here, not on the black magic of disembodied voices."

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