On Screen/Sound: No. 10
This two-part screening presents two seminal films made 30 years apart that explore the act of vocalization—both embodied in an on-screen speaker and as sound and images disembodied from the actor.
Canadian artist-filmmaker Joyce Wieland’s Pierre Vallières frames the mouth of Québécois separatist (and leader of the Front de libération du Québec) Pierre Vallières while he presents three corresponding speeches on Mont-Laurier, Quebec History and Race, and Women’s Liberation respectively. Referred to by Wieland as a “mouthscape,” it’s an intense, structuralist film that uses an extreme close-up of Vallières’ mustachioed lips, teeth, and tongue to connect voice and language with colonialism and national struggle.
In contrast, Clio Barnard’s 2010 documentary The Arbor was filmed with actors who precisely lip-synched the words of British playwright Angela Dunbar’s family and friends to tell the story of her short life and her daughter’s corresponding spiral into addiction. Barnard is an artist-filmmaker who has specialized for many years in “verbatim theater” in which audio-recorded documentary testimony is lip-synched by performers. Creating an uneasy and at times dislocating effect, the technique enhances the slippery relationship between image and sound. This, in turn, unsettles the documentary reading of Dunbar’s story and gestures towards the blurring of fiction and reality inherent in dramatization.
- Pierre Vallières (1972)
- Joyce Wieland
- The Arbor (2010)
- Clio Barnard
- Approximate runtime: 125 minutes
This year-long film series takes a close look at—and listen to—the way filmmakers have employed the sonic dimension of their form to complement, challenge, and reconsider our experience of the moving image.
Presenting cinematic performance, artists’ moving image, and Hollywood feature films, each On Screen/Sound program delves into the relationship between movie sound and image tracks, highlighting some radical examples of the aesthetic power and technical potential of sound in cinema. From musical theater to the music video, experimental shorts to industrially produced features, the series explores the affective and technical relationship between sound and image through the art of Foley, experimental music, found footage, soundtrack imaging, synched, multi-channel, and non-diegetic sound.
1972, 16mm, sound, 32:30 mins Courtesy of Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center (CFMDC)
“In the winter of 1972, Joyce Wieland drove north of Montreal to the small town of Mont-Laurier in order to make a flm about the Quebecois activist and journalist, Pierre Vallières. With a small crew consisting of herself and two other women—Judy Steed recording sound and Danielle Corbeil acting as translator—Wieland shot what was to be one of the last flms she made during her artistic career. PierreVallières (1972) lasts as an articulate distillation of both her radical sensibility as a flmmaker within the context of structuralist flm, as well as a piece of experimental evidence of a key moment within Canadian political and social history.” —Anne Low, 2011
Canadian artist-flmmaker Joyce Wieland’s Pierre Vallières frames the mouth of Québécois separatist (and leader of the Front de libération du Québec) Pierre Vallières while he presents three corresponding speeches on Mont-Laurier, Quebec History and Race, and Women’s Liberation respectively. Referred to by Wieland as a “mouthscape,” it’s an intense flm that uses an extreme close-up of Vallières’ mustachioed lips, teeth, and tongue to connect voice and language with colonialism and national struggle.
Wieland’s artistic approach was established in the “structural cinema” practices of 1960s New York artist-flmmakers. The term was coined by P. Adams Sitney for artists (including Anthology Film Archives founder Jonas Mekas, and her husband Michael Snow) who made flms with content and structure specifc to the technical and material processes of photography and projection. Wieland shot Pierre Vallières in 1972 afer returning to Canada to make direct political flms, a move that explicitly rejected the climate of experimental flm in New York, where she felt she “was made to feel in no uncertain terms by a few male flmmakers that I had overstepped my place, that in New York my place was making little flms.”
However, Wieland retained her structural approach in Pierre Vallières, with the length of each of the three speeches by Vallières prescribed by the length of a single reel of 16mm flm. We not only hear the voice of the activist, but the sound recording retains the voice of the artist and her collaborators, Steed and Corbeil, as Wieland directs the shoot. Wieland uses what we could describe as a “gendered camera,” one that attends to the small details and care of bodies rather than the spectacular flag-waving images of protest presented by the majority of flmmakers at the time.
Joyce Wieland (1930-1999) is regarded as Canada’s foremost woman artist. A self-described “cultural activist,” she is well-known for celebrating Canadian national identity, ecology, and bringing forward feminist issues within the predominantly male art culture of the time. Initially a painter and flmmaker, she also used traditional women’s media such as quilts and sewn collages. Concern with the protection of Canadian confederation and gender issues repeatedly surfaced in her quilts, flms, and assemblages. Her retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada in 1971 was the frst aforded to a living Canadian woman artist.
2010, digital projection, sound,
94 mins Courtesy of Strand Releasing
Clio Barnard’s 2010 documentary The Arbor was flmed with actors who precisely lip-synched the words of British playwright Angela Dunbar’s family and friends to tell the story of her short life and her daughter’s corresponding spiral into addiction. Barnard is an artist-flmmaker who has specialized for many years in “verbatim theater,” in which audio-recorded documentary testimony is lip-synched by performers. Creating an uneasy and at times dislocating efect, the technique enhances the slippery relationship between image and sound. This, in turn, unsettles the documentary reading of Dunbar’s story and gestures towards the blurring of fction and reality inherent in dramatization.
The Arbor was made in response to Alan Clarke’s 1982 British fction flm Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which was written by Angela Dunbar. Although that flm reached cult status, Barnard reacted against the flm as a comedic and derogatory version of working-class authenticity, which created a distance between the flm and its author (Dunbar) and the actual social and economic conditions of the British working class, from which Dunbar came.
Barnard conducted intimate interviews with Dunbar’s friends, family, and neighbors over many years, and it was these audio recordings that became the overarching structure of the flm. Lip-synched by actors as a formal critique of the representations presented in flms such as Rita, Sue and Bob Too, The Arbor attempts to both explode and resolve this distance between reality and fction, and between notions of authenticity that we experience in everyday life as well as on screen. Taking the structural approach of the previous generation of New York and London-based artist-flmmakers as a starting point, Barnard developed a complex on-screen language that explores the dislocation of embodied sound and image to create a hybrid movie of documentary and fction.
Clio Barnard is a British director of documentary and feature flms. The Arbor was commissioned by UK arts organization Art Angel and won multiple awards at flm festivals such as London Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, as well as a Bafa nomination. In 2013 she premiered her second feature, The Selfsh Giant, at Cannes Film Festival, and her third feature, based on Rose Tremain’s novelTrespass, is currently in production. Prior to The Arbor, Barnard was an artist-flmmaker whose short videos and installations were presented at museums, festivals, and art institutions in the UK and internationally, such as Tate Modern, London, and MoMA, New York.
—Victoria Brooks, 2016