Tonight’s Film Talk focused on the silence and minimal dialogue found in contemporary film, the notes are below.
I’m taking a look at a more obscure aspect of film – silent or minimal dialogue in contemporary film. Starting with The Red Turtle (2017) a French and Belgian co-production with Studio Ghibli. Directed by Oscar winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, which he won for Father and Daughter (2000) about a daughter who longs to see her father return from a rowing trip.
“In this elegant short film about how love can transcend time and death, a young Dutch girl witnesses her father inexplicably rowing out to sea, never to return…A simple and poignant dialogue-free story it is complemented with elegant and graceful design and animation, and the use of silhouettes and shadows.
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier -Pg. 324
The Red Turtle is a castaway film that begins by pitting man against nature as a lone survivor is washed up on an island, we first his multiple attempts to escape, only to be prevented by nature – in the form of a giant red turtle, before a woman, who he has a family with, joins him. They stay together on the island and live into old age; complete with all the trials that island life brings them. What I was initially drawn to was the radical choice to have no dialogue in the film, an idea that has been explored in my own work. De Wit’s reason’s comes from a story telling decision, which he explains in this interview.
I wouldn’t be doing the film any favors without looking at past desert island films, which have periods of little or no dialogue. First looking at Hell in the Pacific (1968), a WWII film that placed an American and Japanese soldier on a desert island, first they are still at war with each other, before they realise they have to put their politics and ideologies to one side in order to escape. The first barrier being language that had to be over come. There are sections where there’s no dialogue, a decision taken by director John Boorman , which he explains in this clip.
Moving forward to the turn of the century – Cast Away (2000) there dialogue is kept to a minimum when Fed-ex man Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks lives for years on a desert island, he has only himself and later his ball – Wilson for company, essentially he’s projecting his thoughts onto an inanimate object.
Admittedly there are some vocals – cries or gasps of emotion when necessary in the narrative, as De Witt allows for these moments of verbal expression. An example of this can be scene in the Tsunami scene.
Staying with animation, the decision to have minimal or no dialogue is nothing new. As we saw in the director’s short film Father and Daughter (2000), other animators have made the same decision. Such as Sylvain Chomet The Illusionist (2010).
“The lack of conversation is rationalized here by the different nationalities of the characters and is carried off by the strongly visual nature of the animation, creating a treat of visual story telling that leaves space for its audience to use their minds and discover the detail for themselves.”
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 392
Relying on visual cues and associations to bridge the gap. In Pixar’s WALL-E (2008), the first act of the film is near silent, referencing silent film, relying on other audio to express the little robots thoughts and emotions.
“…Wall-E comes to resemble a pet whose thoughts and feelings we believe we can interpret. And like a pet, WALL-E cannot talk, expressing himself only in mechanical beeps and squeals”
The Art of Walt Disney – Christopher Finch – Pg. 400
Whilst in Japan we have Kunio Kato’s short film Le Maison en Petits Cubes/The House of Small Cubes (2008) focusing on an lonely old man who reflects on his past.
“This story is told without any dialogue or narration, there is just a simple soundtrack.”
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 379
In the next part I’ll be looking more technically at the function of sound in animation and film.
It takes a but more these days to compel me to take the time to write a review. My last one was well over a week ago. It’s also a busy time of year, and I need a film that really talks to me. Ultimately that gets me thinking and that’s what I found with Short Circuit (1986) which immediately had me making comparisons to Wall-E (2009) if only in resemblance, that develops sentience after a freak accident. Compared more often today with Chappie (2015) which I have yet to see so really can’t compare. However I can see things from just the trailer. This is not Chappie and was aimed more at the family market when it was released.
To me the ultimate in sentience in a robot is and always will be Commander Data (Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation whose own existence was explored over 7 seasons and four films, his quest to become more human as he serves with his fellow crew members. It was a rich a deep exploration as he learns more about his own history, what it means to be human as he learns to understand the high and lows of what we take for granted being flesh and blood ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of hours to explore everything the futuristic android, instead 90 packed minutes. Number 5 a military robot prototype of private organisation that are looking to provide the next weapon to the world. That’s all Number 5 is essentially, wires, servoes and a bunch of electronics. He wasn’t programmed to think beyond his programming. To obey orders, seek and destroy, a weapon on wheels essentially a clever and compact tank of wheels that shoots lasers.
It takes a freak accident of an electric shock that brings this cute little robot to life, OK not as small as Wall-e but built to move about with little problem. He wakes up from the programming in a blur, unsure of his surroundings, as if he has just been born, finding his feet. Early on you know we are looking at him, its his story and journey, at first I thought this could have more in common with Wall-e than I initially thought the robotic silent gestures as he figures the very basics out, you just want to hug the little thing.
It’s only when he accidentally finds Stephanie Speck’s (Ally Sheedy) van who believes she has found an alien on her doorstep. It’s not long until she welcomes him (I’m already treating this character as human, genderising him) she opens up what it is to be human, as he consumes the books, just with a flicks he has absorbed the text and only just starting to digest their meaning, making connection that take us our whole childhood to start to even make sense of. This robot is growing up fast. Once you give someone the gift of knowledge you have to give them freedom to explore and understand that ultimately autonomy of free-will. I told you I had to have something to grab me and there you have it in just a few lines.
Back at the base where everything is about retrieve and destroy, they ignore the inventor Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) who doesn’t even want them to be used as weapons his practically ignored unless he plays along with Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton) and Skroeder’s (G.W. Bailey) plans he can kiss goodbye to his job. It’s the classic scientist versus the military argument being played out, brain vs. brawn you could say. These are played for all the laughs you can get and they all hit, even when the tone’s lowered it pass the kids ears it still works. OK it’s dated in places for a film that is almost 30 years old its doing well to still feel fresh.
The real charm of the film comes from the only one who is not human, Number 5 who is learning all the time, taking all the “inputs” that he can input, making use of everything. A lot of jokes come from the TV he watched for a night, popular culture references that maybe lost on younger audiences today are still funny. He’s like a sponge who soaks it all up, absorbing all the one-liners and knowing when to use them. At the heart of him is the knowledge that Nova (the organisation that built him) wants to disassemble him. After accidentally killing a grasshopper he begins to understand how fragile life is. Its fleeting a short and he realises this quick, thanks to all those encyclopedias he read, the foundation of his understand comes from them, Television and those who he interacts with he becomes a rounded and fun individual, robotic or not.
For a family film it says a lot about our own existence, even poking fun at the Star Wars military program of the Ronald Reagan years. Our reliance on technology and how far it may one day go, It may turn on us, become more intelligent or just maybe learn to live with us. Like all of us we are the product of our up-bringing, thank-god this weapon was allowed to take it’s own course and disarm the parts that make it destructive.
- “Short Circuit” (1986) – Flawed, but entertaining 80’s classic (macremi.wordpress.com)
- Life Is NOT A Malfunction: Short Circuit (1986) (cinemalacrum.blogspot.co.uk)
My first encounter with this sci-fi classic and cinematic innovation Tron (1982) was when Homer Simpson found himself in a computer generated universe, a early treehouse of horror which has never left me, due in part due to the big departure and experimentation made from the traditional hand drawn animation of The Simpsons to C.G.I. was incredible, the same year as Toy Story (1995). I always wondered what Homer was going on about, something that only Chief Wiggum did too.
I next encountered Tron whilst watching a Pixar documentary which saw the progression of the small start-up company right through to Wall-E (2009). A small mention was made of this film from the eighties, my attention was reignited my interest in this film which I have finally caught. I knew already that both the dude Jeff Bridges and David Warner were somehow involved in this C.G.I. world that turned out to be a gaming universe created by Encom, with Ed Dillinger (Warner ) sitting at the top complete with a powerful computer system that responds to his voice. For the 1980’s this is impressive and as I realised quite prophetic in some-ways too. Learning that the Master Computer (Warner also) wants total control, especially when an independent program is being developed and a hacker/ex employee Flynn (Bridges) is trying to get hold of his files. You can already sense that a powerful man-made force is trying take over the company, something that even Dillinger is unsure of this move by a program that believes its experience alone makes it more powerful.
To stop the number one hacker getting into the system all level 7 people are locked out of the system, unable to develop games and programs, such as Alan Bradley’s (Bruce Boxleitner) new program Tron which runs independent of the master computer, an wanted threat. Whilst down below in the development centre we find Dr Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) working on something that is out of this world, pure science fiction, transporting matter to replicate it in the digital world of the computer. I already was starting to put two and two together, but wasn’t sure how it would work out. Needing to get Flynn back into the building to take down the master computer. Now spending his time as one of the best players of computer games, wowing kids at his skills.
Once breaking into Encom with Lora and Alan the fun really begins for our heroes as soon enough we are transported into the world of video games. Having already had a few tasters of this world that looks dated to a modern audience, still having the power to spark the imagination even now at the possibilities of this world that sees humans in a virtual world for the first time. It does look clunky now, with the occasional Mickey Mouse moniker thrown in. We see our heroes move from the trials of the game, as a man who helped create this world turns against it to ensure it’s very freedom from the powerful Master Computer, who wants total control of it and players who have a belief system of the user.
A man made program fights for supremacy with figures from the outside world who gave it the power in the first place, and populating it. There is so much to consider in the new world that sees a milestone in film-making, made possible by Disney who have been known for pushing the visual boundaries for entertainment, making us wonder what if. Maintaining that we, the players of the games and in life are in control, not a higher power who wants our obedience. Leaning towards being agnostic at times, trying more to install a sense of self-assurance in ourselves to determine our destiny, be it in the real world of virtual.
Then what seems to come out of nowhere is a sequel, moving and updating the action to the 21st century. It wouldn’t have been Tron Legacy (2010) without Jeff Bridges returning as Kevin Flynn the first of many, many nods to the classic which are there in an updated more stunning form. It seems C.G.I. has caught up with the concept of Tron.
With the loss of the master computer in the original a new foe is needed for Kevin who we catch up with after first meeting his 27 year old son Sam (Garret Hedlund) who we learn was left in the care of his grandparents after Kevin left and never came back one night. There are many rumours to where he went, even suicide. Something that Alan Bradley never believed. Who after receiving a page, yes a page, he tell the son and head of Encom now releasing new software in a direction far from what Flynn ever dreamed of. Younger Flynn has gone of the rails in the years after loosing his father and eventually grandparents, living alone. Not the life we expected for the boy who was the son of a CEO of a tech company.
After some convincing and a bike rider later, Sam finds his dads old arcade which leads him to a world that is even beyond the imagination of the audience who remember the clunky C.G.I. of the early eighties. To find a polished world that could have easily come out of a PS3 game. This is one of the few films where I feel that C.G.I. is warranted free rein, being a computer game that has become so much more, steeped in history as we learn. Once again a Flynn is thrown into the arena of gaming, fighting for his life, which doesn’t last long once he meets Clu (Bridges) a younger version of Sam’s dad, having never aged. Something that visually doesn’t gel when we meet the real Kevin who lives off the grid, away from the world he created years ago.
With father and son reunited it’s time to understand the world we are in and its history, the whys and hows that make the film so deeply rooted with the original and not just a reboot, which it could easily have been, looking at the time gap between this and the original. Filling in the gap between where we left off and pick-up this film. It doesn’t feel like an excuse to make money (which is probably was) but as return to something that is loved and respected, and that’s what I get from this film, with all the flashy special effects, even the scary young Bridges who was shaved and made younger on the computer. With a funky techno soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk who also put in an appearance as d.j.s fitting right into this ultra modern world. They have embraced Bridges persona into the film, with all the things that worked, updating others for a new audience who may have never seen the original, there is enough to enjoy just here.
- WIWLN: Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) (moviequibble.wordpress.com)
- Tron  (eraserhead69.wordpress.com)
- Tron: Legacy (themusesguild2014.wordpress.com)
- Soundtrack Sunday- Tron Legacy (totallytrueadventure.wordpress.com)
- Tron (1982) (zegatrap.wordpress.com)
- Old Grid, New Grid – Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) (hokahey-littleworlds.blogspot.co.uk)
- Revisiting The Grid….. (Tron:1982, Tron Legacy:2010) (thearchivis.blogspot.co.uk)
- TRON (1982) v. TRON: Legacy (2010) (kreatedbykrause.blogspot.co.uk)
- Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) reviews (rimoviecorner.blogspot.co.uk)