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November 1996, Week 1


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Barbara Bernstein <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 4 Nov 1996 16:10:55 -0800
text/plain (51 lines)
Mike Franks asks this interesting question:
>my question: why do we privilege the video over the audio so automatically,
>or intuitively [not to say "naturally"] that most of us--like peter--can
>simply take it as a given requiring no further comment that when the video
>and audio clash, the video is telling the truth??
It seems to me that we all know how easy it is to lie verbally; life is full
of people (ourselves included) recounting events that didn't really happen,
or didn't happen in quite that way.  We have much less experience with faked
photos; for one thing, they take a lot more effort than a spoken lie.  What
we *view* in a movie must have really happened on some level; otherwise it
couldn't have been photographed.  There is, of course, a conundrum here,
since we know quite well (Hollywood delights in exposing its own tricks)
that things we see in movies haven't *really* really happened, but once you
accept the illusion, it's hard to start making distinctions between visuals
that are "true" and visuals that are not.  Movie visuals may be constructed,
but they are concrete.
There's also the fact that movies enlist a lot of viewer participation, so
we have "worked" on interpreting the visuals (processing cuts, time lapses,
spatial relationships, etc.) in a way that we haven't had to work on the
audio, and therefore may feel somewhat more invested in them.
I'm trying to think of cases where the images have lied and words have told
the truth.  There are movies ("Mark of the Vampire" is one) where criminals
perpetuate some sort of elaborate hoax, complete with staged supernatural
events, etc.  In this case, we believe the end-of-movie verbal "explanation"
that debunks the events we have seen and, temporarily, believed in.  (I'm
reminded, however, that in "Vertigo" it's not sufficient to be told the
truth about Madeline's death; we have to *see* what really happened.)   And
then I wonder about cases like "E.T." where, I believe, the visuals "lie" by
using every movie convention in the book to imply that the mysterious
government people after E.T. are malevolent.  Eventually the Peter Coyote
character delivers a verbal assurance that he loves extraterrestrials and
only wants to help E.T., and we take him at his word (which is bolstered, I
admit, by his sincere facial expression and body language, and by his
subsequent actions).
--Barbara Bernstein ([log in to unmask])
Barbara Bernstein                       San Francisco, CA
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