If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear…and vice versa, if the ear is entirely won, give nothing to the eye. One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear. – Robert Bresson, Notes on Cinematography
This episode of Zepelim sets out to make the eye impatient by presenting the sounds of non-dialogue scenes edited from 10 Manoel de Oliveira films. The cinema of Oliveira is known for its careful balance of image, words, and silence. There is a frequent use of static frames and extremely long takes wherein the characters deliver their lines while facing the camera, as if their dialogue was taking place in a play. This way, the spectator’s attention is deflected from the image and zeroes in on the words being spoken. In contrast, scenes without dialogue gain their significance as highly visual experiences – the ear tends to rest while the eye “is entirely won”. From the perspective of someone working in radio, I became interested in the auditory ambiance of Oliveira’s wordless scenes and background sounds that under normal film-viewing circumstances might blend in with the process of intaking image and either get overlooked or woven into the fabric of the image.
By separating sound from its image, Zepelim aims to explore the rich auditory dynamics of Oliveira’s non-dialogue scenes. The sounds presented in this collage are not organized according to the films’ chronology or storylines. Rather, they are grouped as much as possible according to other properties like volume, pitch, and intensity of the samples as well as by common themes like footsteps, motors roaring, wind blowing, characters breathing, wood creaking, etc. In the context of radio, these sounds become the focal point while unique new visual layers are free to form in the listener’s imagination. The sounds were taken from the following films: The Hunt (1963), Past and Present (1972), Benilde or The Virgin Mother (1975), Voyage to the Beginning of the World (1997), My Case (1987), The Cannibals (1988), Word and Utopia (2000), The Uncertainty Principle (2002), Belle Toujours (2006) and Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009).
Manoel de Oliveira was born in Porto (1908) to a wealthy family from the North of Portugal. His father was the first man in Portugal to produce light bulbs. The young Oliveira had an ecclectic youth – competing at the pole vault, working as a professional racecar driver, and even performing as a trapeze artist. When the dictator Antonio Salazar seized power in 1932, Oliveira was just beginning his filmmaking career. His first films were documentaries (like “Douro, Faina Fluvial“), but in the early 40s he made Aniki-Bóbó, his first feature-length film. Over the following decades, Oliveira continually pioneered new styles of cinema and eventually secured his place as one of Europe’s most prolific and important filmmakers. At the age of 80, he hit the pace of making one film per year. This year Oliveira is 103 and still going – the world’s oldest active filmmaker.