Published on June 2016 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 18 | Comments: 0 | Views: 394
of 24
Download PDF   Embed   Report



There Is No Acoustic Relation: Considerations on Sound and Image in Post-Soviet Film
Lilya Kaganovsky

Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 19, Number 1, Fall/Winter 2010, pp. 65-87 (Article) Published by University of Nebraska Press DOI: 10.1353/qui.2010.0004

For additional information about this article

Access provided by Rutgers University (23 Aug 2013 21:38 GMT)

There Is No Acoustic Relation
Considerations on Sound and Image in Post-Soviet Film
lilya kaganovsky

Kira Muratova’s 1992 film, Chuvstvitel’nyi militsioner (The Sentimental Policeman), opens with a close-up of a baby’s face.1 The baby (Natasha) is lying in a purple and green cabbage patch, occasionally illuminated by a passing searchlight. Nearby, a policeman (the “sentimental policeman” of the title) is playing with a broken doll. Suddenly, as we see the mouth of the baby become contorted in what we assume to be crying, the policeman jumps up and begins to perform a series of theatrical movements: he spins around, he covers his ears, he dances in circles, and we understand from this exaggerated gestural language that he can hear the baby crying, even if we can’t. Indeed, since the opening close-up of the baby’s face, we have been hearing sound, but that sound has been insistently extra-diegetic: the twelfth piece in Tchaikovsky’s piano suite The Seasons, titled “Sviatki” (Noël/Christmas). Only at the point when the sentimental policeman actually finds the baby and both of them occupy the same frame does the film switch from the extra-diegetic music to synchronized sound: finally, as he leans over the baby, we hear her cry. In this essay I want to use the opening of The Sentimental Policeman to think about the relation between sound and image, body and voice in post-Soviet film—a context that, in a way, mirrors


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

that of the Soviet film industry’s initial transition to sound between 1928 and 1935, during the years of the First Five-Year Plan (1928– 32). Vance Kepley Jr., writing about the film industry’s restructuring during these years, refers to it as the “first perestroika,” that is to say, the first instance of national reconstruction. During the First Five-Year Plan, the cinema (along with all the other industries) was centralized, with a new bureaucratic system created to oversee all aspects of film production and distribution, from reviewing scripts, to hiring actors and directors, to controlling the final theater release.2 This system brought new levels of control over the creative process, a redundant oversight system, and a massively expanded bureaucracy that added “a growing array of bodies that presumed to intervene in the creative decisions” (“FP,” 48). The result was that film production dropped precipitously: from 109 feature releases in 1928 to 70 in 1932, to 45 by 1934. Though Soviet film production was eventually able to recover, the effects of this centralization lasted well into the 1980s and were one of the chief objects of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reconstruction campaign that called for glasnost and perestroika.3 In May 1986 the Union of Soviet Filmmakers established a Conflicts Commission, designed to bring about the release of films that had been forbidden, cut, or given extremely limited release over the previous thirty years. Films made in the late 1980s and early 1990s reflected the new atmosphere of “openness,” taking up subjects that had previously been censored, such as sex and violence, the destruction of the Soviet family, and the loss of the “bright future” so ardently promised by Soviet ideology.4 Control over the creative process was relaxed and the redundant oversight system, with its massive bureaucracy, significantly curtailed. And although this new reconstruction (along with the end of the USSR) led to an almost total collapse of the Soviet film industry, the few films made during that period were some of most experimental in both form and content since the 1920s, the heyday of the Soviet avant-garde. But even among the avant-garde films of the late Soviet/postSoviet period, Muratova’s The Sentimental Policeman stands out as a uniquely strange film and Kira Muratova as a most unusual filmmaker. The plot of the film is quite simple: Tolia, a young po-

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


liceman (Nikolai Shatokhin), finds a baby in a cabbage patch and carries her to a children’s home; but after a brief consideration, he and his wife, Klava (Irina Kovalenko), decide to adopt her. The court, however, rules in favor of another woman, Dr. Elena Zakharova (Natalya Ralleva), a middle-aged pediatrician who has already raised one child successfully on her own. On the way back from the court Klava reveals that she is pregnant. Yet, the film, in many ways, is not about this. The basic story line is interrupted by sequences of barking dogs and screaming neighbors; the visual field is crowded to the point of incomprehensibility; the events take place in the carceral spaces of a police station, a children’s home, a zoo, and the court. A close-up of an unwatched television program shows a documentary of stray dogs being captured and carted off to the pound. Everyone speaks at once, lines of dialogue are endlessly repeated, and the entire closing sequence is of a man (unknown, unidentified) trying to put some groceries into a bag while holding onto a squirming baby. The only break from the visual and auditory chaos is two nearly identical sequences in Tolia and Klava’s apartment, in which the couple goes about their daily routine completely naked and in total silence. Muratova began making her nonconformist films in the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s. Radical in both form and content, often filmed using nonprofessional actors and improvised dialogue, Muratova’s films were never mainstream in any sense of that word.5 Dismissed by Soviet censors for their “incompatibility with the aesthetic canons of Socialist Realism” and their director’s “evident political unreliability,” her films were repeatedly banned in the Soviet Union or shown in very limited release, and Muratova herself was three times “disqualified” from filmmaking altogether.6 Her films were also some of the first to be “unshelved” in the mid1980s by the Union of Soviet Filmmakers’ Conflicts Commission, and for a brief time Muratova experienced something like popularity.7 Of the four films she had made during the Soviet period, two were shown with some frequency on Soviet television: Korotkie vstrechi (Brief Encounters, 1967, released in 1987) and Dolgie provody (The Long Farewell, 1971, released in 1987). Since the late 1980s, Muratova has been lauded for her radical, nonconformist


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

(possibly feminist or in any case anti-patriarchal) filmmaking, and she remains one of the most original if least understood post-Soviet directors.8 A number of common visual threads unite Muratova’s fairly disparate oeuvre, but her use of sound is generally singled out as the major element of her film style. Muratova’s favorite sound-track materials are classical music, total silence, and “choral speaking,” which she has compared to “operatic quartets or quintets where each character sings simultaneously about something different,” a kind of “harmony of chaos”; generally, her sound track serves to counterpoint, rather than simply underline, the action on the screen.9 This is to say that sound in Muratova disturbs our perception, makes itself audible in a way that sound in “classic” narrative film (here I am referring both to Hollywood conventions and Soviet cinematic conventions) is not supposed to do. It sensitizes us to its presence, turning us into listeners as well as viewers, or, to borrow Stephen Heath’s formulation, into “auditors” as well as “voyeurs.”10 Paradoxically, sound in film is something we are not supposed to hear; and from the first years of sound cinema, film sound has been operating under a kind of erasure. As Donald Crafton points out, almost immediately following the coming of sound, Hollywood studios found themselves in a curious position: sound effects that the year before had seemed impressive and new, viewers now found distracting, intrusive, and unnecessary. Crafton suggests that already by the end of the 1928–29 Hollywood movie “season,” American journalists were reacting against flamboyant insertions of sound effects: “Like overly garish Technicolor, they felt, sound should not call attention to itself as a supplement.”11 Integration of sound and image, coherence, and “naturalness” were prized for sound film. In 1929–30, “Audiences could still see movies which emphasized the newly discovered screen voice, [but] they could also observe film styles which played down formal expression and novel effects to construct an illusion of unified audiovisual space.” Meanwhile, sound engineers were making their technology “inaudible” (TT, 311). In other words, rather than foregrounding sound, directors and engineers were learning how

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


to make it disappear, to erase its presence from the consciousness of the audience. The viewer was becoming desensitized to sound, and this happened both through diffusion (i.e., the more sound films audiences watched, the less attuned to sound they became) and through the conscious efforts of the sound engineers, directors, and producers: audiences wanted a unified filmic space, one in which there was no disjunction between sound and image. So what might be the stakes of making film sound “present”? What can the opening of The Sentimental Policeman teach us about Muratova’s film specifically and post-Soviet cinema more generally? I want to offer a few suggestions here that focus specifically on the notion of an “acoustic relation”—a way of thinking together (or not) the joining of sound and image. If we look again at the opening sequence of The Sentimental Policeman, we can see that up until the moment the policeman actually finds the baby, we are, quite simply, watching a silent film. Jane Taubman, in her seminal work on the cinema of Kira Muratova, underscores the filmmaker’s indebtedness to early cinema: the reduced color palette (probably filmed with a blue filter to simulate nighttime); the solo piano, like the accompaniment in silent movie theaters; the long takes that recall pre-Revolutionary melodramas, before the montage school introduced rapid cutting; the policeman’s mechanistic movements, which echo theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold’s biomechanical acting style; and the policeman’s strange leaping dance around the cabbage patch while searching for the unseen baby (KM, 66–67). Indeed, the opening images of The Sentimental Policeman are not accompanied by synchronized sound; everything—the baby, the sentimental policeman, the cabbage field (i.e., the “natural” world)—is silent, overlaid by a sound track that seems far removed from the diegesis of this film in terms of both time and space (though the music echoes the notion of birth: Noël). Tolia, our sentimental policeman, performs a series of bizarre dance-like movements that are completely theatrical in their silent mimicry. Yet we perceive them as absurd only if we think in terms of sound film, that is, in terms of a particular kind of realism that synch-sound enables. His movements, though still exaggerated, appear more comprehensible


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

if sound is removed from the picture. In other words, if we watch this as a silent film (with a classical music sound track to accompany, on a record, the moving image), we will be more likely to accept the theatrical gestures as “normal.” As Mary Ann Doane has pointed out in an essay about the body and voice in cinema, silent film made up for its lack of sound with the movements of the body:
The silent film is certainly understood, at least retrospectively and even (it is arguable) in its time, as incomplete, as lacking speech. The stylized gestures of the silent cinema, its heavy pantomime, have been defined as a form of compensation for that lack. Hugo Münsterberg wrote, in 1916: “To the actor of the moving pictures . . . the temptation offers itself to overcome the deficiency [the absence of “words and the modulation of the voice”—M.A.D.] by a heightening of the gestures and of the facial play, with the result that the emotional expression becomes exaggerated.” The absent voice reemerges in gestures and the contortions of the face—it is spread over the body of the actor. The uncanny effect of the silent film in the era of sound is in part linked to the separation, by means of intertitles, of an actor’s speech from the image of his/her body.12

If we consider the opening sequence of The Sentimental Policeman in terms of Doane’s observations, we can see that the policeman’s heavy pantomime acts as a kind of compensation for lack: the absence of the voice, the separation of the voice from the body reemerges in gestures and contortions of the face. The effect is uncanny, though perhaps not immediately so. At first the sequence strikes us as merely playful, and it is only when we realize that the baby is now crying and yet we cannot hear it that we become aware of lack. We are watching a “phantasmatic body,” “reconstituted by the technology and practices” of silent cinema (“VC,” 33). Yet I would like to suggest that with The Sentimental Policeman, Muratova is staging a return not simply to silent cinema but to early sound cinema, to the moment of transition from silence to sound, the moment when cinema first finds its “voice.” Let us look again at the opening sequence to see some of the op-

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


Fig. 1. Baby in the searchlight.

erations on sound and image at work in this film. The first shot of the film is of the baby’s face turned to one side, with the searchlight moving across it (fig. 1). The baby turns, looks at the camera, looks at the source of the light, thrusts its tongue out, and the like—this is a very long shot (46 seconds), especially by the fairly rapid editing that will characterize the end of the sequence. It is worth noting that we cannot possibly understand what we are seeing here. We remain in a tightly focused close-up showing exclusively the baby’s face. In other words, the relationship to the image is itself intimate and tightly bound, without any sense of the larger world. The light is simply a light to look at, an object of fascination. Because the baby is not crying or making any other obvious gesture that would suggest the production of sound, the “problem” of sound and its relationship to image and body is not yet posed. We then cut to the policeman squatting in the field, holding a baby doll. There are several things to notice about the cross-cutting that will characterize the rest of the sequence: first, there are no shot/reverse-shot sequences; rather, the cuts are all designed to suggest a disconnection between the two places or scenes.13 Only two features bind the two spaces together: the “silent film music” and the searchlight. We cut back to the baby, in a medium (full-body)


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

Fig. 2. Policeman holding a broken doll.

shot. Then back to the policeman, now holding the doll in such a way as to make it clear that the doll is broken (fig. 2). We should note here that this is the first shot that posits that something is broken, that there is a rupture or a disjunction that needs repair. This suggestion comes from the policeman, and he is shown as the agent who effects a repair: he restores the doll to its original working condition by reinserting the doll’s leg into the body. Afterwards, however, he is visibly dissatisfied with the doll, aimlessly rattling and shaking it. That is, there is a rupture at work that is not played out at the level of the symbolization of the body. This is not the mirror stage, in other words, in which a disjuncture in the bodily real is to be repaired by a symbolic gesture of misrecognition (I thought the body—of film, of the infant, of myself—was disrupted, but look, I have repaired it!). These gestures are the first that might produce some form of diegetic sound, but not necessarily. In short, the audience is still looking for what precisely is in need of repair, what there is that moves beyond the level of a symbolic rupture. At 2:20 there is a cut to an enigmatic series of shots (fig. 3).14 I’ll return to this in a moment, but it is worth saying at the outset that the unfolding of this sequence points to certain qualities that are stressed throughout: the body, a certain kind of rhythm that is felt

Fig. 3. Close-ups of the hand, in motion.


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

within the body below a rational level, stiffness and rigidity, and potentially, a gesture of authority. It also re-cuts the body that was just repaired in the previous shot: the policeman rejoined a limb to the baby and found that it was unsatisfying; here we find his own limb extracted and isolated, and eventually it falls limp to his side, vanishing from the frame. The next cut occurs at 2:57 and is a long shot of the baby, now twisting and crying (fig. 4). Now we have an evident source of diegetic sound, and the disruption that afflicts the film becomes manifest. I think Muratova is playing with the audience in this sequence. It is not until three minutes in that it becomes apparent that there is a real rupture (i.e., a rupture within the actual material condition of the film) in need of repair. It cannot be symbolically sutured closed (or not only symbolically), but requires an actual material change: sound must be brought to film so that image and sound, body and voice, can all be aligned. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this is an interesting rewriting of the history of the subject. Almost all psychoanalytic accounts begin with a presumptive and originary wholeness that is later sundered (by an awareness of sexual difference for Freud, by entry into language for Lacan, through object-loss for Klein, etc.). What is Muratova’s suggestion here? Is the advent of sound perceived as a disruption that splits an originary wholeness in film (the contented close-up of the infant), requiring the “repair” of synchronization? Or is film ruptured at its advent, as suggested by the policeman’s legless doll? Moreover, there is the question of gender: all psychoanalytic accounts of this originary wholeness are united in their belief that it consists in the unity of the child with the mother, including Julia Kristeva’s chora, a concept that seems unusually apt for discussing Muratova. Chora is not language, but those aspects of language that exist before language itself, such as melody or rhythm. For Kristeva, chora is the process of signification, the space between the sign and the signified, “an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation constituted by movements and their ephemeral stases,” intimately connected to the maternal body.15 The chora is at once the maternal part of giving birth and the birth itself. As

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


Fig. 4. The squalling baby in the cabbage patch.

Kristeva puts it, “Plato’s Timaeus speaks of a chora, receptacle, unnamable, improbable, hybrid, anterior to naming, to the One, to the father, and consequently, maternally connoted to such an extent that it merits ‘not even the rank of syllable’”;16 it functions as a synonym for “semiotic disposition,” “signifiance,” “geno-text,” and at other times as a signifier for a moment prior to the mirror stage and the symbolic (AM, 102). Part of this fantasy is the desire to put a maximum distance between the mother and the symbolic order. But the chora is also a surplus of energy that animates the subject:
Discrete quantities of energy move through the body of the subject who is not yet constituted as such and, in the course of his development, they are arranged according to the various constraints imposed on this body—always already involved in a semiotic process—by family and social structures. In this way the drives, which are “energy” charges as well as “psychical” marks, articulate what we call a chora; a nonexpressive totality formed by the drives and their stases in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated. (RP, 25)17

This, of course, is related to the overall psychoanalytic approach to the question of sound (the psychoanalysis of sound): sound in


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

cinema represents the maternal body and our earliest originary wholeness with that body, when sound arrived to us in bass rumbles, rhythm, and movement, disconnected from any clear sense of source (or of meaning). As Silverman has pointed out, “it has become something of a theoretical commonplace to characterize the maternal voice as a blanket of sound, extending on all sides of the newborn infant.” For Guy Rosolato and Mary Ann Doane, the maternal voice is a “sonorous envelope” that “surrounds, sustains, and cherishes the child”; Didier Anzieu refers to it as a “bath of sounds,” while for Claude Bailblé it is, quite simply, “music” (see AM, 72). Indeed, Muratova’s entire soundscape may be described as “choric” as well as “choral”: that is, all the characters speaking at once, the “bath of sounds” that surrounds the spectator of the film—the overall experience of watching a Muratova film is predicated on listening to the exuberant chaos of the audio track, on hearing all the sounds at once as a kind of music and rhythm rather than speech. Kristeva particularly stresses the chora’s “kinetic rhythm,” a phrase that begins to explain the dance-like, marionette-like movements of the policeman, including the rigid extension of the arm, the torsion of the wrist and the flexing of the fingers. But if the beginning of Muratova’s film is an invocation to the chora, its kinetic rhythms and emphasis on disconnected, sourceless sound, where is the maternal body to which this infant belongs? Alone in a cabbage patch, as if the product of fairy tale or mythology, rather than biology, the baby lies isolated in a field, occasionally illuminated by a passing searchlight.18 The only person who seems to hear it is the policeman, whose body appears insistently nonmaternal. Or is it? Skinny, bony and angular, awkwardly uniformed, and carrying its symbols of male authority without ease or naturalness, this figure is neither—or both?—maternal nor paternal (he is, after all, the sentimental policeman, who tells his wife, “You are an orphan. I only now understood that you’re an orphan. I will be both mother and father to you [Ia tebe—i mat’ i otets]). The need to join sound, image, and body is experienced as a “call,” a literal call from the child that we cannot hear but that the policeman can, implying that there is a juncture of sound, body,

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


and image from which the viewer is excluded. But this call is also experienced as an Althusserian hail, bringing the policeman from his position seated on the ground to attention (though somewhat sloppy attention, it must be said) (fig. 5). What follows is a kind of hysterical choric crisis, showing precisely how traumatic the joining of sound to cinema is in a Soviet context—precisely why psychoanalytic and historical negotiations are necessary. I hear the call, I do not hear the call. I am a father, standing at attention, I am a mother giving birth, crouching with the infant dangling between my legs (fig. 6). This crisis has its origins in Soviet history: how does Soviet cinema imagine its relationship to sound when the historical moment of “joining”—which should have been experienced as a kind of organic wholeness or reparation of a broken system now made whole, vision and hearing together—coincided with the rise of Stalinism and the end of the revolutionary avant-garde? In psychoanalytic film theory, sound has been described both as a maternal “blanket” and “sonorous envelope” that surrounds the child, and as an “umbilical net” which the mother weaves around the child, and in which the infant is hopelessly trapped.19 The paternal voice that reaches the infant from outside this “sonorous envelope” or “umbilical net” is the voice of the other, taken for the voice of the Other (Law, prohibition). The coming of sound to Soviet cinema coincided not only with the First Five-Year Plan, with policies of “industrialization” and “collectivization,” and with the nationalization of the cinema and the creation of a massive bureaucratic apparatus of censorship and oversight, but also with the shift from avant-garde experimentation to a strict adherence to the ideological demands of socialist realism. Early Soviet sound cinema recorded not just any voice, but the voice of state power addressing the viewer from the screen. What should have been a “natural” joining (cinema was looking for its voice) was a forced superimposition: cinema began to speak with the voice of ideology, with the voice of the Father (Stalin, the “Father of the People”). In the opening sequence of The Sentimental Policeman we see that the contact with the choric body cannot be conceived through the mother. Instead we see someone who must be fit into the place of the father—yet, as I have argued elsewhere,20 no Soviet man can


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

Fig. 5. Policeman standing at attention.

Fig. 6. Birthing the baby.

imagine himself in the position of the father, always already occupied by Stalin. The “normal” Lacanian maxim is “Le père ou pire”—“the father or worse.” Normally, this proposition is given as a forced choice, like “your money or your life,” but Stalinist paternity, or any other form of authoritarian historical trauma, already represents le pire. One cannot make the choice between the father “or worse,” because the symbolic father already is the worst: hence the constant presence in the opening sequence of the

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


searchlight, the only visual element joining the baby and policeman.21 The juncture of sound and image under Stalinism makes the fantasy of organic wholeness impossible. We are left with a nonfather, an unfather whose only paternity is to a broken doll. The shots that end this opening sequence are all designed to emphasize dislocation and disjuncture: they appear to show, for example, the same action (the policeman spinning in disorientation as he tries to pinpoint the source of the sound, falling with his ear to the ground) taking place repeatedly, but in different locations (locations that are not readily distinguishable from each other). Some are explicitly jump cuts (see 3:58). For all of them the guiding principle is rhythmic editing (call it choric editing), as the film attempts a reconciliation of sound and image that parallels a joining of the infant body with the only body possible in the Soviet tradition. This “birth of sound cinema” from a male body ill at ease with authority also presents itself as a six-minute encapsulation of film history, moving from static shots and simple cuts to pans, dolly shorts, and jump cuts, all to the “kinetic rhythm” of Kristeva’s chora. Just one final feature seems worth noting about the end of this sequence: the final, ecstatic juncture of sound to body-image does indeed mark the breakdown of “choric editing”—the policeman’s body moves smoothly and naturalistically, as he slips off his hat and kneels by the baby (fig. 7). The final shot clearly shows the relationship of all the bodies within the space outlined by the camera. But the sound that signals the overcoming of the many disjunctures featured in this sequence is a mirage (or, a “miracle”): it is not live sound at all, but a recording. It does not match perfectly the movements of the baby’s body, and its acoustic properties indicate it was recorded in a small room, and the sound quality suggests either a phonograph recording or an old film, with evident age and distortion audible in the sound. Muratova, in short, seems to be retelling a failure of any kind of choric union: a simulacrum of sound joined to a simulacrum of a non-mother and a non-father. To paraphrase a Lacanian maxim, there is no acoustic relation.22 Writing about the simultaneous birth of the horror film genre with Hollywood’s transition to sound, Robert Spadoni has sug-


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

Fig. 7. There is no acoustic relation.

gested that the coming of sound produced, for the second time in film history, the “media-sensitive viewer.”23 Spadoni borrows the notion of media sensitivity from Yuri Tsivian, who argued that the early film viewer was particularly sensitized (aware, watchful) to the film viewing experience, to his or her role as a viewer.24 The early viewer was always aware that he or she was watching a film, which meant at once the “miracle” of the moving image and sensitivity to everything that the moving image still lacked. (Thus Maksim Gorky’s famous 1896 description of the Lumière Cinematographe as a “kingdom of shadows,” as well as O. Winter’s similar formulations a few months later.)25 Spadoni argues that we can see something similar happen with early film sound: the coming of sound to cinema reproduced that original sense of the “uncanny,” reminding the audience that they were watching a mechanically reproduced shadow play, only now, with sound, whose source and reproduction were still troubling, in particular if the sound went out of synch with the moving image. According to Spadoni, early sound films marked the “return of the repressed” of early cinema: in his formulation, this was “the perception of realism mixed with the unreal, bodies that seemed more alive but also dead” (UB, 6, 18). The heightened awareness of the medium produced medium-

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


sensitive viewers: people would go to the movies to hear a voice (not see a picture).26 We can see a similar thing happen with Muratova’s film. Like the early sound films, Muratova’s The Sentimental Policeman (and all of her films) resensitizes the viewer to the cinematic experience, insisting with its theatricality, reproduction, and reproducibility on our awareness of the spectacle unfolding before us. Both Irina Sandomirskaia and Emma Widdis refer to this as a form of “haptic perception”—that is, that which communicates with the senses (in this case, hearing) before the intellect; a nonverbal communication delivered by sight or, as Sandomirskaia points out, by sound.27 At no point in watching a film by Muratova are we taken in by the “reality effect.” At no point are we allowed to lose ourselves in that “hermetically sealed world,” while remaining invisible, unseen voyeurs of the screen. This media sensitivity is one part of what makes watching Muratova’s films an uncanny experience. Like Freud’s Unheimlich, Muratova’s films thrive on repetition and regression, on doubles and doubling (e.g., the pairs of nurses in The Sentimental Policeman that repeat each other’s sentences; or the man at the police station who says the line “My mother doesn’t let me come home after eleven” an uncountable number of times, with slightly different inflections), that remind us that we are watching a performance. For Freud, the uncanny is produced through a confrontation with lack that cannot be scotomized: the seemingly unmotivated return of the repressed, which comes about because the ego (the subject) has come face-to-face with a particular fear (of impotence, castration, immobility, muteness and blindness).28 Muratova’s cinema is altogether a cinema of the uncanny, frequently manifesting these signs of dis-ease: speaking in tongues, falling silent, doubling, and “idiotic” (i.e., mechanical, automatic) repetition. The opening sequence of The Sentimental Policeman doesn’t simply stage a return to silent cinema, but a sudden regression: cinema, it appears, has lost its voice, has been left only eccentric, exaggerated gesture. As Sandomirskaia has suggested, this “regression” is tied directly to seventy years of Soviet ideology and its disciplining practices (the “culture of the voice” [kul’tura rechi], the elimination of


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

the non-standard or non-normative from Soviet speech), as well as to the notion of glasnost—a new “voice-ness” that comes after a long period of meaningless, disciplined speech.29 Muratova’s earlier (1989) film Asthenic Syndrome has been repeatedly read as an allegory for the coming apart of the Soviet Union; The Sentimental Policeman may be seen as a kind of rebirth (the film is literally about the possibility of a new life emerging out of the chaos of the old), and I think the sound track is another way of being able to “hear” this process taking place. Stephen Heath has suggested that sound cinema
is the development of a powerful standard of the body and of the voice as a hold of the body in image, the voice literarily ordered and delimited as speech for an intelligibility of the body, of people—agents and characters—fixed in the order of the narrative and its meanings, its unities and resolutions. In the silent cinema, the body is always pulling towards an emphasis, an exaggeration, a burlesque (the term of an intractable existence); in the sound cinema, the body is smoothed out, given over to that contract of thought [what Godard-Gorin call the New Deal], with the voice as the medium, the expression, of a homogenous thinking subject—actor and spectator—of film. (“BV,” 191)

Heath is speaking about a certain kind of homogenization—he says, “every actor begins to speak the same thing” (“BV,” 191)— that comes with the advent of sound or sound’s new regime of cinema. Where silent film allowed for certain liberties (Doane describes these as a lack, a compensation for the missing voice, but we can also see it as liberation, the freedom of the body not fettered by language, able to speak for itself without recourse to the limits of linguistic expression or the need to “synchronize” its movements to specific vocalizations), sound film brings constraint. This is true for Stalinism and socialist realist discourse, but we can also see it as applicable to sound cinema in general: sound cinema ties voice to body, and body to voice. Sound is made intelligible as speech, while silence, repetition, stutter, accent are all excised from the “talkie.” In The Sentimental Policeman, Muratova wants us to be aware

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


of disjunction, and in this way she re-creates for her films the “media sensitive” viewer of the first (sound) films—a viewer that was aware of how sound did or did not match the body, was or was not mechanically reproduced, sound that could be perceived as “authentic” and “natural,” and “metallic” and “unnatural,” at the same time. At stake is the possibility of finally moving beyond the disciplinary structures of Soviet cinema, structures that appear on or around 1928–35, the moment of Soviet cinema’s transition to sound. It is about the possibility of a new voice, not yet articulate, but free of the restrictive structures of both “classic” cinema and Soviet discourse. Repetition, doubling, “every actor [speaking] the same thing”—the voice as the medium, the expression, of a “homogenous thinking subject” (both actor and spectator of film), is made audible here, while at the same time, pointing past, away from this sound regime toward the possibility of some future (cinematic) language.
Notes The inspiration for this paper was an AAASS panel on the cinema of Kira Muratova, and I am grateful to Nancy Condee, Irina Sandomirskaia, Jane Taubman, Emma Widdis, and Zhenya Zvonkina for their participation, discussion, and contributions to our understanding of this most unusual filmmaker; I am also very grateful to Robert Rushing for his comments and additions. 1. Kira Muratova, Chuvstvitel’nyi militsioner [The Sentimental Policeman] (Odessa: “Primodessa-film” and “Parimedia-film” [France], 1992). 2. Kepley notes the massive bureaucratization that took place during the transition to a centralized “economy”: a two-year personnel plan provided cinema with more than seven thousand new administrators—over three and a half times more than the number of creative personnel slated to join the industry in the same interval. In May 1930 the newly chartered agency of Soiuzkino (All-Union Combine of the Movie-Photo Industry) was made responsible for “all matters concerning production of the movie-photo apparatus (for filming, projecting, lighting, and so on), movie-photo accessories and materials (films, records, papers, photochemicals, and so on), and also all


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1






matters concerning motion-picture production, rental, and exhibition” (Vance Kepley Jr., “The First ‘Perestroika’: Soviet Cinema under the First Five-Year Plan,” Cinema Journal 35, no. 4 [1996]: 31–53; hereafter cited as “FP”). For a detailed account of the restructuring of the Soviet film industry in the 1930s, see Jamie Miller, Soviet Cinema: Politics and Persuasion under Stalin (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010). Glasnost was the name of Gorbachev’s policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information. The word, based on the Russian root glas or golos, refers to the speaking voice. Two films that spoke particularly to the new “amorality” were Vasilii Pichul’’s Malen’kaia Vera (Little Vera, 1988) and Petr Todorovskii’s Interdevochka (Intergirl, 1989). For a detailed reading of sex and violence in post-Soviet pop culture, see Eliot Borenstein, Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). For films about the coming apart of ideology and the loss of belief, see Aleksei German’s Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1984) and Khrustalev, mashinu! (Khrustalev, My Car! 1998); Tengiz Abuladze’s Monanieba (Repentance, 1987); Karen Shakhnazarov’s Gorod zero (City Zero, 1988); Petr Todorovskii’s Ankor, eshche ankor! (Encore, Once More, Encore! 1992); Ivan Dykhovichnyi’s Prorva (Moscow Parade, 1992); Sergei Mikhalkov’s Utomlennye solntsem (Burnt by the Sun, 1994); and Sergei Livnev’s Serp i molot (Hammer and Sickle, 1994). Soviet critics found the early Muratova films anti-realist and anti-socialist realist because of their nonlinear narratives (sixteen flashback sequences in Brief Encounters, e.g.) and their lack of a “moral” center—i.e., no clear distinction between good and evil or legible ideological message. Speaking about Muratova’s first six feature films, Jane Taubman has noted the director’s “ear for heteroglossia,” an ability to put on the screen a polyphony of voices (often speaking at once) as a way of countering Soviet cinema’s monoglossia and breaking down hierarchical structures by privileging women’s voices and women’s speech over patriarchal discourse (see Jane A. Taubman, Kira Muratova [London: I.B. Taurus, 2005], 8; hereafter cited as KM). To be “disqualified” meant to be downgraded to a lower professional category, which effectively denied Muratova the right to work independently as a director. For a detailed account of Muratova’s life and works, see Kira Mu-

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation








ratova (Imena Odesskoi kinostudii), ed. Galina Lazareva and Vladimir Minenko (Odessa: Astroprint, 2004); KM; and Zara Abdullaeva, Kira Muratova: Iskusstvo kino (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2008), hereafter cited as IK. For a theoretical engagement with her films, see Mikhail Iampolski, Muratova: Opyt kinoantropologii (Moscow: Seans, 2008), hereafter cited as MO. Her breakthrough film was Astenicheskii sindrom (Asthenic Syndrome, 1989), which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on February 19, 1990, to mixed reviews. As the film journal Iskusstvo kino reported: “Asthenic Syndrome was received respectfully, and received the special prize of the jury. No one doubted the director’s great cinematographic achievement—only, it seems, the film was not very well understood. Both the audience, many of whom did not sit through to the end, and the professional critics asked roughly the same questions: ‘Is this . . . a kind of surrealism? An intentionally invented concentrate of unthinkable horror?’ But no, this is a merciless look, cruel, but this is the way we live” (K. Shcherbakov, “Ulybka Kabirii?” Iskusstvo kino 9 (1990): 146–47; translated in KM, 60.) Jane A. Taubman, “The Cinema of Kira Muratova,” Russian Review 52 (July 1993): 372. On Muratova and sound, see also Graham Roberts, “The Meaning of Death: Kira Muratova’s Cinema of the Absurd,” in Russia on Reels: The Russian Idea in Post-Soviet Cinema, ed. Birgit Beumers (London: I. B. Tauris, 1999): 144–60; KM; and in particular Irina Sandomirskaia, “A Glossolalic Glasnost and the ReTuning of the Soviet Subject: Sound Performance in Kira Muratova’s Asthenic Syndrome,” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 2, no. 1 (2008): 63–83, hereafter cited as “GG.” Stephen Heath, “Body, Voice,” Questions of Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985), 176–93. Hereafter cited as “BV.” Heath notes in particular, “the extreme resistance that can be set up in the ‘addition’ of sound to image (resistance marks what is left over, in excess, from the position of the ‘subject’ proposed)” (176–77). Donald Crafton, The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926–1931 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 311. Hereafter cited as TT. Mary Ann Doane, “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulations of Body and Space,” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 33. Hereafter cited as “VC.” The “missing” shot/reverse-shot construction fails to suture the viewing subject into a coherent and complete world; in a shot/reverse-


qui parle fall/winter 2010 vol.19, no.1

14. 15.







shot sequence the second shot purports to show what was missing from the first shot; “together the two shots seem to constitute a perfect whole” (Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988], 12; hereafter cited as AM). On suture, see Jean-Pierre Oudart, “Cinema and Suture,” trans. Kari Hanet, Screen 18, no. 4 (1977/78): 35–47; Stephen Heath, “Notes on Suture,” Screen 18, no. 4 (1977/78): 48–76; and Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 194–236. According to the published script, the policeman is checking for rain. See IK, 368–407. Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 25. Herafter cited as RP. Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jartine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 133. Referring to the qualities of the chora’s kinetic rhythm, Kristeva says that the chora is a “modality of significance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of an object and as the distinction between real and symbolic” (RP, 26). See Eugénie Zvonkine, “The Structure of the Fairy Tale in Kira Muratova’s The Sentimental Policeman,” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 1, no. 2 (2007): 131–45. Muratova may be referencing the 1951 Vittorio de Sica film Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan), which opens with a baby in a cabbage patch and has a fairy-tale structure. In The Voice in Cinema, Michel Chion writes: “In the beginning, in the uterine darkness, was the voice, the Mother’s voice. . . . We can imagine the voice of the Mother weaving around the child a network of connections it’s tempting to call the umbilical web. A rather horrifying expression to be sure, in its evocation of spiders—and in fact, this original vocal connection will remain ambivalent” (Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, trans. Claudia Gorbman [New York: Columbia University Press, 1999], 61). Lilya Kaganovsky, How the Soviet Man Was Unmade: Cultural Fantasy and Male Subjectivity under Stalin (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008). The entire film is shot through with images of “the carceral”: fences with barbed wire, animal cages, the police station drowning in documents, the children’s home with its locked doors, the court.

Kaganovsky: There Is No Acoustic Relation


22. Iampolski speaks of Muratova’s insistence that reality is never itself but a representation. See MO. 23. Robert Spadoni, Uncanny Bodies: The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Hereafter cited as UB. 24. Yuri Tsivian, Early Cinema in Russia and Its Cultural Reception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). 25. See Rick Altman, Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 89. 26. We can see an example of this with Dziga Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin: a front-page article in the newspaper Pravda shows a photo of the working masses on their way, as the caption tells us, “to hear Three Songs of Lenin” (Pravda, November 2, 1934). 27. See Emma Widdis, “Muratova’s Clothes, Muratova’s Textures, Muratova’s Skin,” KinoKultura 8, online at articles/apr05-widdis.html (accessed March 18, 2010); and “GG.” 28. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 17, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1986), 217–53. 29. Crafton writes of a similar “elocution vogue” in Hollywood: “The elocution vogue reveal[ed] a specific anxiety about the voice. It was the standard of speech and language that was the issue, not some innate acoustic property. . . . The supposition that the voice can be isolated and altered suggests that it was something extra, apart from the personality or physical being of the actor. Like the sound track, which was at the time conceived of as a supplement to the silent film, the actor’s voice was being treated as a separate commodity. The debate over who controlled the disembodied film voice had repercussions in the realm of labor, increasing the executives’ anxiety about actors. The producers quickly appended riders to the Standard Agreement that legally recognized the separation of the voice from the body and established their right to exploit it” (TT, 456).

Sponsor Documents

Or use your account on


Forgot your password?

Or register your new account on


Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link to create a new password.

Back to log-in