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Film Essays

The Sounds of Silence

“Silence is impossible.  That is why we desire it.” –Maurice Blanchot

“The sound experience which I prefer to all others is the experience of silence.  And the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic…if you listen to traffic you see it’s always different.” –John Cage

When I was a kid I went to my local movie house a lot; almost every Friday and sometimes Saturday or Sunday.  There was the occasional evening out during the week, but that was a rare treat and typically coincided with an event or holiday. My local theater was small.  It only had a few screens, was owned by people in my community and was cheap.  I could even get a soda and snack if I wanted.

In between screenings, the theater had still images of trivia and local ads running on the screen.  If there was sound it was just a quiet radio playing, but usually, it was simply the theater; air moving through vents, disparate voices, and bodies moving in and out of seats.

Things were calm.  It was a welcoming to a new world – a beginning.  This gave me time to prepare for what was about to be.

You could watch people come in or leave.  Talk with the people or family and friends attending.  You could be enlightened by ads from your community that might actually have an impact on your daily travails. It was special; something to be a part of.  It was time well spent and better yet remembered.

I learned how to grow up in these environments.  Films connected me with a way of being.  I was allotted space to think; space to dream.

Now it’s necessary to speak louder if one wishes to be heard.  Now it is necessary to sit through extensive ear and retinal barrage if you want a seat found in the light.

At the end of last year Roger Ebert wrote an article responding to why theater revenue is down.  “The message I get is that Americans love the movies as much as ever.  It’s the theaters that are losing their charm.”

The theater is no longer a place to go.  There is no longer something special about the environment.  They’ve become the bad part of town.  They’ve become advertisement arcades.

I rarely go to the theater anymore.  I have many reasons, but mainly it’s because it’s not an experience I can frequently invest.  The rate of return has been lowered.  It’s no longer the dream I once imagined it to be.

It’s an airplane terminal.

When I go to a theater it’s usually at off-hours.  It’s here where I can often catch the glimmers of what I used to love.  It’s here when I think it is not all in my head; memories from another time mapping themselves over what is here and now.

I’ve always appreciated the theater.  It has always been a place of wonder and excitement.  But, it’s harder and harder to hear the theater; to feel its presence.  I want the moments that let the theater in. It’s what taught me that film is never silent – even when it is trying to be.

I remember those early days of movie watching; solving trivia on a still screen, talking to people for whose space you share and getting excited for the new trip about to launch. I think about the silence, the space that was allowed to comingle in time.  It’s hard not to be nostalgic.  I often question if that’s all it is or if there is some truth to the matter.  I am not one wishing to rail against all of modern day occurrences.  But still, I miss the sounds of silence.  I miss the connections they forged.

Sometimes absence speaks far greater than presence.

 Garrett D. Tiedemann  5/12/12



One thought on “The Sounds of Silence

  1. I had the experience last year of attending a screening of ‘Metropolis’ with piano accompaniment, and what struck me and my partner was how quiet the audience was during this silent film. The only sound heard was that of the live soundtrack; it was glorious.
    I offer you the thought that architecture has as much to do with how these community experiences change as the content displayed. When I was a kid, the local movie house was a former live entertainment venue. The lobby was painted and decorated to look like we were all in the Arabian desert on a starry night, and the theatre itself still had the curtains framing the stage and the proscenium with cherubim floating above the screen. Even though I’d never been to a live show at this theatre (before my time), the textures and aromas (smoking section upstairs in the balcony!) lent an air of importance to the moviegoing experience. The same holds true for libraries, banks, courthouses, etc. They are places where important things happen, sometimes lifechanging things, and I believe they should reflect that in every brick and window.

    Posted by Karen | May 14, 2012, 1:11 pm

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