Daily Archives: June 5, 2023

Sound Thinking

From Film Comment, September-October 1978. — J.R.

Sound Thinking


#1. The bias against sound thinking is so deeply ingrained that it shapes and invades the most casual parts of our speech. Whenever we ask “What movie did you see?”, or discuss film as a visual medium, or refer to viewers or spectators, we participate in a communal agreement to privilege one aspect of a film text by masking another, identifying the part as a whole. Some might argue that this bias is a carryover from the silent era; yet once we acknowledge that silence is as integral to sound as empty space is to image – not so much a neutral terrain as a variable to be defined and/or filled in relation to  an infinite variety of contexts – we can’t really claim that the problem started with the “talkies.” Indeed, we can’t even allude to “talkies” without agreeing to privilege speech over silence, sound effects and music, thereby participating in a related form of suppression.

#2. The point is that none of the terms we use are innocent, and the ones we have for discussing sound still aren’t far removed from Neanderthal grunts. Consider the brutal inadequacy of “sound effects”: it would seem barbaric if we spoke of visual composition in Eisenstein or Renoir as “visual effects,” if only because we perceive composition as a complex of interrelated decisions.

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The Countercultural Histories of Rudy Wurlitzer

From Written By 3, no. 11, November 1998. — J.R.

Let me start this off with an update: a plug for Wurlitzer’s most recent novel, a sort of Buddhist Western that grew out of an unrealized script, and a truly haunting page-turner. — J.R.


“What’s your name?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I don’t know how to answer that.”
I was suddenly afraid of losing the anonymity that existed between us, as if once we knew our names         the erotic focus we were falling into would dissolve. I curled my lower lip.
“We’re overloaded as it is.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she said.
— Rudolph Wurlitzer, Quake (1972)

SQUIER  We must move southward. Only by expanding can we hope to avoid a civil war and save those in
situtions we hold most precious.
DR. JONES  I assume you are including slavery?
SQUIER  I certainly am. We must not be sentimental if we wish to preserve that which is most precious to
The camera cuts to Ellen, enraged by the conversation. As her eyes dart around the room, she and Walker begin to move their hands in sign language. We see for the first time that Ellen is deaf. Read more

Thomas Pynchon: A Journey Into The Mind Of P.

From the Chicago Reader (October 6, 2006). — J.R.

TP doc ad

Pynchon freaks can be divided into two categories: those fascinated by his work, who respect his wish to be known through it, and those fascinated by his life, who see his writing as an illustration of his experiences. Aimed at the latter group, this 2001 Swiss documentary by Fosco and Donatello Dubini begins by enlisting a former Pynchon squeeze to show us his LA digs from the early 70s (she’s identified as Bianca from Gravity’s Rainbow, which discounts whatever art he brought to his experiences) and goes mostly downhill from there. Pynchon groupies weigh in while significant critics like Edward Mendelson are omitted, and even as gossip the movie reflects poorly on some of the author’s old friends. But the archival footage does include Lee Harvey Oswald (who may have been in Mexico City at the same time as Pynchon) and a cat freaking out on mescaline. 90 min. (JR) Read more