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Aural Extremes: Sculpting Noise – Notes from the Venice Film Festival

Maudite Poutine (Karl Lemieux, 2016)

The day began with a screening of Zombi, Dario Argento’s European cut of George A. Romero’s 1977 film, Dawn of the Dead. What’s odd about this cut is that the social commentary of the original is mostly still intact, but now often completely at odds with more rapid editing and re-ordered and continuous, clashing choice cuts from Italian prog-rockers Goblin’s score. For context, Romero’s version used three Goblin tracks. The cut underwent a 4k digital restoration, and the deep reds of distinctly 70s movie blood splattered in every direction look as unrealistically vibrant as they should, but the obscenely loud soundtrack felt drastically overstuffed. Zombi’s edit had human screams intertwining at an Italian rate closer to that of well-oiled machinery than conversation. Every instance of ripping flesh or gunfire had me reaching for my ears. For the most part, this was an incessant maxed-out quality inherent to the film’s existence. Yet when the pauses of silence hit, they were profound. Ear-shattering chaos put all the power on pauses that punctuated an otherwise undulating soundscape.

Maudite Poutine (Shambles) opens visually on a grimy noise concert, but aurally on silence that slowly fades in the sounds of the performing musicians. The audience is level with the band as they swoon and ratchet their instruments into scathing sounds of ritual group catharsis. Directed by touring member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor Karl Lemieux (he’s in charge of the film projections), it’s no surprise the Quebecois film takes a strong interest in continuous drones and a tendency toward grindcore (the latter only as diegetic sound). As the debut narrative feature by an experimental filmmaker, it is most noteworthy for its textures. The after-image of one shot in particular struck me as especially well-articulated: protagonist Vincent at work, spraying an industrial space clean with a high-pressure hose, about to receive some bad news. The shot drips with the dust of the monochrome segments of Stalker and the industrial verve of Eraserhead, all captured in stellar black and white photography. Lemieux’s familiarity with and understanding of working with black and white film shines throughout. In contrast, the narrative beats are disappointingly familiar: a group of friends have stolen a large amount of drugs and need to produce a large financial sum in a short amount of time lest they face the wrath of the dealer and his cronies.

While Zombi has all its noise nearly drowning out social commentary, and Maudite Poutine deals with the music of noise, Spira Mirabilis (Miraculous Spiral) highlights the importance of noise in the creation of beautiful music. Music and noise go gloved-hand-in-crumbling-statue-hand, piece and parcel of similar processes in which destructive and industrial pummeling grinds away the excess to leave us things of wonder. The documentary (in the sense that Koyaanisqatsi is a documentary) is a deep-seeped journey through various landscapes both natural and industrial to slowly piece together a commentary on art, immortality, and beauty.  In episode after initially-baffling episode, relentless crushing decibel noise banter saws away at patience, and sensibility gives way to creation. Sounds of every kind are considered as such, be they brittle or brilliant, and eventually yield to harmonious results: we witness the step-by-step outrageously loud and at times bone-rattling molding and domestication of stray metal into soothing steel drums. While Argento supplants Zombi with a sense of ignorance to the decaying effects of noise, Maudite Poutine and Spira Mirabilius highlight the necessity of noise as a reference point, a milestone of the process, and even an equal with music.