Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Listening to The Touch

When we think of Max von Sydow, we tend to think of his mountainous face, especially the way it looks in shadows, the way those crags and canyons shift as he talks. But there are many faces with the same qualities, but no voice quite like his. The face seems to belong to some landscape; the voice is completely organic. Von Sydow, more than any other actor, acts not with his words, but with his mouth, throat and nose. That is, when we hear von Sydow talk, it isn't dialogue that we're hearing, but a man breathing in and out, with words occasionally making their way out of his mouth alongside the carbon dioxide. The voice is made equal with a wide variety of sighs, coughs, quick inhalations, barely audible hums and whistles. To watch his face is also to watch his neck, and the way his Adam's apple bobs down when he swallows at the end of a sentence.

So who does Bibi Andersson leave good old Max for in The Touch? Elliott Gould. Elliott Gould, whose voice (always more feline that it seems like it should be), big head and lanky body are reminiscent of a recorder: the mouth as a labium, the brain as a fipple, the nose as a windway. Not a human flute, like Jean-Pierre Leaud (whose voice seems to be produced by the wind blowing against that embouchure hole of a mouth) -- no, certainly a recorder, and one that's being played by an amateur, maybe just a student, someone who knows the fingerings but can't get their embouchure right, the notes sometimes coming out as squeaks, sometimes wonderfully sweet, sometimes too quiet. He sounds as if his lungs were made of wood. And maybe that's the tragedy: she chooses an instrument over someone that can only be human.

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