I Scream In Silence

Cinema, Sex & the Sound of Women Dying

published in Cinesonic: The World of Sound in Film, AFTRS Publishing, Sydney, 1999
excerpt reprinted in Senses of Cinema No.22, Sept-Oct., Melbourne, 2002
Bad Girls Go To Hell (1963)

A voice in hell

The final image to Doris Wishman's 1963 movie Bad Girls Go To Hell is a freeze-frame of the film's central character Meg (Gigi Darlene). She is about to be raped. Her mouth is open in a silent scream - frozen by film technology, superimposed with the words 'THE END'. The soundtrack contains a blood-curdling scream - well, maybe not so blood-curdling. Let's hold the freeze-frame for a moment and discuss Meg's voice.

Bad Girls Go To Hell is wholly post-dubbed - brutishly so, as is the case with most early 60s American sexploitation movies. It was and remains cheaper to shoot without synch-sound in acoustically problematic locations (downtown streets and hotel rooms) and later post-synch all the dialogue. The post-dubbing process is invariably rushed, and employs amazingly emotionless and unconvincing voice-actors. Most scenes contain off-screen dialogue: easier to record, edit and mix due to not having to synchronize the Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) with on-screen lip movement. These factors contribute to an awkward alienation effect wherein the on-screen being achieves and projects a disembodied state. Visually, he/she inhabits a mobile screen space - within the frame, across edits - but acoustically they remain fixed, boxed in a sonic realm devoid of the subtle phasing which accompanies location microphone movement.

The result of this technological process does not instantly guarantee 'bad acting' as most would have it. Firstly, the ownership of the 'act' of acting is bipolar - distributed between the efforts of on-screen bodies and post-synced voices, each belonging to their respective persons and therefore difficult to attribute under conventional definitions of holistic acting. Secondly, finding fault in such 'disynchronization' belies an unfortunate trust in the unification of screen-based projections - moreso due to the presumption that those who populate the screen void do so under the laws of physics which govern our worldly reality. Thirdly, any investment in screen characters on grounds of rounded, motivated and justifiable psychological traits amounts to a desperate avoidance of the emotional schizophrenia which the cinema - and drama in general - works hard to dissolve, neutralize, sanitize. The voice of Meg - detached, divorced, undynamic, ill-performed, artificially joined to her other's lips - can perhaps rightly be accepted to be unconvincing, unacceptable, unbelievable.

But to ridicule this is severely problematic.

That scream - that corny, carney, carnivale cry - has been heard before. Too many times. Next to the sound of a gun being fired, the scream of woman is one of the most iconic sound effects in the cinema. This is not to say simply that it is 'employed' extensively across histories, genres, forms and media (which it has been), but that its nature as a 'sound effect' - as a repositionable fragment within the post-production process - suggests that there are operations undisclosed by such perfunctoriness which reflect on wider commingled issues of sex, gender, violence and drama. Rather than dismiss its cheapness - its tawdry obviousness, its lack of substance - let us loop that scream from Bad Girls Go To Hell. Let us structurally, syntactically and sexually live the hell that sound effect signals. Let us voyage through the many synchronized, stretched and silenced screams which sail between the cinema and our social reality - screams whose tactile renderings are acoustically blurred, and whose significance is dulled despite the violence which prompts their release. I ask a simple question: what does it mean when a woman screams?

The aural cum shot

In Bad Girls Go To Hell a circular story unfolds. Meg - an oversexed bored housewife the type of which rampantly populates sexploitation movies of the 60s - cleans the house in her negligee while her husband goes to work. After taking out the garbage - in her negligee - and arousing her lecherous landlord, she is raped. While she is being ravaged by her landlord - she awakens from her dream. She then gets up, cleans the house in her negligee, takes out the garbage in her negligee - and is attacked by her lecherous landlord. Scream - freeze frame - the end. The circularity of this story is more important than its originality. To use a classical and cliched paradigm, the story's 'journey' - as is the case with pornography in general - is more a bodily passage which mimics sexual dynamics (sensation, arousal, orgasm) than it is a three act tale. Pornographic narratives - both those that show and those that suggest - are best understood as linear looping progressions impelled by a moistening of canals and an engorging of tunnels. We move through their telling less via an understanding of character and plot and more through a realization of our own physical transformation. Under such a logic of interpretative morphology, visuals and sounds combine solely to titillate and satiate. And where required, sound can stand in for the unseeable and image can be sublimated by sound.

It is not hard, then, to perceive the cinematic scream as an 'ero-sonic' moment. It signifies an entry point for erotic consumption in the name of rape. Like the bird that tweets morning, the siren that signals work, the bell that tolls death, the angel that sings rest, the scream in the cinema operates as a phoneme for that which cannot or does not want to be shown. Clearly, the screen would like to grant us an image of graphic vaginal penetration under force. Heterosexual pornography performs this service, but the desire for its effect is by no means restricted to pornographic production and consumption - hence its refuge under complex symbolic guises in supposedly 'soft' cinema. Many people afraid of (or even opposed to) pornographic presence may nonetheless desire such imagery. Denial of that unacknowledged desire coupled with the social coding of dubious yet acceptable imagery cause a crisis in consumption for the cinema: how can it deliver that which guarantees its economic livelihood but which would also constrict and potentially destroy its social status? By the invisibility of sound - the realm wherein the unseeable becomes known and the unwatchable becomes imagined.

In the 60s cycle of sexploitation movies, the thwarted desire for visible penetration contributed to awkward narratives where women wanted sex whether they knew it or not and men fucked anything in lingerie. It could be argued that softcore porn from this period caused great anxiety by not showing that which was thematically/iconically promised, which in turn created the convention of depicting the heady force and impact of sexual intercourse through the dramatically-acceptable act of rape. It is near impossible to find a film from this era where a bra isn't ripped off a woman and a man in underwear and socks doesn't lie on top of the squirming female while he smothers her with stubble-scarring kisses. Penetration is mysteriously avoided; orgasm is impossibly attained. The open mouth - far from being a snapping castrating Freudian threat - is the flayed vaginal lips that irrationally signal an orgasm which is unlikely to have occurred no matter how desperate the imagination of the male viewer. Her scream impossibly but logically becomes an aural cum shot.

Accordingly, the female scream has remained a frighteningly ambiguous fixture in the dramatic scenarios of theatre, radio and cinema - especially as its placement in a dramatic context reverberates with the sublimatory pornographic coding of sexploitation. From the salacious silence of open-mouthed heroines tied to railway tracks, to the radiophonic incision of female fright into the family loungeroom, to the gasping gurgling foley effects of nurses and co-eds having their throats slashed, one detects a dark colon of vocal anguish shooting through the historical reservoir of 'thriller-kill-her' entertainment. It is no wonder that a mangrove of murky knotting between the dramatic and pornographic has given rise to skewed perspectives, where dramatic issues are sexualized and erotic functions treated as dramaturgy: did she deserve it? Did she want it? We told her not to visit the sawmill, walk home from work, go down to the basement. Yes, she's in her underwear because she wanted to shower. No, he wanted to kill her because he hated blondes only. The ambiguity of the scream is most frightening because it becomes embroiled in the most inconclusive morals and mores. The scream rings loud as if to give a warning, a message, a statement - but all it does is thrill us, raising the hair on the back of our necks and stimulating the pubic forest of our confused desires.

Yet the starkest aspect of the female scream's ambiguousness is how its very intent to communicate - through the tightening of the vocal chords in an involuntary spasm - short circuits all linguistic operation. The wordless cry is a return to the primal, sure enough, but its desperation alone does not ensure clarity of purpose. Many a scream heard from a distance halts one with its indistinction between delight, terror, fancy, pain. 'No' might mean 'no', but a scream can be interpreted through too wide an emotional gamut to be fixed as a directive. Worse, the scream heard from a distance - refracted and diffused by urban architecture - leaves one in a quandary as to the unseen circumstance and context of the disembodied voice: are two girls teasing each other? Are lovers deep in breeder passion? Is a group of friends making their way home from a bar? Or is someone being attacked? Cinema gleefully and remorselessly exploits the iconic effect of the scream, emptying it of its social specificity and flooding it with our indecision and immobility. How easy it is to make a plot turn through an off-screen scream. How dreadful it has become a cliche which filters our aural reception of what might be happening right next door. How dumb it is to ignore its lineage.

The catatonic corpus

Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Another cheap movie, one year earlier. Herk Harvey's Carnival Of Souls (1962). A woman - bruised, tattered, covered in mud - emerges from a river's edge where earlier her car had been retrieved after she was driven over the bridge into murky waters. Dredging fails to recover the car, but now she mysteriously returns in a daze, unable to communicate clearly. She gives rise to strange visceral combinations: moist and muddy, sweaty and sexual, ravaged and rebirthed, traumatized and terrifying, erotic and ectoplasmic. This is the body of the cinematic scream: a catatonic corpus whose silence articulates all that is connoted by the tightly phased collision of cinematic screams with social screams.

Carnival Of Souls is mostly post-dubbed and echoes many an 'adult movie' with its flat vocalization as Mary Henry (Candice Hiligross) drifts through the scenes in a strangely detached manner. But simpatico with the film's haunting story, Mary is in fact dead. And as she ethereally floats in the mortal world of tangible substances, so does she quiver on the film soundtrack separate from her on screen presence. Yet Mary does not realize she is dead. The 'souls' of the dead follow to reclaim her and return to the domain of the departed, leading her to believe she is being chased by a strange man visible only to her. Standard devices for haunted narratives, but Carnival Of Souls enacts a chilling rupture between sound and image in one outstanding scene. After Mary tries on a dress in a department store change room, she returns to the sales clerk who now can neither see nor hear her. Mary thinks she is being ignored but then becomes aware - as we do - of the profound silence which embalms her presence. The soundtrack is totally devoid of all atmosphere and ambience - what studio engineers refer to as an acoustically 'dead' space, unenlivened by spatial refractions and lacking in any sound design to redress what seems to be a problem in filmmaking. If Mary only knew of this sonic morbidity, she would realize her unalterable predicament. Unfortunately prompted by the privilege of sight in the mortal world, she believes that which appears before her eyes, when her hearing alone grants absolute truth.

This unsettling audiovisual effect recalls similarly alienating moments in our actual acoustic existence: the blocking of the ear due to changes in atmospheric pressure in a plane cabin; the lodging of water in the ear canal after a swim; watching people on the street through sealed doubled-glazed glass windows without hearing their speech; etc. These commonplace situations wrench sound from sight, upsetting the balance struck in stable sono-optical conditions. In place, we clearly audit our own internal breathing but register only the slightest and radically diminished occurrence of all external action we witness. Our awareness of bodily sensations - heightened by the rise in level of sounds which we normally filter out due to their low frequency and decibel level - obliterates the position of self-erasure we voyeuristically inhabit when viewing both reality and film as a 'window on the world'. Our very breath - the most tangible trace of our mortality - haunts us. Mirroring the frightening ambiguousness of the female scream, breath on the soundtrack is both erotic and necrotic. It replaces the presence of the actor and his/her character with a bodily occupation of audiovisual space. The screen and its acoustic field become a terrain no longer inhabited by silvery ghosts, but by a corporeal funk of glottal spital and nasal whistle. When Mary realizes that no-one can see/hear her, she becomes aware of her bodily status as a shell traversing a world in which she is not welcome, leaving her to roam mismatched, disynchronized, acoustically alienated.

Cine-silence and recorded erasure

Salo (1976)

I posit the aural anguish of Meg - displaced, disfigured, decollated - and the catatonic corpus of Mary - derailed, drained, drenched - as bodily manifestations of the trauma cinema induces through its application of the female scream as mere sonic cipher in avoidance of its social referent. For when woman cannot even scream in the cinema, her silence is most morbid. However this censure yields a tersely vibrational force which reveals firstly the audiovisual substance of cinema through the act of recording and positioning the human voice, and secondly the material totality of sex and violence as compound apparitions in the medium of film. The handful of films discussed here exemplify this in unsettling ways and thereby can direct us to listen more carefully to what we presume to be mere 'sound effects'.

Meg's hell is doubled through repetition (she experiences the whole film twice, potentially ad infinitum) while Mary's catatonia is doubled through reflection (people witness her inability to speak, then she witnesses their inability to hear her). Each doubly silenced, they symbolize both the breakdown of the social being and the dismissal of deeper significance in fetishizing the female scream. Cinema will use woman as both siren and banshee, granting her paranormal and meta-mystical vocals for purposes of spooky seduction. And many a cine-social edict has woman as one who will not shut up and needs to be silenced - by a witty retort, a hypnotic stare, a morning grapefruit, a cup of hot coffee, a leather glove, a hypodermic needle, an electric chainsaw. But when frozen mouths like Bad Girls Go To Hell's Meg and animated corpses like Carnival Of Souls' Mary appear (from which a modern semiotic lineage persistently trails), they scream in the utmost of silence, documenting the very act of erasure that posits them as dead women.

This specific 'silent scream' is neither a gesture of melodramatic freeze nor a psychological blockage of expression [1], but a form of 'cine-silence' precisely centred at the nexus of the sexual and the technological. Cine-silence generated by the absence, dislocation and/or import of an actress' voice is a carefully placed act of erasure on the film soundtrack. In the operations of dialogue editing, ADR and post-dubbing, other sounds are muted, faded-down, edited-out. Foregrounded is the sensation of something missing: from the wholly expected randomness of breath presence to the highly desirous ero-sonic moment of the scream. The symbolic resonance in the figures of Meg and Mary is not to be found in any archaic literary tradition, but in the discursive and strategic methods of recording, encoding, mixing and rendering their voices. Remembering the audiovisual base of cinema and the interchangeability of aural and visual modes of depiction, aural means of production here enact the symbolic codes of the images to which these silenced voices are tied. Their muting in the mix reflects the way that the female scream in our social reality is uncomfortably ignored; their removal from the soundtrack signifies a dual operation of sexual censure and violent erasure.

The hyper-violent ending of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo (1976) is most savage due to its removal of screams from the soundtrack. As young men and women lie stomach down in a sandy courtyard and have their tongues cut out and scalps pried back, the soundtrack indifferently hisses with recorded silence and optically encoded crackles. We see their mouths open wide in screams we do not hear. The voyeuristic distance we enjoy from the spectacle is contracted and thrust inward to us as we are refused the pleasure of the scream as both aural cum shot and iconic softener for the extreme actions visually depicted. Due to the cinema's incessant employment of the scream as a sonic simulacrum for that which cannot be shown, the atypical apparition of a silenced scream on the soundtrack presents the cinematic apparatus as an inverted audiovisual machine, here psychologically amplifying the scream by muting it in the mix. The machinic effects of the cinematic apparatus are painfully apparent in Salo's finale: it is like the cinema itself has been technologically short-circuited, blowing out the speakers and upsetting any intended audiovisual normality. Silent footage and extreme violence tend to go hand in hand [2], and have established a semiotic effect of morbidity which cinema usually avoids. Stan Brakhage's The Act Of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (1972) unsettles the stomach as a coroner operates on a range of bodies in total cinematic silence. The withholding of the expected squelching creates a vacuum of clinical silence in the morgue. As hushed witnesses we are refused all form of bodily and psychological catharsis through psychoacoustic triggers: breath, voice, scream, music, etc. Instead we must stare blankly as the scalp of a patient is rolled down the front of his face and clamped in his mouth while the skull is sawn open to remove his brain. The image is most disorienting; its silence most disquieting.

Possessed vocal cords and the voice of another

The Exorcist (1973); Trudi Chase interviewed on Oprah (1990)

Our vocal chords are a conduit for communication of which we presume much yet consider little, mainly due to memory loss of the steep learning curve we ride in childhood to gain the power of speech. Our larynx is the morphic machine of that muscular and neurological struggle to attain speech. Tone, timbre and texture are ingrained at early stages, then later filtered and modulated by the mechanics of language and the desire for communication. Each and every nuance of our genetic inference, communal interaction and acoustic environment is impressed on our vox mechanica. Vowels are tied to our mother's breath; pitch to our conversation with friends; phrasing to our surrounding architecture; volume to our landscape. As such, our voice documents our aural history, and describes past, place and personality through its instrumentality. It is no surprise that we fear the taking-over of our voice by another.

In William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1972), the voice of female pubescence is orchestrated as a hellish chorus of effects and transmogrifications. Possessed by a devil, Regan (Linda Blair [3]) speaks in foreign languages, reversed recordings and diabolical dialogue. Drained of the personal, filled from beyond and fuelled by possession, Regan's whole body becomes a distorted receiver/broadcaster for Satanic power. She is a ouija body: letters press outward from her abdomen to emboss the word 'help' in typographical welts; spinal gymnastics redefine the limits of contortion as her head spins 180 degrees to face those whom she addresses; vulgarities spew forth in linguistic and bilious form until she literally exhales a stream of vomit. As words become abject matter - phlegm for insult, saliva for disdain, etc. - the voice becomes an aural anus. It no longer voluntarily speaks, but shits uncontrollably. The Exorcist conjures a nauseating audiovisual imagining of the loss of one's own voice. Regan is silenced through a severing of her psyche from her vocal chords, forcing her to become a bloated vessel for every possible vocalization of the Other: social, familial, sexual, physical, spiritual. Priests recite and recant to retrieve her; words are their tools, a bible their manual. Somewhere deep in the cavernous corporeal cacophony of those who crowd her being lies Regan - lost in the noise of the Other and prevented from screaming with her own voice.

While the hysteria in which Catholicism is historically grounded gave rise to the symbolic plausibility of Regan's speaking in demonic tongues, the notion of a non-possessed human speaking the voices of other humans elicits greater scepticism. Fraudulent 'mediums' have since the turn of the century been a staple of ridicule, intrigue and mystery in much comedy and thriller entertainment. Yet exposés of much undoubted fakery have tainted our reception of what remains a curious mystical figure: the medium through whose vocal cords vibrates the voice of another [4]. Popular media depicts sufferers of multiple personality disorder as pathological liars or delusional attention-seekers, but it is overlooked that the methodology of personality multiplication is primarily a therapeutic measure which can enable the victimised to identify their personal trauma from a distance. Specifically, they can 'talk' about their bad experience as if an 'other'. It is not surprising then that these 'actors' of their selves populate tabloid talk shows, and thereby deliver through their desperate fiction exactly what those shows desire most: unfettered, unabashed, unconscious talk.

This adoption of characterization in order to comprehend a stultifying experience may blur fact and fiction, but healing of the self at times is a higher priority than literary truth. Famous child incest survivor Trudi Chase was not thinking about wacky carneys in turbans parting money from dizzy society dames when she wrote her biography When Rabbit Howls in 1992. Interviewed on a special Oprah that year, she promoted her book naturally enough (as a tie-in with a telemovie, Voices Within: The Lives Of Trudi Chase). Oprah even interviewed some of her ninety-two personalities, addressing them by name, to which Trudi responded in distinct vocal character. The incidents of child abuse and domestic violence which Trudi and some of her available 'others' detailed were so horrific that the cinema has yet to venture a portrait of such a monstrous stepfather. Trudi Chase's multifarious personalities are based on an excessive number of abuses which Trudi has remembered through guided therapy. The different names relate to different locations, periods, seasons, smells, years, colours. Some are subjective memories; others are remembrances of witnessing abuse directed at her brothers. Each 'character' is determined by his/her ability to remember, and - crucially - speak of the memory. The youngest personality belongs to 'Rabbit', sexually abused at the age of two. The title When Rabbit Howls relates to the sound with which Trudi Chase most identified: the silent hoar which comes from rabbits when they are killed. Rabbits do not scream because rabbits do not possess vocal cords.

Proxies and puppets

Ninja Scroll (1993)

Trudi Chase's identification with a being who has no voice is a telling compensation for her manifestation of multiple voices, through which a strange equilibrium of vocalization is struck. After all, her recourse to a fractal schizophrenia via her many voices is aberrant only in relation to how much we equate our own singular voice with a sense of stable self. Character is seemingly ingrained in our voice, but the sound it projects may only be an aural/oral illusion of what we presume to be our 'self'. Like the visible vapour our body temperature enables our mouths to exhale on a cold morning, our voice could be the very thing we most fear: a slight effect. Maybe no-one owns their voice. Maybe our voice was never ours to be possessed. Maybe it is owned elsewhere.

In Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Ninja Scroll (1993), a woman walks through a ravaged village. She appears to be in a zombie state, her eyes dull and lacklustre, her face pale and pasty. She speaks in a stilted monotone and moves with strained co-ordination. Elsewhere, an evil Ninja mouths the words which synchronously motorize the lips of this catatonic corpus, forcing her to expel his foreboding words through her larynx. Once finished with her as his rotting messenger, she falls down dead like a lifeless puppet detached from the master's control. She is/was a being whose voice is owned elsewhere, whose words are controlled by remote. In other scenes, head Ninja Urimaru uses similar communication to whisper commands to his Ninja army from afar. In a method akin to the children's telephonic string tied between two tin cans, a glistening trail of fleetingly visible thread streams through the forest and is attached to others' lips. Curiously, the para-mystical vocalization of puppets, the possessed and other proxies figures strongly in much Japanese fantasy animation, with characters who can speak - and in a sense 'are spoken' - across dimensions, call beyond states, and communicate through realities [5].

In Toshihiro Hirano's animation The Princess of the Vampire Miyu (1992), a swirling mass of possessed, dispossessed and repossessed voices is epicentral to the 4-part series. Based on both the phantasmagoria of bunraku puppet theatre and its oriental deus ex machina (the use of men clothed in black set against a black back-drop while they manipulate intricate, down-scaled, fully-articulated mannequins), the eponymous Miyu is a young girl who has been summoned to connect with her shinma: a tall, skeletal, dark figure, Larvae. He even resembles a bunraku puppeteer, hovering over Miyu and performing identical synchronous actions with her in a display of control. The relationship between the two is partly that of the vampire and his undead victim, but moreso a mirroring of the condition of shinma: loosely, the originating state wherein deity and evil spirit were in ancient time conjoined and inhabited a single plane of existence. Capable of traversing corporeal and spiritual worlds (not unlike the existential/Gothic meld of Meg in Carnival of Souls), Miyu navigates a dimensionally warping expanse devoid of Western binary morals and strewn with collapsed psychotic figures.

In the second instalment of the series (titled Banquet of Marionettes) Miyu encounters Ran-Ca, a delicate doll-like schoolgirl who has been uncontrollably killing her lovers as she attempts to consummate a relationship. Through the act of her love, she transforms them into life-size bunraku figures, partly through a denial of her own status as a cursed human who must exist as a puppet in human form. Miyu uncovers this after a young man to whom Miyu is attracted (Yuzuki Kei) is seduced by Ran-Ca. Following a complex psychic battle, Miyu witnesses the now-dead Kei speak through the voice of Ran-Ca as the latter holds his body like a puppeteer. Clothing falls from both their bodies to reveal the bunraku form of chained and linked muscular armatures; they then depart into another dimension as doomed lovers at strange peace with their non-human form.

By this stage of the tale, the ownership of voice - not to mention the territorialization of vocal cords as visceral strings for the puppeteer - is presented as a shifting occurrence of oral real estate. Miyu often operates as a medium for others, and her 'self' is intricately bound with the mute Larvae. Through the alternating current of her vocal reflux, she demonstrates how voice is dispersed and diffused across psychic and psychological landscapes: no-one solely owns their own voice, but everyone can have potential purchase of the voices of all others. The fantastic scenarios of animations like The Princess of the Vampire Miyu and Ninja Scroll re-evaluate the strained measures by which the human voice is treated as a localized, stabilized point of origin, and ponder the problems produced by the functioning of proxies. As mentioned earlier, the linguistic multiplicity and emotional ambiguity of the female scream detend its meaning in an aural 'hall of mirrors' where the imperative source of the scream is indistinguishable from its copies, doubles, echoes. We can now extend that idea of a vocal field - a locatable space of the vocal event - into a vocal matrix: an expandable network of vocal lines which creates the space for vocal multiplicity, within which vocal ownership is a questionable investment.

While Japanese animation foregrounds this space through its dispossession of the solo voice, we can audit similar transferences and matrixes in common everyday occurrences. For example, a young girl playing with friends might scream in mimicry of a horror film she saw but did not fully understand. The young girl may be suppressing an infantile trauma. The horror film may by based on researched fact, but presented phantasmagorically for the purpose of entertainment. The actress who performs the scream may have suffered an attack or rape, from which she queasily draws motivation for her performance [6] .

Thus we arrive at a salient aspect of the silent scream: within these type of vocal matrixes, its notary function as an event of silence can be rewritten and orally encoded by a proxy, so much so that the scream we hear silences its point of emission and its circumstantial origin. Those who scream loudest may be either amplifier or signal processor that extends that 'dark colon of anguish' which connects the voice of woman. Their volume will be an abrupt marker - an incision into space, the screen, a narrative - while their timbrel identity may be the result of multiple scream effects designed to highlight a vocal performance. Furthermore, the woman who screams may be instigating the act of screaming herself, or she may be performing under control of another. The registered scream - full of artifice, ambiguity, anguish - fills the uncomfortable holes created by silent screams, possessed vocals, other voices and oral proxies. Its truth factor is unessential to its meaning, because even if a scream lies, it echoes an awful truth: that each scream by proxy is but a microcosmic moment in a series of extended shock waves which rebound from the personal to the social and back again, and that those shock waves are modulated indiscriminately by truth and falsehood.

Syncing lips and sampling voices

Puttin' on the Hits (1984)

The heady confusion induced by the bi-phonic conundrum of vocal proxies is strangely ignored despite the flagrant contradictions inherent in its many manifestations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the phenomenon of 'live lip-syncing' - where people wilfully become zombies like those of Ninja Scroll and use song to move them as animated objects mouthing the words of recordings by people who exist elsewhere [7] .

Live lip-syncing is at once weird and familiar. Its weirdness lies in the inappropriateness effected by its audiovisuality: a young girl sounding (not 'sounding like') Bruce Springsteen or Scott Walker; an old man sounding Queen Latifah or Tanya Tucker. Moreso, the psychoacoustic impression of watching a live body while hearing a recording thrusts a 'cinesonic' effect into an acoustic reality: it is like one inhabits a film soundtrack, or that its spatiality engulfs a realm (the nightclub, the bar, the loungeroom) which we presume to be acoustically defined and not electronically constructed. The familiarity of lip-syncing lies in our intuitive awareness of the phenomenological state created by listening to recorded music. In an era wherein electro-magnetic aura defines the meta-field within which acoustic data is interpreted, we are adept at recognizing, identifying and accepting the surface sheen which defines recorded music. This is so much so that we are more likely to be disoriented by the sudden appearance of the tone of a real tuba co-habiting our listening space.

Lip-syncing is intricately linked to the many ways in which we have had pop music revealed to us as the manipulation of a singing voice controlled elsewhere - by song writers, A&R personnel, studio producers, music arrangers, tour managers, marital partners, casual lovers. Not surprisingly, the stereotype of the petite, young, feminine singer controlled by silent and invisible svengali-like old men is more accurate than not. The 'bird in the gilded cage' syndrome (as well as the 'ballerina in the music box', the 'puppet on a string' and so on) has become central to a condition of pop music, where women's voices especially are trained to be a feminized sound effect. This type of control particularly exploits the erotics of the female singing voice as it has been celebrated in many song forms, from operatic arias to melodramatic 'torch songs' to rhythm & blues ballads, wherein the soaring heights of the female pitch range partially or wholly replicates the tri-tiered narrational envelope common to erotica and pornography (sensation/arousal/orgasm = introduction/build-up/peak). Male voices can perform similarly, but a certain template of control presents itself when men direct women's voices to stimulate through simulating such states of arousal.

The engenderment of these erotics and their manipulation is most apparent in the lip-syncing of women's songs by male drag performers. Obviously, a conscious embrace of the melodramatic excessiveness of overtly theatrical and/or impassioned singers (from Edith Piaf to Judy Garland to Barbara Streisand to Annie Lennox) fuels the desired transplantation of a sexual otherness - in this case, femininity. The result is a gaudy, grotesque or even monstrous surfeit of inappropriate signage as the female voice - brimful of orgasmic intimation - ungainly spouts from the over-glossed lips of a waxed queen. Bizarrely, we have returned to the illogical causality of female orgasm achieval through hirsute manly aggression: hearing Marilyn Monroe coo through the voice of a 120kg drag queen is similar to watching a balding oaf with a hairy back slobber over a sexy young woman in bra and panties. The drag aesthetic and its questionable modus operandi inherits the morbid legacy of treating and transfiguring the female voice as a sexualized 'sonicon'.

Digitally sampling women's voices extends the drag effect into a hyperactive processing of those sexualized 'sonicons'. The results fuse the hyperthyroid with the hypermorbid: divas gulp for air as they drown in their own vocal juices to the necrophiliac humping of a drum machine; choirs constructed from female breaths sing into the ether like lost angels mourning dead women. The poetics imply vitality and beauty; the semiotics suggest death and horror. Although the issues which arise from sampling women's voices requires a completely separate analysis, it is pertinent to note that the act of sampling ensures ultimate symbolic control of the voice of woman: like a malleable sex doll, you can do anything you want with it, sustain it for as long as you like, and conduct in every way possible. You can transform 'her' into an angel or a devil; a crone or a baby; a princess or a monster. The algorithmic streaming of her voice as digital data is on in one sense a wide river of poetic potential, but in another sense, a thin trail of her seeping life force.

The signifying scream

Georgia (1985); Blue Steel (1999)

In as much as men have metaphorically and technologically made use of woman's voice as an oral catchment of beauty, tragedy, femininity, innocence, frailty, etc., so have women bared naked the collective scarring this usage has caused to the tissue of female vocalization. For when a woman's scream is audible, non-silent, locatable, unpossessed, unmanipulated, self-controlled, its raw texture colours it as noise.

Vocal performers like Cathy Berberian, Janis Joplin, Yoko Ono, Diamanda Galas, Roberta Finley and Courtney Love [8] eschew all conventions of the tamed feminine voice for an unleashing of animalistic howls and guttural growls. It is not so much that when they sing they 'bare their soul' or perform any pseudo-mystical feat through bypassing romantic gendered cliches. These singers inflict themselves with the reverse of those conventions. In doing so, they revoke all licensing of their voices as simulated sound effect (as generic icon, sexual sonicon or silencer of emanating source) and in place physically express the terrible breadth of traumatized experience which equally scars the self, the personal and the social.

While female singers can explore this oppositional strategy of singing the body sexual, cinema has rarely allowed 'the noise of female' to corrupt the ruthlessly coded soundtrack. Technicians will cite problems in frequency encoding; producers will fear audience alienation; directors will be too busy swamping Enya over their humanist scenarios to care for the physically intimidating presence of a woman's raw voice. Occasional moments of vocal strength and cursive energy occur [9], but few films holistically import the female vocal machine into the cinematic apparatus.

A potent exception is Ulu Grossbard's Georgia (1995). Sisters Sadie (Mare Winningham) and Georgia (Jennifer Jason Leigh) may have the same genetic mother, but every fibre of their psychological make-up casts them as polar opposites. This is painfully apparent in the timbre and personality of their voices. Sadie is a successful soft-C&W singer: slick, humane, lovable, warm. Georgia is a drug-fucked post-punk bar singer: aggressive, strained, wired, psychotic. Audiences melt at the crystal purity of Sadie's lulling performances; they freeze at Georgia screeching nihilistically into her microphone. This binary split is reinforced throughout the film, each time with the shuddering thwack of an axe into wood. The sisters never resolve anything, and no matter how hard one of them tries to bond or re-unite, the other is uncontrollably repelled. Now, this all sounds acceptable when outlined in literary terms, but Georgia purposefully presents the dulcet tones of Sadie as vapid, repressed and meaningless, while the hoarse wails of Georgia are posited as a gaping emotional wound baring her capacity to feel, hurt, yearn. The accrual of every semiotic and musicological layering by which we attribute degrees of emotionalism in a singing voice is thus inverted: the gorgeous warbling of Sadie is revealed to be pure sonic effect; the dark crowing of Georgia as total vocal noise.

Jennifer Jason Leigh's vocal performance is crucial to the harsh dynamics of Georgia's operatic textuality, especially in the ways she uses her voice as an instrument of performance. She deliberately sings flat, placing far too much pressure on her vocal cords; she improvizes in a deluded and solipsistic fashion; she perceives her talent unrealistically. (Leigh accomplishes this so well that many a reviewer complained of her 'trying to sing', when clearly her character is meant to be lacking in this area.) In short, Leigh's character Georgia abuses her voice in an unremitting display of self-destruction. But there is purpose to this wailing wall of noisy negativity. After it becomes apparent to all concerned that these sisters will never embrace each other's emotional fissures, Sadie blends into her bland domestic cocoon, while Georgia appears on a rickety stage in yet another alcoholic dive. Unrecognizable at first with her head near-shaven, Georgia clearly is sinking lower than ever before. Her punky jitteriness is evident as she wraps up a song to the abrupt end of some brutish rock music. Three hand claps from the audience and an icy glance from Georgia as she spits out some cynical thanks - and then a decisive cut to black. The edit itself is violent: a genuine 'fuck you' in emotional synch with Georgia that sucks us into the narrative black hole of her inner turmoil. Yet this final moment of the film is a chilling glimpse of the defiant will to survive that ultimately rings through her vocal cords despite the negative response its noise solicits. Georgia's ending constitutes a rare cinematic moment where the noise of a woman's deliberated scream signifies hope.

Phallic sounds and aural hard-ons

In Katherine Bigelow's Blue Steel (1990), Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a rookie cop whose nervous strength and lithe stature sexually arouse the psychotically dispossessed Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver) into stalking her. After failing to have him legally detained (because she had unwittingly invited him back to her apartment) Megan senses all public and personal space as a potentially threatening environment. Claustrophobia and agoraphobia collapse into a fear of space itself, as she finds familiar locales transformed into alien terrain. This is effectively cued throughout the movie by the subtle use of flanged wind sounds (like one hears when breathing through a cardboard tube). Often, Megan will be framed at the end of a corridor in silhouette, light spilling in while we see watch her from a distance. The combination of such overtly voyeuristic images with the tunnelling sound of air contribute to a 'phallic sound effect': an abstraction of the peeping tom's breath, diffused into a penile stream of white noise which shoots toward Megan.

The title credits to Blue Steel establish this audiovisual symbolism clearly. Extreme close-ups track across and through interlocking chambers, connected barrels and linked passages of a Smith & Wesson 38 Special. A scopic universe of metal if mapped, while sampled/looped breaths - sexual, mortal, fatal - breathe through this machinic architecture. The intricacies of gun design are enlarged to form a social macrocosm, charting both the urban entrapment of women and the psychological confines within which they must survive. The flanging wind texture is amplified to convey the exhausted breath from both excited voyeur and fearful victim as they engage in a cat-and-mouse chase.

That texture connotes a contraction of space, evoking pipes, tubes and tunnels which are designed to irrigate flow under heightened pressure, as liquid or air will pass more quickly and with greater force down a narrow canal than a wide thoroughfare. The notion of 'phallic' characteristics here is not to do with mere visual similarities in vertical form (a gross misunderstanding of penile mechanics within the body construct), but more to do with the control of energy and its transformation into the securement of power. If the scream is an aural cum shot - externalized, airborne, explosive - the hollow sound of tunnelled air is an aural hard on - internalized, fluid-driven, raging. Blue Steel focuses on the build-up (that afore-mentioned 'moistening of canals and engorging of tunnels') more than the climax; on the urges and impulses which heave and sigh within the male corpus more than the screams unleashed from the victimized female. Megan is not another Pauline tied to perilous railway tracks, nor is she facilely spooked and shocked by unexpected attacks from her assailant. She is gradually granted an overview - a schematic map - of his methods, his machinations, his miasma, his mania. From that vantage point, she can audibly discern his panting breath from her own nervous gasps; she can locate him, fix him, frame him, freeze him. Far from being silenced, she silences herself. Empowered through knowing the sound of his voice, she refrains from giving him that which he most desires: her scream.

Waves of silence

Twin Peaks (1990)

Shortly after the tranquil travelogue imagery unfolds in the title sequence to the premiere episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990), a young woman shuffles in small steps across a river bridge; she is barely covered by a tattered petticoat, her exposed flesh smeared with mud and blood. The unexpected apparition of this mysterious catatonic figure eerily echoes the halting image of Mary in Carnival Of Souls almost thirty years earlier. But Lynch's recall of this figure is more an evocation of the surrealist spirit (itself a grotesque celebration of unrepressed misogyny) than a comment upon the female corpse. The film that performs this latter function in the most uncompromising of ways is Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave (1978).

The plot of I Spit On Your Grave is simple. Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) leaves New York and settles in an upstate riverside cabin to write her novel (30 minutes). There she is attacked by a group of four men who each take turn to viciously rape her (30 minutes). She then seduces each of her four rapists separately and impassively kills them (30 minutes). Jennifer's story neither depicts nor grants us the tropology through which classical narration proceeds: it features no laws, no morals, no catharsis. She ruthlessly redresses her ravaging with revenge, and in doing so reduces this example of the 'rape-revenge' subgenre into an obscure narrative object: its character motivations are spiked yet flattened; its acts of violence are sharp yet blunt. The plot's skeletal triptych (rest/rape/revenge) becomes an engorged macro-structure of erotica/pornography's tri-tiered narrational envelope, but this time dangerously yet appropriately synchronizing the psycho-sexual drives of both aggressor and victim. Structurally speaking, a primary consensual equation (the narrational envelope [introduction/build-up/peak] miming the sexual envelope [sensation/arousal/orgasm]) is overlaid with a secondary non-consensual equation: a male act [threat/violation/rape] moulding a female act [trauma/repair/murder]. A hybrid networking of sexual and violent drives is then constructed in such a way that the two are impositioned as being the one. Which, in actual cases of sexual violence, they always are - despite the cinema's desperate measures to separate them so as to not offend.

Originally and tellingly titled Day Of The Woman, I Spit On Your Grave places woman on centre stage and amplifies in equal proportion her aspiration (30 minutes), her anguish (30 minutes) and her abysm (30 minutes). Counter to the congested urban backdrop to most 'rape/revenge' movies, the 'stage' for Jennifer is nature: beautiful, serene, peaceful, calming. And in place of the usual wall of city noise is the silence which accompanies the clean country air - something Jennifer notices immediately. Likewise, we notice the emptiness of the soundtrack. As with Mary in Carnival of Souls, Jennifer is somewhat detached from her surroundings, and this psycho-spatial aspect of her habitation is reflected in the quietness with which she simultaneously moves through nature and graces the soundtrack. Noticeably, the expanse of 'nature' in I Spit On Your Grave is non-reverberant. Everywhere space is uncontained, rolling, continual; the outside is consequently incapable of trapping sound, of corralling it or bouncing it around. Whereas reverberant tunnels, corridors and halls can intimidate due to the feeling of intrusion generated by the spooky sound of one's footsteps, open landscapes can make one feel less self-conscious of one's presence due to the absence of sounds which rupture the acoustic space. This psychoacoustic phenomenon of the open landscape typically creates a sense of ease and freedom to which Jennifer responds positively and innocently.

Upon arrival at her riverside cabin, Jennifer embraces the openness of her new space and immerses herself in its totality by swimming naked in the river. As she subsumes herself into the river's mass, virtually fusing her body with the water, the river welcomes her, folding her into its undulations and shifting contours. There she exists free of gravity, hovering in the water's aqueous ethereality. My lyrical waxing here is not to deepen what visually is a softcore cliche, but to qualify Jennifer's relation to her surroundings as an act of aural sublimation. Both music and sound attain the dimensional symbolic state of water: their presence may be perceived as a silent airborne phenomenon, but their movement is described through waves, flow, frequency, volume and so forth - all terms of liquidity. Through identifying with the river and its life-flow, Jennifer profoundly takes on the characteristics of sound itself. Not merely 'at one with nature', she sounds herself through a tactile relationship with all she touches. She strokes the water as if conducting music; she breathes air as if drinking silence; she rocks on a hammock as if recording a breeze.

No music accompanies the early scene of Jennifer swimming nude in the river, and it is filmed in unobtrusive wide shot, thereby reducing its quotient of conventional audiovisual voyeurism. On the one hand, this early moment of eros may suggest an exploitative tone, but there is also the likelihood that it simply shows a woman enjoying a private sensual pleasure. Not only does she - as a textual seme - not acknowledge our presence, but her audiovisual capturing and encoding within the film also block access to her inner thoughts. Just as she moves through her space (both pre and post her traumatic raping), so are we left to observe and audit her predicament from a strained distance - textually divorced through the total erasure of music, the complete embrace of silence and the strident employment of long wide shots, yet socially implicated by experiencing the movie. Any other film would avert the gaping holes, uncomfortable pauses and painfully long passages caused by this refusal to nurture character identification. Any other film would resort to the cliches of compassionate voice-over, fey melodiousness, visual symbolism, reverent portraiture, beautiful pictorialism, moving themes [10] . I Spit On Your Grave is not the by-product of such comfortable enlightenment: it is a deliberately disquieting dive into the compacted molecular grain of the cinematic scream. It grants access - vicariously, yet forthrightly - to the deafening din of the looped scream in Bad Girls Go Hell. And once there, we are refused any exit.

Waves of violence

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

It is not surprising that Jennifer's world is initially wracked by a series of sudden sounds: a knock at the door breaks her contemplation of having discovered a gun in her bedroom drawer; the dim-witted Mathew (Richard Pace) noisily rides through the bush with pegs attached to the wheel spokes of his bike; Stanley (Anthony Nichol) and Andy (Gunter Kleemann) interrupt Jennifer lolling in a hammock as they drive by in their speed boat. All innocent enough in a court of law (recalling Megan's predicament in Blue Steel, no-one is perpetrating any act upon Jennifer), but if Jennifer has personalized her space - the totality of its topology from atmosphere to aquasphere - then the mere presence of unwanted others constitutes a symbolic act of aggression. Essentially, Jennifer as woman is posited as space - engulfing, encasing, subsuming - while Mathew, Stanley, Andy and their 'leader' Johnny (Eron Tabor) as man are posited as events - actional, causal, arrestive. They are sounds to her silence; shadows to her sun; bodies to her air; knives to her flesh. The continuity in representing Jennifer primarily through aural and acoustic codes points to a gendered determinism to which the film remains faithful, for as the men break the silence and slash the water, they will shortly violate her body and penetrate her sex with similar disregard and force.

The symbolic split of gendered action in I Spit On Your Grave is succinctly conveyed by the differing ways that the men and Jennifer travel across the water. She sensually strokes the water with wooden oars, creating a gentle pattern of waves balanced to the left and right of her boat, using her body to physically produce a travelling rhythm. The men sit low in the rear of their speed boat, hand on the vibrating dildo-throttle, burning liquid fuel to rapaciously spin metal blades which chop the water into a noisy series of foaming counter waves. The noise that the men generate (from their engine roars and vocal screams to their aberrant simulation of pig squeals and bird noises) is a continual reminder of their invasion of space itself: they literally disturb the atmosphere through making sound, whereas Jennifer exists in the country quiet without making a sound.

The quadruple rape of Jennifer physically and symbolically functions as a series of shock waves to her body, following the initial sudden sounds which disturb her space. And as she has become one with her space, her whole sense of being within the natural surroundings is then left vibrating, humming, ringing like a metaphysical alarm bell which cannot be turned off. After the first rape in the forest by Johnny, Jennifer manages to stagger away. Naked, bruised, muddied, she walks wordlessly through the trees, her breath faintly discernible (a la Carnival of Soul's Mary). Earlier, her naked body blended with nature. Now, the brittle ground is unforgiving to her bare feet, and the penile forest through which she walks ignores the presence of her flesh as she navigates her way back to safety. Again, silence deafens, devoid of any moralist thunder bolts or humanist violins. Jennifer is not there for 'us': she existentially inhabits this narrative and its harsh landscape in symbolic accord with the unforgiving reality to which her story alludes.

After some time, Jennifer reaches a forest clearing. As in a bizarre Gothic fairy tale, the trees seem to have magically parted - only in order to create a stage for the second rape, cued by a mournful harmonic wail by Andy. Nature at this point seems cruel. Space itself seems lethal. Yet Jennifer survives this horrible second ordeal. In a set of disturbingly surreal images (absolutely pre-Lynchian in their pallor) she crawls over grass toward her house, over wooden boards up her porch, then inside over carpet toward her phone. Amazingly, her body still moves. Just as the men reduced her body beyond objectification into an abject state of de-objectification (treating her as a lump with orifices rather than figuring her as a pornographic catalogue of recognizable body parts) so she is reduced to a pure pulse of quivering energy. As repulsive as this unsettling sequence is, Jennifer is presented as someone not at the precipice of death, but on the brink of life. For Jennifer is being existentially reborn, and she is traumatically realigning herself to her external space and the conditions of its nature. If before it welcomed her, she must now find a means of existing without its support. Before, she dissolved herself in the wavering, shimmering domains of the outside, impervious to the controlling differences between nature and culture, landscape and psyche, coporality and spirituality, silence and sound. Now, she has experienced those stark differences through the violence of gender. Now, she must learn not to 'sound herself', but to become noise.

Such is the nature of her revenge. It is not your usual, cathartic, impassioned balancing of right and wrong (despite the lackadaisical ritual of asking for forgiveness at the local church). For Jennifer, 'revenge' is merely the mechanism she utilizes to maintain her sanity and create a new equilibrium of existence. The men must cease to exist, and in silencing them, she must embrace their noise, their rupture, their violation. After Jennifer has dispatched them through a variety of psycho-sexual acts (hanging by rope, castration by knife, butchering by axe and pulverizing by outboard motor) she rides off not into the distance, but into us. The camera travels with her in the boat, as she looks ahead past us to what we cannot see behind us. Her hand is firmly on the throttle, the engine noise droning at a fixed pitch on the soundtrack as she rides the waves of violence with which she has now become one. The image fades to black as the sound of the engine bores deep into our skull, aurally depicting the noise which must be ringing non-stop in her own head.

Fade out at full volume

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The aural world is wrought by a terrifying equilibrium, where every vibration produces a counter-vibration; where every sonic occurrence creates an unregistered shock wave; where every silence evacuates a sound to occur remotely elsewhere. This world is polarized between the sounds you hear and the sounds you cannot hear; between the voices you block out and the voices you dare not imagine. Most screams we do not hear, nor never will. The occasional one we experience is a sonic portal to that other realm containing all we do not register. The scream in cinema acts as a draft-stopper to this portal, sealing its lips to prevent the din from that realm pouring in, blocking its reality with a gaudy sonic hologram. The carney scream is neither registered nor released in Agnes Varda's Vagabonde (1985), a chilling tale of a young transient Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) hitch hiking across the countryside. The film opens with the discovery of her corpse. It ends with her death as she stumbles into a ditch, malnourished and dazed, and freezes to death overnight. The last image is of her face as she realizes that she is about to die. Drained to the last drop of her life force, she gasps and gulps because she does not have the energy to scream. And even if she did, there would be no-one to hear her.

At the end of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is left hysterically screaming like a pig and thrashing his buzzing chainsaw in the air. Sally (Marilyn Burns) - who he has chased, tormented and tortured for most of the movie - has just escaped into the closing night. She has been screaming for nearly 20 minutes of screen time, and now her voice finally cross-fades with that of Leatherface and his screaming chainsaw. The film stock barely registers the ill-lit shape of Leatherface as night falls again; the swimming grain connotes low budget pornography from the era; the soundtrack is congealed into a thick, hyper-compressed impasto of white noise hissing, tearing, crackling through the speakers. This is the exhausted body of the cinematic scream: performed to the point of exhaustion, encoded at the edge of legibility, thrust toward the envelope of hyper-ventilation.

The closure to Texas Chainsaw Massacre is at the threshold of cinema's representational limits. Like the diminishing of lung power which silences Vagabonde's Mona; like the impassive voyage into darkness upon which I Spit On Your Grave's Jennifer embarks; like the black hole which swallows up Georgia's Georgia after her last song; like the dripping car wreck which entombs Carnival Of Soul's Mary; like the darkly frozen frame which grips Bad Girls Go To Hell's Meg as she screams yet again. All these films and more (though nowhere near as many as one would like) exploit the cinematic scream not to ward one from a zone of inaccessibility and inadmissibility, but to go beyond the audible world of 'sonicons' and their sexualized sound effects and into our ignored 'socio-acoustic' reality - where woman screams in silence.


1. See Elisabeth Weis, The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchock's Soundtrack, Rutherford, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982, & Thomas Hemmeter, "Hitchcock's Melodramatic Silence", Journal of Film & Video, Vol. 45 Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer 1996

2. From the silent footage of the Hindenburg exploding to burning children fleeing Hanoi during the Vietnam war to guys being bashed in the LA riots, the absence of synchronized sound tears us away from the depicted events and traumatizes us by that very distance.

3. Listen also to Linda Blair's vocal performance in the telemovie Sarah T: Portait Of A Teenage Alcoholic (1974).

4. The first topical film to seriously exploit this may be Noel Langley's The Search For Bridie Murphy (1956) where Bridie (Teresa Wright) regresses under hypnosis past her early childhood into her prior lives. Told in a naturalistic and riveting manner, the 'true' story on which the film is based was later revealed to be fraudulent. This did not taint the veracity or plausibility of deranged and multiplied mental states as exemplified by Daniel Petrie's notorious telemovie Sybil (1976) with Sally Field portraying all seventeen of Sybil's personalities.

5. Some examples: Baoh, Blue Seed, Dangio, Fight! Iczer-One, Genocyber, Iczelion, Macross, Marvelous Melmo, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Night On The Galactic Railroad, Psycho Diver, Sailor Moon, Shoten Doji, Silent Moebius, Unico, Ushio & Tora, Yoma.

6. The ultimate perversity in Brian DePalma's Blow Out (1981) is that its ending – where a director post-dubs the sound of a genuine scream onto the image of an actress pretending to scream – is more social documentary than postmodern play.

7. The height of this pre-karaoke trend occurs with TV's Putting On The Hits (1985) hosted by Farah Fawcett's brother Alan and featuring contestants who mime to pop songs and are judged by a panel of experts.

8. Suggested listening: Luciano Berio's Visage (1966) featuring the voice of Cathy Berberian; Yoko Ono's Fly (1971) & Yoko Ono & The Plastic Ono Band (1970); Diamanda Galas' Mask of the Red Death trilogy (1988-89); Karen Finley's The Truth Is Hard To Swallow (1988) & A Certain Level of Self-Denial (1994); and Hole's Live Through This (1994) with Courtney Love on lead vocals.

9. A random sampling of variable intensities: Shelly Winters in Roger Corman's Bloody Mama (1970); Andrea Feldman in Paul Morrissey's Heat (1972); Nichelle Nichols in Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner (1974); Sissy Spacek in Terrence Malick's Badlands (1974); Shelly Duval in Robert Altman's Three Women (1977); Kathy Bates & Jennifer Jason Leigh in Taylor Hackford's Dolores Claiborne (1995); Jodie Foster in Robert Zemeckis' Contact (1998).

10. I Spit On Your Grave has no scored music. For more on the function of 'amoralizing' through the total absence of scored music, see my The Birds: The Triumph of Noise Over Music, Essays In Sound 4, 1999, Contemporary Sound Arts, Sydney.

Text © Philip Brophy 1999. Images © Respective copyright holders