Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Compulsory captioning

I just watched (deep breath) A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence on Netflix, and for the first time I can remember, was not allowed to turn off the closed captioning.

If I wanted English subtitles for the Swedish dialogue at all -- though one might debate the need to understand any of the dialogue in a movie like this -- I also had to have those descriptions of the sounds on the soundtrack, almost like audio stage directions, along with them.

At first I thought this would bother me to no end. Especially with a movie that relies on its absurd and beautiful visuals as much as Roy Andersson's does, the last thing I needed was extraneous white text on the screen, telling me when there are the sounds of bicycle spokes spinning or birds chirping.

Then I came around on them.

I decided that especially in a movie comprised of absurd and poignant vignettes, which satirize the very idea of narrative filmmaking while also getting at something deeper and more profound, having audio stage directions kind of contributed to the whole mood.

If a king on horseback from four or five centuries earlier suddenly stops in a modern-day cafe while the rest of his soldiers march by outside to battle, there is something kind of wonderful about the movie telling you that the sound of horse hooves can be heard. It's essentially a diagram of the humor, the kind of thing you might provide for someone as a proof of concept.

And I suppose it did contribute to my own reflection on existence as well.

I've now seen two of the three films in Andersson's absurdist trilogy, having seen Songs from the Second Floor way back in 2001 when I was crossing the country to move to Los Angeles (seems like a lifetime ago). You the Living still eludes me. But I've decided these are definitely my kind of movies. They don't make a lick of narrative sense, and that's often a problem for me, but not when it isn't. I guess that's just more proof that each film must be taken on its own terms, and two similar films can strike us very differently depending on things like tone, shot composition and performance.

All of those are perfect in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, and the closed captioning gave me an interesting insight into how somebody thought this movie's subtle rhythms should be interpreted to someone who can't hear.

It's a movie for all your senses, really.

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