This fascinating short film (8 minutes) shows everyday life in many different cities around the world in the 1920s. The original black and white footage has been enchanced, colourised, and some sound added for effect. Cities in America and Europe are featured, and I found it very interesting to watch.
If you have a pet, you may want to watch this short film. It examines how various animals, insects, and birds (including cats and dogs) hear and see the world that surrounds them, in a very different way to human perception. There is some science to listen to, but even I could understand it.
My friend Antony sent me the You Tube clip, and I think many of you will find it fascinating.
As any film fan will tell you, light and sound make up so much of the enjoyment of a film. Just think of a film-maker like David Lean, and his films ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Or Carol Reed’s use of light and soundtrack in the superb ‘The Third Man’. You get the idea. Some films have been made by their use of lighting, and become legendary for the cinematography that resulted. ‘Cat People’ (1942) is an example of how simple lighting techniques, and use of shadows, turned what could have been an average film into an acknowledged classic.
Then things began to change. I first noticed this when I went to see the film ‘Heaven’s Gate’ (1980) at the cinema. Michael Cimino had made an expensive and ultimately flawed film that ran so far over budget, it almost bankrupted the film company behind it. It also divided the critics, and audiences stayed away. I actually thought it was a very good film, but for one thing. Cimino had decided to use ‘natural sound’. This was very apparent when characters were speaking in front of a noisy steam train, or trying to make themselves heard during a raucous party scene. As a result, those conversations were inaudible to the audience, and any plot developments resulting from the scenes had to be guessed at.
Not long after, films started to get darker, and I don’t mean their themes. ‘Natural lighting’ became the thing. If the characters were outside at night, then it was pitch black, and we had absolutely no idea what was happening, unless the script explained it. I sat in cinemas peering into the gloom, or straining to hear what was being said. And this was at a time when Dolby stereo was being rolled out, and picture quality had reached a new peak of perfection too.
I see the argument. If somewhere is dark, like a cellar or cave, or outside in a forest at night, then it is going to be dark. That’s realistic, yes I get that. But if the audience is then left to simply imagine what might be happening, and who is doing what to who, then there is no point bothering to go and watch the film in the first place. People whisper, I understand that too. If they don’t want to wake the kids, or wish to conceal a plot secret from a character in the next room, they talk quietly. That’s also realistic, I know. But if we can’t hear what they are saying, then why are we bothering to follow the story?
This has nothing to do with my age. Despite wearing glasses to read any print, I have no issues with watching films, or looking at TV shows. My eyesight is good enough for almost everything, but not ‘natural darkness’. And I am not remotely deaf. I only have my TV volume set at 17 out of a possible 30, and can hear all normal conversation, even spoken quietly. But if I can’t hear something on screen that is not meant to be heard by other characters, so delivered in a hushed whisper inaudible to normal people, I have to question why I am continuing to bother.
More recently, this has migrated to TV drama. Made worse by flat-screen LED televisions that rarely have ‘true black’, night scenes in dramas now favour ‘natural darkness’ too. As a result, us viewers are left literally in the dark about what is happening, so that the director can claim to be ‘on trend’ with his vision of the adaptation. This reached a peak when the BBC serialised ‘Jamaica Inn’. They hired a great cast, an equally good writer to adapt the story, then filmed most of it in pitch darkness, with whispered conversations. So many people wrote in to complain, we can only hope such vanity will not be repeated in future.
My tip to those film-makers and TV directors is to look back at great films and TV series of the past. We want to see the drama, not imagine it. If a room is historically candle-lit, then by all means throw in some candles. But also light the scene, so we know what is happening.
Artistic credibility is one thing, but presenting something impossible to watch is just pointless.
Last night, I settled down to watch a film on the TV. It was ‘Prisoners'(2013), starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhall, Melissa Leo, and the underrated Paul Dano. I had heard good things about this abduction thriller, and was pleased to see it arrive on TV so soon after release. As it was premiered on the usually excellent Film 4 channel, I concluded that there would be no cuts, and the full film would be shown. Allowing for the breaks for ads, the film got its full running time, so I prepared to immerse myself in the great cast, bleak story-line, and compelling visuals. So far, so good.
I have (moaned) written before about the shortcomings of modern televisions. The four year old, 40-inch Flatscreen LED TV that we own seems incapable of rendering true black. As a result, night scenes, or gloomy locations, are hard to watch, at the best of times. Extraneous light has to be avoided, lamps that reflect in the screen must be turned off, and even with all these preparations, vision of my standard will struggle to see through the murk. I put up with it. What else can I do? The old CRT televisions are no longer available, and short of spending every penny I own on the very latest ‘True Black’ technology, I am stuck with it, for the time being at least.
Of course, the film and TV programme makers don’t help. In their quest for more realism, they avoid the use of additional lighting. A Victorian street scene is rendered as it might have looked before 1900, and we see the world as the characters see it. This sounds perfect in theory, but the price we pay is eyestrain, and problems following any action, or the plot. If a film scene is set in a dark cellar, or poorly-lit back yard, the viewer can forget being able to actually understand what happens next. Transfer the action to a dark woodland, or pitch-black desert, and I might as well be listening to a radio play.
That brings me to sound. Our modern TV has a basic speaker system built in, equipped with stereo, and a sound options menu. I don’t want surround-sound speakers all over the room, wireless or not, and I am reluctant to fork out cash for a modern ‘soundbar’, when the technology is changing daily. For most ordinary TV shows, and the majority of films, the set-up works fine, and the middle setting on the volume control is perfectly adequate.
Of course, TV ads are always louder, everyone knows that, even though few of us understand how it is achieved. But recent trends in the presentation of some dramas and many films have left us with ‘Natural Sound.’ Like ‘Natural Lighting’, this might seem to be satisfyingly realistic. Whispers are barely audible, snatched conversations impossible to follow, but sudden car chases or explosions are deafeningly loud, just as it is in real life.
But this isn’t real life, it’s a film, or a TV show. And that leaves me, frustratedly trying to watch a long film or drama series on TV. Straining to follow most of the action in darkened rooms, constantly adjusting the volume control up during scenes involving conversations, then rushing to lower it, as soon as something loud happens.
‘Prisoners’ was a classic example of this type of broadcasting. Hushed conversations and whispers were essential to the plot, but I couldn’t hear most of them. A breaking window, or gunshot however, had me scrabbling to reduce the volume, from the almost deafening level it was being broadcast at. I manfully endured the full running time. I got to the ending, and enjoyed some of the performances. But as a viewing experience, it was more of an ordeal, than the pleasure it should have been. And I think my remote is going to need new batteries…
Whilst I am on this rant, I will include something else, to save you the drudgery of another moany post from me. Since when was it acceptable for film and TV companies to make plot reveals and crucial events happen by cast members receiving text messages, or scribbled notes, both of which are impossible to read on a TV screen, unless you are 18 years old, and have perfect vision? (That’s it for that one.)