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Psychoanalytical Analysis Of Cinematic Sound – The Phenomenon Of Eavesdropping

1084 words - 4 pages

The question that interests me is that if voyeurism is such a fertile subject for film, to what extent is there an aural equivalent? Is eavesdropping a neglected aspect of the compelling connection between audiences and films?As a dramatic device, eavesdropping goes back as far as Greek drama and is a favorite trope of Elizabethan dramatists. Think of the overheard conversation about a handkerchief in Othello or Polonius behind the arras. In comedy, especially farce, misunderstandings of overheard conversations may be the single most prevalent catalyst for motivating plots. It can be more than just a plot device, however; it can have larger implications: incomplete overhearing or misinterpreting what is heard can sometimes be a metaphor for how we misunderstand the world and our relationship to it.In film most psychoanalytic writing on sound in film usually focuses on the significance of the voice. Cinematic moments that might be considered eavesdropping are cited within discussions of the appropriation or fetishization of the voice.Much early psychoanalytic theory when applied to film sound evolved from Laura Mulvey's suggestion that voyeurism is so central to cinema because it is one of two forms of mastery by which the male overcomes the castration threat posed by the sight of a woman onscreen. Mulvey calls voyeurism sadistic: the mainstream cinema neutralizes and contains the woman's threat through the plot; the plot punishes the woman-kills her off, desexualizes her; the male character investigates, demystifies and/or saves her. Kaja Silverman and others have suggested that voice can also be used fetishistically, that "Hollywood requires the female voice to assume similar responsibilities to those it confers upon the female body . . . as a fetish within dominant cinema, filling in for and covering over what is unspeakable within male subjectivity." (Silverman, 1988, p. 38)Although psychoanalysts vary in their interpretations, all agree that overhearing is a primal phenomenon that invokes anxiety. Freud thus prefigured the very cinematic axiom that a threat that is heard but left unseen can allow the audience to imagine something more terrifying than anything a filmmaker could embody in a specific image. More specifically, it can help explain the frisson created by menacing off-screen sound in thrillers, war movies, and science fiction scenes where the enemy's location is usually identified by sound long before it appears.Plot situations where we are likely to find eavesdropping include: scenes involving the telephone, tape recorders or answering machines; deliberate bugging of people or rooms; confessions, particularly in Catholic confession booths; therapy sessions; conversations overheard in adjacent rooms or spaces, particularly by jealous or paranoid characters; non-realistic scenes in which we or characters can overhear thoughts, as in Wings of Desire or many Godard films; and all films about sound recordists.Nearly all narrational uses...

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