Friday, April 6, 2007

The Deaf Photographer

The world must be more ambiguous for the deaf—at least for Tony Leung’s character, the deaf photographer in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s City of Sadness. It was reportedly the first contemporary Taiwanese production to be shot entirely with direct sound, and so much of our experience of the film is colored by the sounds that accompany its often still compositions. One scene springs to mind specifically—Leung waiting in a prison cell while his friends are executed. We, like Leung, can only see the interior of the prison cell, and we hear the terrifying sound of gunshots in the distance. As the take continues, we realize Leung’s character cannot hear the gunshots—but that makes the prison cell no less terrifying for him. He doesn’t have even the slightest clue as to his fate, and, in effect, neither do we. Later, at his own wedding, he has to take cues from the bride in order to correctly participate in the ceremony—for a brief moment, he glances at her bowing before he knows to bow, and someone has to touch him on the shoulder before he knows to kneel.

The bootleg DVD of the film inadvertently replicates this sensation by failing to subtitle the various inter titles and letters used in the film—therefore creating an effect of disorientation similar to the one Leung’s character must be experiencing, somehow left out on key texts that help make sense of the world. Before starting conversations, which he is forced to write on paper (and which I, therefore, cannot understand), he stares at people, trying to make sense of what their world must be like based on the few clues their facial expressions give away. I end up feeling the same way, having to guess from character's reserved reactions as to what secrets his writing might have contained.

No comments: