Cinematic Transcendence From a Synaesthetic Perspective

(A Review of Michael Snow's Wavelength & David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper)

Kenneth Hemmerick

Originally published in Lonergan Review Number 6 - Canada's Film Century: Traditions, Transitions, Transcendence

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Imagine watching a film. Imagine seeing the film without the sound track. Imagine listening to the sound track on its own. A film is a synergetic whole. That is, a film is greater than the sum of its parts - the visual track and the audio track, when considered separately. The visual and audio tracks combine and interact to produce an event - a film, with its subsequent content, structure, form and meaning. At times, these two tracks can interact in such a way that the viewer is truly moved.

This paper will explore the notion of cinematic transcendence from a synaesthetic perspective. The word synaesthesia comes from the Greek syn (union) and aisthesis (sensation), literally a joining of the senses.1

Still from Michael Snow's Wavelength

Still from Michael Snow's Wavelength

Using Michael Snow's Wavelength, (1967) and David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper, (1970), I will show how a cinematic transcendence, or a shift in awareness in the viewer, is created through the specific and delicate combination of audio and visual events in their respective films. In other words, I am reviewing these works with the notion in mind that a full appreciation of these films is realized when they are considered as a combination of visual and aural events, and that these two events interact in such a way as to produce a blending, or uniting, of the senses.

Stills from David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper

Stills from David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper

I will explore the senses and synaesthesia, and will provide examples of synaesthetic creativity and exploration. I will then describe cinematic transcendence. The final section of this paper will provide a synaesthetic rationale for cinematic analysis of both the visual and aural components of a film as a combined and singular event encompassing space (image) and time (music). I will show that humans have an innate predisposition to synaesthetic, or poly-modal perception. I will suggest, further, that it is through this synaesthetic capability that cinematic transcendence can occur in the viewer.

As Mary Ann Doane states: It has become a cliche to note that the sound track has received much less theoretical attention and analysis than the image. Yet the cliche is not without truth or value and isolates, but leaves unexplained a fact. This lack of attention indicates the efficacy of a particular ideological operation which is masked, to some extent, by the emphasis placed on the "ideology of the visible." While it is true that, as the expression would have it, one goes to "see" a film and not to hear it, the expression itself consists of an affirmation of the identity (ie. wholeness, unity) of the film and a consequent denial of its material heterogeneity.2

Simply stated, I have taken Doane's holistic appreciation of film analysis and applied it to Wavelength and Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper. I believe this approach does reveal that within a film's construct there lies a unity in creative activity and perception. This unity has its foundation in the unity of the senses.

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© 2006 Kenneth Hemmerick