Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Sound of Airports

Airplanes and movies were born around the same time, but the movies grew up faster. Perhaps it's because the airplane exists to satisfy only a few desires or needs, whereas the possibilities of the cinema seemed endless in its early years.

There is also the economic question--even with the rising price of movie tickets, it's still cheaper to catch a two-hour film than a two-hour flight. Airplanes were just out of reach for common people for a long time, so it seems unsurprising that (like the movies) they captivated the public imagination, impressing as much with their single-mindedness as the movies did with their variations.

And now, like the movies, airplanes are an everyday miracle. Airports are as banal as movie theaters nowadays.

Movies have an advantage over airplanes--airplanes have little opportunity to portray movies, but the cinema has had a field day with air travel and the locations associated with it. In American cinema, there is a tendency to emphasize the loud noise of airports, hoping to play off the audience's (perceived) anti-social tendencies. Most movie airports are like the busy town in the second scene of Heaven's Gate--an undercurrent of loudness, unfamiliar. Unlike Heaven's Gate, most American films seem to play off the idea of the community as something threatening--there can't be anything good about this many people in one place. Airports (and subway stations) are boring and suspicious. The emphasis on background sound suggests a belief that airports (and public spaces in general) cause people to lose their individuality (by robbing characters of their voices, or at least of some of their voices' power). Even in Billy Wilder's Avanti!, the drone of the airplane is used to disorient the audience in order to set them up for a joke involving confusion at the airport's passport check, where Jack Lemmon has to prove his own identity. The culture of public space in American cinema is an anti-flânerie, where places like airports rob individuals rather than allow them to reinforce their identities.

This is not to say that airports are comfortable or even friendly places, but nonetheless the view in mainstream (or, for that matter, any) American films is to follow a model when it comes to their portrayal and the portrayal of other public spaces. We reinforce these ideas without really understanding them, or being completely honest to our experiences.

No comments: