a week ago Hinemoana and i went to see The Orator (O Le Tulafale) by Tusi Tamasese. There has been a lot of buzz about this film and we were really keen to see it because of this but also because the sound design and music had been done by Tim Prebble. I follow Tim - he is one of the few twittery tweeters who's tweets come direct to my phone so i get to see his day to day thoughts and workings on sound design and whatever else is of interest to him. Tim is an amazing blogger - his site Music of Sound is posted regularly and contains all things sound from the internet that are of interest to him, and as if he hasn't got enough to do, he has created a new site Music for films. Tim has done sound design in numerous films - most recent examples include Boy and Home by Christmas. From what I've seen of him through his work and writings, he has a minimalist aesthetic, a high attention to detail, a love of a wide range music and sound.
In much the same way that i delighted in following blog snippets during the making of the Radiohead album In Rainbows before savouring the final product, i was able to follow Tim's bloggings about his field recordings for the film so it gave me an added bonus feeling of having been there in just a small way in the creative process leading up to the finished product.
because of all this, i was determined to pay special attention to sound design aspects of the film - this could be detrimental to the viewing of a film but i decided to trust that the story would hold up even though i was viewing with one eye on the story and one on the sound so to speak.
i really enjoyed this viewing approach and it didnt take away from the experience at all - The Orator is a strong story which is beautiful in every aspect - visually, in sound/story and acting.
i won't say too much about the story itself except to say that it addresses some powerful themes around relationship estrangement, forgiveness, courage, vulnerability, isolation (physical/psychological) stubborness, ritual and more besides. it is a film that stays with you in that it is multi-layered. hinemoana and i had a lengthy conversation all the way home about different aspects of the film. i highly recommend it.
i am not a film reviewer by any means but wanted to note the various sound design elements that were a highlight for me - this is also a week later so they will obviously be the ones that have really stuck!
- Atmosphere - because of my concentrated listening i gained a lot more appreciation of the role of general sound background in creating a sense of place and atmosphere. these were numerous and included the sounds of wildlife - both near and distant...in fact the distant sounds (dogs, chickens) added to the sense of separation that was experienced by the main protagonists as they were, either through choice or in punishment, banished from normal village life. the echoing animals added to this sense of distance and detachment from normal village life.
- Voices - this same effect was created many times by the use of distant and off-camera voices which either taunted the main characters or provided another contrasting joyful and communal sound to contrast the isolation they were experiencing. it was a fabulous tool in that often we would hear these off camera voices but wouldn't see them. this added to the sense of disconnection and loneliness and we got to experience it too.
- Change of shot = change of sound (sometimes) - this is kind of obvious but the realisation of the attention to detail required in every shot came through very early in the film. There was a very dstinctive shot which was upward looking through holes in large leaves through to the sky. from memory the sound was that of general landscape (air, animals, wind etc) - what was interesting was that the next shot was of the dirt and the sound changed right at edit point to reflect this....it really was like if you're standing in a bush and then you duck down, the sound of the atmosphere becomes muted and the bass frequencies more prominent.
- multiple places interelated - one of my favourite sound design elements was in a climactic part of the movie. a lot of powerful elements were coming together in the thought processes of multiple characters, so the edits were moving more quickly between them - from Saili cutting yam plants to his wife Vaaiga who rapidly declining in health, to shots of the Ifoga (offending party seeking forgiveness). the sounds used reflected what was happening on screen but were used against different visuals - eg. from memory the sounds of the machete cutting came in early before the actual shot and maybe against images of the Ifoga or Vaaiga's face....conversely Vaaiga's laboured breathing appeared over shots of Saili thinking. this was a powerful device for me as it served to link together metaphorically the destinies of the characters and illustrated that whatever decisions they were making or processes they were going through were each going to affect them relative to each other and as a community.
- sound to emphasise dialogue - another scene that captivated me sound-wise was when Vaaiga is reprimanding her daughter...she says 'my words are going be emblazoned on your mind' or something to that effect. as she says this the sound of distant dogs barking appears which, to my mind, emphasised the 'doggedness' of Vaaiga's determination that her daughter should never forget this reprimand...in the way that dogs barking in the distance can be a form of aural torture - so were these words going to be. at the same time another processed sound appeared that reminded me of a distant choir of altered voices.
- soundtrack - i didn't realise til the conclusion of the movie that Tim was responsible although i should have been able to tell from the subtlety of it...i can't remember what the source material of the score was and i think this is a good thing - Tim has put up excerpts of it for us to listen to or download here. i have chosen not to listen to it while writing this as my response here is based on memory. whatever the sound source was - the remarkable thing about the score is that there was no discernible melody - in fact the score could almost have been linked with the sound design...it seemed to be mixed in with it - not separate from or out front of but a sound design device itself.
- this was truly a stunning film, exquisitely paced - slowed down to the speed of life you could say...immersive, restrained and powerful.
- thanks too Tim for sharing your skills and experiences with us.