‘Sound by its very nature necessarily implies a displacement or agitation, however minimal’ (Chion, 9-10). Taking into consideration Chion’s claims about the ‘audio-visual contract’ in film (e. g. empathetic/anempathetic effects, the temporalization of the image), examine in detail the relationship between the perception of sound and the perception of movement in any TWO films we have watched, and discuss how this relates (or not) to the films’ investigation of movement in general.
A road trip through the United States of America, a country of unlimited possibilities – many people’s dream of feeling (care-)free, independent and adventurous. The idea to travel along the highway in a car or motorcycle, feeling the winds blow and/or the various landscapes pass by while driving from A to B stands for a journey of a lifetime. Hereby the soundtrack, hence the music, one listens to appears a vital element for the success of such a journey, as it completes the prejudiced American image of a road trip.
Many films have portrayed exactly this kind of picture and to some extent glorify the concept of the American Dream. But what if movies focus on a different point of view in mentioned road trips and have the audience experience a rather alienating, more reality suggested feel to it, in which the sound might imply “a displacement or agitation, (even if) minimal. ”? Alfred Hitchcock once argued that, “if it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.
Although in Paris, Texas and Two-Lane Blacktop mainly diegetic sounds are used, these sounds (in Two-Lane Blacktop especially) play a vital role in our understanding of the films’ narrative as well as their overall message. Even though the viewer might still have the ability to interpret the images without sound – and that in Paris, Texas more so than in Two-Lane Blacktop (TLBT) – the intentions and success of the character’s journey would lose direction and purpose without the input of their chosen sounds.
Hence, the viewer’s perception of sound and his perception of movement (be it physical or ideological movement) is interlinked in both of the films discussed in this essay, where the focus shall lie mainly on the question of character development and their movement within the frame. The inter-relationship between sound and movement is crucial already in the opening moments of both TLBT and Paris, Texas. They aid the introduction of the respective narrative of the films and to their overall message.
While we are literally thrown into the middle of an event that is already going on in TLBT, Wim Wenders allows his audience a slower, smoother start into the story. The viewer is confronted with sound in the case of both movies before there is even an image on the screen. Not only does the pre-mature use of sound foreshadow the significance that it will have throughout the rest of each film, but it does also establish a distinct mood for the audience. The howling of motors in TLBT instantly prefigures the moment of failure of the character’s journey.
As soon as the main characters, the Mechanic and the Driver, win the illegal drag race, the police separate the crowd and the viewer finds oneself in another race – an escape from the law. Hence, the action we witness in the starting scenes, underlined by the motor sounds, which even drown the police sirens, significantly dictate the rhythm of the journey in its entirety, both through their regularity in sound itself as well as the interruptions it finds by outside factors, such as the above mentioned police, the G. T. O or other human necessary needs. In Paris, Texas on the other hand, the beat is much slower.
One is soothed into the beautiful landscape scenery through a crescendo-like, blues guitar tune, which is the only non-diegetic sound in the film. The audience is allowed time to orientate oneself and to grasp the situation and more specifically the landscape surroundings that the main character is experiencing. “The sound vectorizes or dramatizes shots, orienting them toward a future, a goal, and creation of a feeling of imminence and expectation. ” (Chion, p. 13) Like the motor sounds in TLBT are rough so are the cuts through the image and the camera movement itself. Images stop as abruptly as they begin, just like the motor of a car.
The motor of a car functions as symbolic device here, as it can work one moment and not at all the next. This can link to our fate as human beings on the journey of life since certain moments in our existence can fade away or lose their significance as quickly as they appeared. This contrasts sharply with Paris, Texas, where the sound as well as the movement of the image is smooth, clear and steady. That inter-relationship corresponds to Travis’ steady character development (whether enacted by himself or others) throughout the film, which is something that TLBT clearly lacks.
The race established with the G. T. O. hrough the country never truly finds its energetic beginning – “and its connotations of goal, competition, and success – gradually transforms into a collective journey without purpose for the unlikely foursome. ” (Laderman, p. 94) The film follows very consistently and routinely the characters while driving as well as their short bathroom, meal or gas breaks, which is strongly underlined by the movie’s consistent use of sounds and lack of valuable, meaningful conversations. In particular that development of plot and the character development in both movies is tied to the notion that “the path is the destination”.
The movement in the beginning of TLBT shows a certain level of stagnation, or movement into nothingness: a dark, unlit road accompanied with the feeling of acceleration of the motors through sound. Interestingly Hellman contrasts the suggested upcoming forward movement through the howling of the motors with cars pulling backwards and positioning themselves at the appropriate starting spot. The viewer is confronted with a hesitation before the progression of the journey. Although one sees the cars run into darkness, such darkness may resolve into another direction and final destination, however this is temporarily unpredictable.
This very notion is already supported by the opening credits, which show a close up onto a center strip of the highway. One is aware of the speed, but unaware of a destination. The regularity of motor sounds introduces the viewer to the sentiment of movement for the movement’s sake. Once again, this may be a comment on the ways in which we as human beings need to force ourselves to move forward and proceed with the journeys of our lives even in times of doubt and a lack of personal direction.
By not giving the viewer a feel for the destination, but instead asking him to identify with the notion of moving forward as such, a reference to the glory of the American Dream is made. As long as you move forward irrespective of the obstacles in the road, you can reach your goals of a better life. Hereby is to bear in mind, however, the crucial differences in the way movement, hence the journey, is portrayed in each film. While Paris, Texas focuses on a narrative structure, which forms an actual story to follow as audience member, TLBT merely appears to be commenting on the conditions and sense of life while driving on the highway.
The point is to drive…” (Denzin, p. 127), where Travis, however, “does not desire even to see the road” (Cormigan, p. 154) before he eventually realizes a “desperate need to reclaim a family” (Cormigan, p. 153) while reclaiming independence at the end of the movie. The anonymity of the characters in TLBT, however, whose names are not disclosed to the viewer, for example, the Driver asking G. T. O at the gas station if he has seen the Girl, “whatever her name is”, gives the viewer a slight sense of disorientation with regard to character and plot development.
This is reinforced since there is a certain sense of responsibility visible in the action of the driver as he does not want to leave her behind and make sure she is alright, yet there is also a degree of indifference because he does not make an effort to get to know her as individual. The viewer identifies with this scene, since there are moments in our lives when we are hit by the ambivalence of our relationships to other human beings and find ourselves unable to decide how much we can and want to partake in their lives or share our own with them. To illustrate this point, let us consider the various instances of “communication” within the film, all permeated by an emphasis on cars – whether as subject matter, stylistic strategy or actual vehicle of communication. ” (Laderman, p. 96). The insight into the characters is prohibited for the viewer not only through the lack of presence of dialogue itself, but also through the insignificance of the content of the few existing dialogues, or often times monologues even.
A vococentric use of sound is hereby more so present in Paris, Texas, as it underlines the relevance of it in relation to the journey Travis undertakes. “It almost always privileges the voice, highlighting and setting the latter off from other sounds. ” (Chion, p. 5). A stronger attention indeed is paid to the dialogues in Paris, Texas, as the establishment and reconnection between characters within the story are vital to the development of Travis’ character and therefore his movement forward.
In TLBT, on the other hand, the audience is distracted from the speeches made in the film through the environmental sounds, as the motor sounds in a majority of scenes accompany the words spoken by the characters, undermining their importance to the overall journey. One has to bear in mind the realistic approach towards the moment of driving intended in TLBT where the viewer is meant to relate to the fact that often times one cannot hear what a person is saying while sitting in a car. The need to speak up in a car more so than in another enclosed room becomes both a cinematic and real experience for the audience.
It stresses the different levels of communication in real life and suggests a loss of ‘added value’ of sound in relation to the seen image. Both movies furthermore question the individual’s fascination with movement and speed, yet they take slightly different approaches when doing so. TLBT contrasts extremes with another, for example the Driver and Mechanic demonstrates a great fascination for cars, and hence for movement and speed; whereas the girl not showing any knowledge or interest in cars and mechanics whatsoever: “What kind of car is this anyway? ”.
If the journey on the road i. e. the road trip symbolizes the individual’s road to the fulfillment of his personal dream, then this may be a comment on the notion that not everyone is interested in attaining this dream or the speed at which he attains it. These differing approaches to speed as phenomenon of moving through life is further supported by the appearances of trains in both movies. While in TLBT no other transport sounds other than the ones of a car play a key role, Paris, Texas portrays a variety of transport technologies in contrast to Travis’ admiration of walking.
In TLBT the train passing by is going into the opposite direction from both the characters as well as the viewer, as one observes as participant out of the car. Yet the focus of the sound remains on only the motor of the car as well as the mechanic explaining why they won’t race just for fun. Paris, Texas on the other hand strongly incorporates sounds of not only the train, but also airplanes. Contrary to TLBT, speed does not appear the most significant factor to Travis’ travels – the only relevance is that he gets somewhere.
This is supported by the train sequence in which one hears a train sound passing through the little town before in fact seeing it. With this point of view the audience follows Walt outside the motel room, but does not interact further with the scene as it cuts to Travis walking along the railway – with the train sound gone. With such clear cuts the viewer’s attitude towards the plot of the story is dictated, thus, the viewer is forced to accept the temporality of a moment, including environmental sound, which is a concept already introduced earlier in this essay.
Let us now return to a discussion of the inter-relationship between sound and character development. In TLBT a specific sound can be associated with a particular character, while in Paris, Texas the theme soundtrack acts as catalyst for the connection between Travis as main character and the other characters instead. Paris, Texas offers a non-diegetic theme tune, while in TLBT the viewer is given the opportunity to transform the diegetic sounds into a theme for a certain character in the movie at his own accord.
This furthers the intention of having the members of the audience become more active partakers of the journey through the interaction of sound with the image. In TLBT, the music from the radio can be associated with G. T. O. ’s character as the music is only present when the G. T. O. is part of the frame or within the scene generally. Whether it is when he passes the Chevy with open windows or whether one sees him in scenes together with the trio, mostly in diners or at gas stations.
The music hereby can be interpreted as representation of the iconic American Dream and the supposed freedom that the individual experiences on the road. G. T. O’s identity appears to rely on lyrics from the songs he listens to – they are illusions and only the singer’s reality, if anything. This co-relates with the stories he tells the hitchhikers he takes on board, as their credibility must be questioned highly. In contrast, one connects the motor sounds with the Driver and Mechanic. Despite the lack of personal, emotional connection between the two, they appear inseparable and have merged into one.
They are dependent on each other and each of them functions as a necessary part in the process of moving forward on the road and hence in life. They resemble the relationship between the wheel and motor as main parts of a functioning car. Interestingly enough, subconsciously both the Driver and the Mechanic internalize the views and standards of their society, which they themselves believe to be rejecting. The Driver’s refusal to play music in the car whilst driving demonstrates a lack of interest in conforming to the image of the American Dream.
This stands in contrast to what the G. T. O. stands for. Although music therefore plays a more vital role in TLBT, the theme tune in Paris, Texas should not be underestimated either, because “music can directly express its participation in the feeling of the scene, by taking on the scene’s rhythm, tone and phrasing. ” (Chion, p. 8). Barthes goes even further in stating that “it is impossible to describe music without adjectives – that is, it must be understood in terms of its subjective effect rather than through a dictionary of meanings. ” (Turner, p. 0) Music scores rightly allow the viewer to feel with the characters. Hence, the empathetic theme tune in Paris, Texas encourages the spectator to feel what Travis is feeling when he tries or is forced to reconnect with his past and thereby family. The relationship between the sound and responding images cause a movement through the story of Travis in the eye of the audience. Unlike in TLBT, the music in Paris, Texas represents a nostalgia for and/or connection to the past – it underlines a progression of movement of the characters and their development as individual.
That is why one hears the theme tune in significant stages of Travis’ journey of reconnecting with his life within society and civilization: when he wanders through the desert alone as catalyst (if he would not have fainted due to lack of water, he’d still wander around the desert alone); when he is found and encouraged to go with his brother Walt; when Travis watches the film about him, Jane and Hunter; when Hunter, Travis’ son, and Travis walk home together from school and Travis finally crosses the road to walk by Hunter’s side, just to name examples.
In TLBT, on the contrary, music functions as distraction from the journey or path of the characters. It appears to be a procrastination of movement as both the G. T. O. and the Girl act as interfering factors for the Driver and Mechanic: they distract both from their desire to simply drive. Whereas the non-diegetic music in Paris, Texas may create some temporal linearization within some of the images, TLBT suggests a disjoint reality with disjoint, unlinear sounds that show no connection between the images and underline their temporality and moment life in two different ways.
This finally leads to both movies commenting on the medium ‘film’, hence the movement of a frame within the frame, yet again they slightly approach it differently. While in Paris, Texas the concept of ‘film’ acts as device of memory, hence a comment on the past, TLBT uses ‘film’ as a reminder of the artificiality of the media and its comment on what the viewer saw as being a film, not reality. The relationship of movement and sound hereby can be seen as an interesting one, because while we watch the images on the projector we hear the theme tune – melancholic, smooth, and emotional.
At the burning of the projector image at the end of TLBT, however, we encounter silence before being confronted with what sounds like the projector of the film. Not only the image but its corresponding sound here causes some form of displacement, as the viewer now has to realize that what sound and image tried so hard to present as reality throughout the entire film is being reversed through the emphasis on the fact that it only in fact was a film. “The real, for all practical purposes, is, at the level of surface, glossed; everyday experience its representation.
A cinematic society, a society of the spectacle, a society which constantly views itself reflected back to itself on the glare of the TV screen is only what is seen. What is seen is a ‘realistic’ cinematic version of what the ‘real-should-be’. ” (Denzin, p. 124) This precisely can be drawn from both films and their approach towards ‘film’ as a medium, which uses sound as its supporting device, and clearly comments on the question of reality in relation to the (moving) image.
Concluding one can say that both movies rely strongly on their soundscape in order to reveal not only the intention but also development of the story within the film. If the soundscape weren’t as mechanic and continuous in TLBT the emphasis on the feel for driving would not be as present and coherent to the audience and the meaning of the movie would be a different one. If Paris, Texas hadn’t made use of the non-diegetic theme tune along side the realistic diegetic sound, the connection between Travis and the other characters as well as Travis and the spectator himself would be lost.
Whether there is an actual plot within a film or not, sound plays a vital role in transporting the audience into a world which may not be their own but they can relate to, or significantly feel alienated by. “These two perceptions mutually influence each other in the audiovisual contract, lending each other their respective properties by contamination and projection. ” (Chion, p. 9). The relationship between movement and sound is one that is apparent in reality – where else would one take the idea of its representation in moving images from after all.