Geoff Cox

Listen to Nice

This presentation will analyze an extract of A Film About Nice (2010), by Keith Marley and myself that explores the use of music and creative sound design in a documentary context. It will be contextualized with reference to John Corner’s idea of ‘connecting knowing to feeling and hearing to viewing’ in his discussion of Humphrey Jennings’ Listen to Britain (1941), a wartime propaganda film with an overtly poetic sensibility and dominantly musical soundtrack. This will be linked to Bill Nichols’ concept of the reflexive documentary that challenges the notion of indexical realism in film. Lindsey Anderson, a great admirer of Jennings’ work, urged that we ‘get beyond pure naturalism into poetry’ in order to search out ‘larger implications than the surface realities may suggest’. Despite this and numerous theoretical challenges in the 1960s and 70s to André Bazin’s assertion that film is a window on the world and can represent largely unmediated reality, the apparent indexical power of the image, even in today’s digital age, still holds sway. Sound’s far weaker existential bond between sign and object and hence its greater evocative power in combination with image, is almost never discussed. The contention is that a poetic and self-reflexive approach in documentary, that places particular emphasis on the sonic, can bring a level of signification that more effectively plumbs V.I. Pudovkin’s ‘rich deeps of meaning potential in sound film’ and has a greater capacity to penetrate reality.

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