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Sound-spaces in the four films of Antoinetta Angelidi
© Electra Venaki
First Publication: Antoinetta Angelidi Ed. Thessaloniki International Film Festival 2005
 
 
   
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In cinema, sound is justly considered an integral part of the narrative. It can not be studied separately, even when it exists outside the narrative. The separation of "sound band" and image has been extensively used in now outdated theoretical approaches of the past.

For this reason, the sound in the four films of Antoinetta Angelidi can not be studied separately from the image. It always refers to the image and vice versa: the image always refers to the sound. The sound is not used to enhance the realistic depiction of reality, even if this reality is considered fictional; it has an additive function, as a non-autonomous structural element in co-existence with the other compositional elements of the film.

A variety of sound qualities reappears in all the films made by Angelidi.

The voices in her films have dual use. They either serve the film΄s realism by staying in the narrative΄s present, or they become a commentary proximal to the viewer, in front of the screen, in the space before the screen, and provide depth and/or a time-line to the on-screen events.
In her films, the main voices are mostly female, and bearers of the commentary.
Female voices are found in male bodies and deep female voices in bodies of young girls (Topos), a woman carries the narrative΄s weight in its entirety (Hours), a woman is the Thief and a man recites the part of Antigone (Thief). When the voices articulate meaningful speech, they swim around the bodies as if they don΄t belong to them, as if they are translating or rather complementing them; it΄s as if the body would be different without the voice that accompanies it—and it is.

Against all assumptions, speech is less concrete than images, or at least it can be made so. And in Angelidi΄s films, speech acquires new power when uttered in the form of sound, music, or a plain and clear pitch.
In her films, prose sounds are abundant: phrases which, through repetition, lose their evident meaning and are transformed into symbolic sounds, elements of initiation or of a dream. Through their musicality, they acquire new meaning.
Sounds are voices, music is voices, voices are sounds, voices are music. All melt into one another and there is no reference point to the realistic elements which articulate a specific and predictable type of narration. No, nothing is taken for granted here. With every new shot, everything is reviewed.
Words pertaining to the image΄s present are never heard; sounds of the image΄s present are never heard. This abstraction, which is not silence, creates the narrative΄s time-line. On the other hand, certain sounds add silence to images, and restrict the frame as a light source would.

The evolution of the use of sound in Angelidi΄s films must be studied in accordance with the listening experience of the corresponding era.
In the present day, when countless indifferent sounds accompany all around us, the economy or exaggeration of sound serve a film much differently than thirty years ago. And in Angelidi΄s films the sound is—wisely—reduced with time, although in the time between her first and fourth film it is evident that the use of sound has become more composite, despite its austerity.

If, in Variations (Idées fixes/Dies irae), the sounds fill the frame and silence is virtually non-existent, in Thief, the placement of sounds within the frame and the narrative΄s time-line produces silence.
In Variations and Hours there is light, natural light in the technical sense; in Topos and Thief there is no daylight. Correspondingly, in Variations, the sounds are continuous, they are many and they are everywhere: musical sounds, sounds of nature, human sounds, as if silence does not exist, as if everything is full, as if there are two levels, the image and the commentary outside the image. Sound is an obsession which gives the image a new dimension, making it mobile, enriching it with time and depth. The continuous sound (a drone played by sixteen saxophones) on a fixed shot in the beginning of the film creates the suspense that the viewer may miss something, some sort of change perhaps, if not attentive enough; if they so much as glance elsewhere. So their eyes stay fixed, and the image becomes mobile through an illusion based on the obsession of the eyes and the obsession of the sound. The sound makes the frame expand hugely.
In Variations the sounds are continuous and many. There is no place for silence, apart from that created by the non-stop composition of sounds. This is why the sounds go on even after the end of the film, on the black screen that follows the end credits. They go on forever.
On the other hand, in Hours, also an "illuminated" film with abundant light throughout the frame, sounds carry another narrative. Firstly, there is a first-person commentary, which defines the image as memory. The sound defines the present, and perhaps also another point in time, certainly different than the one provided by the image.
A woman, Spendo, narrates; and we see what she wants to show us. It΄s an image of the present that belongs to the past. The image is not detached from speech. As a result of the ambient sounds and the composition of sound in its entirety, the eyes turn inward in a way totally different than in Variations. Here, the threatening repetition of the sound of the ceiling fan even in shots where it is not directly visible, the simultaneous everyday sounds of a kitchen we can not see, the sound of high heels on the floor (in the only film where the heroes΄ steps are heard, the only film in which the heroes wear shoes) indicate that our field of vision is restricted. Spendo is suffocating, she is trapped, tied down by images with no way to escape. Even the outdoors is threatening. Here, the sound causes the frame to shrink and become suffocating.

We often discover sound motifs reappearing in all the films of Angelidi, such as the sound of a curtain interrupting a sound composition, the sound of a sword inscribing and describing a turn of the body. Hands rise in the frame, demanding silence—imposing silence. Alternatively, hands inscribe sword-like circles and tear the surrounding silence as if the lighting changed. We have words which become a poem or music; words never translated from unknown languages; quick or slow breaths very close to the viewer, unrelated to the action. All these elements appear in all four films but with a different significance: they become components of different narratives and contribute to the narrative in different ways.

In Topos there is a general sense that everything is suspended outside time and space. The frame selects what it will cast light on; similarly, the sound casts light only on what is "important". Here, the sounds are mainly centrifugal; they push the viewer out of the image and take us to symbolic spaces, or spaces of memories. We can discern an enjoyable game between sounds that, according to the frame, become either diegetic or non-diegetic. The wheel pushed by the little girl remains in the following scenes, although its presence is not justified either as a visual element or as an element of the narrative, and supplies the sound background to the events, namely, Phoebe΄s monologue. In the double frame where Maria is writing while Heleni is pruning the bush, there are no writing sounds. However, when Maria gets up, the sound of writing continues as a non-diegetic sound, just for the sake of listening to it. It is similar to the previous scene, where the smacking of lips or the drop of water provide enjoyable accompaniment to the washing of the red cloth. And yet, the sound of the wheel invokes a past image, while the sound of writing indicates a simultaneous action. All this stops in the realistic table scene, where the synchronous sound brings time back to the present and calms the soul. We are back to two dimensions and the serenity of "now", even though the little girl speaks from the future, with the voice of a mature woman.
So a singular use of sound is subject to many interpretations, all important and different from each other. Does the folk song sung by the little girl in the voice of a mature woman, while she dances around the two mounds of earth, signify a memory? Is it the memory of the same person in an earlier time? Does it create a space in the past? Is it an image of memory? Or is it an interpretation, a presentation, an explanation of a situation seen in the present tense? Antoinetta Angelidi has said that "interpretation differs, according to the culture of the sensing person". There are countless interpretations, just like it happens with interpretations of dreams. The point is not to interpret, but to clarify: to discern the games played here and to be able to see by listening to everything.
One has to perceive what is invisible but hinted at by sound, and what is visible but restricted by sound.

The sounds in Angelidi΄s films are not stereotypes forming easy connotative connections to a sound source included in or excluded from the frame. They relegate to a non-space, to a comment on the image΄s present which immediately becomes past, a memory, a dream. This image acquires its fourth dimension as if suspended in a void. And this is exactly what happens in Hours and Thief.
With time, the maturity of her work makes her bolder and allows her to experiment without fear or confusion. In Thief, her darkest film, the composition of sound is restricted and matures through the use of music and human speech. The silence is as thick as the black background framing the action, the illuminated action which shrinks the frame within the frame. And silence sounds thick due to the use of music and the removal of all natural and realistic sounds. The narrative here is not suspended, as it is in Topos, but carries many time levels within it. Uttered speech is bared of its meaning; it becomes a mumbling of despair and strength. It denotes the frustration of "before" and the serenity of "after". This is most evident in the table scene. Both sound and space become void; the sound is absent, it is elsewhere, it is a commentary, an emotion. It comes from outside the image and sits beside it, creating its own space, exactly like the points within the frame. In this film, silence is audible and deafening, too.

Translated from greek by Zoe Siapanta
 
 
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  The Hours - A Square Film
  Topos
  Thief or Reality-Three Versions
 
  Antoinetta Angelidi
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
       
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