Noise & Conduction

(With Passing Reference to the Absence of Ideas in Australian Cinema)

notes from talk delivered at the Australian Screen Directors Association conference, Sydney, 2002


A. Noise = Overload and saturation of external forces which interfere with vision. This overload should be induced and celebrated in the sonorum of cinema’s innate audiovisuality. Noise can be understood as a metaphor for all that is beyond the frame, all that is not rendered by film, all that is refuted by the authorial status of a director.

B. Conduction = The means of channeling, responding to and creating a feedback loop of any mode of performative energy. ‘Energy’ in the cinematic sense is the eventfulness of multiple energies combined in a network of modulated flows. There is no hierarchy to this network, for its energy field is the statement of combination rather than separation. The director who ‘conducts’ is not one who ‘sees’, but one who ‘listens’: one who rides the levels and shapes the mix of a scenic configuration.

C. We will be encountering instances of directors who allow and promote noise, and who conduct the energy simultaneously from without and within their scenes. These directors posit that which is ‘onscreen’ as something that signals the tangible absence of all that is beyond image, beyond scenario, beyond literation. (Note – each instance will be surrounded by noise which may appear irrelevant to the craft of filmmaking, but which is vital to having an idea about why one makes what one makes.)

Dream Deceivers

1991 dr. David Van Taylor

1. Spinal Tap – check with audience who has seen it

2. Play DREAM DECEIVERS 1991 dr. David Van Taylor - opening excerpt

3. Metal music as another world – another planet – presumed knowable from its signs

4. Noise is the notation of an excess of something you don’t understand

5. Metal music operates subculturally – its signage confounds and disengages

6. Cinema which does not understand the noise beyond its own frame is cinema without any idea of why it is even attempting to say what it thinks it wants to say

7. The gulf between SPINAL TAP and DREAM DECEIVERS is the gulf I experience when watching much Australian cinema


1997 dr. Harmony Korine

1. GUMMO is a document from inside the mind of someone living in the world shared by Metal Music – disenfranchised, desperate, vainglorious

2. Detail Larry Clarks KIDS and Korrine’s role in writing it

3. Detail Korinne’s use of actors and scriptwriting

4. GUMMO clashes the decadent grandeur of metal’s symphony of noise with the psychic landscape of its listeners

5. Play GUMMO 1997 dr. Harmony Korine opening excerpt


2000 dr. Heddy Honigmann

1. War is noise – audio visual dislocation

2. Post-war stress is signalled by responses to sounds

3. The meaning of sounds are inverted in the post-military domus

4. The postwar body suffers shocks: replays and echoes of misread sounds

5. Relationship between Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Eugene S. Jones’s 1 FACE OF WAR – correspondence from Jones to Coppola about how war sounded

6. CRAZY shows ‘a face of war’ (describe process)

7. Play CRAZY 2000 dr. Heddy Honigmann - opening excerpt

8. Song can be viewed as inscription – that which is listened to rather than that which is encoded

9. The listener in therapy is the conductor – the director follows this score


1995 dr. Michael Mann

1. Michael Mann is a ‘scorer’ of cinema – from MIAMI VICE onwards

2. Mann’s Kurosawan form – sculpting Stoic, sculptural figures out of

3. Play HEAT 1995 dr. Michael Mann – opening excerpt

3. DeNiro and Pacino’s performances are conjoined by the precision of their character’s desires and objectives. In this sense they are interchangeable: Pacino is effusive and pumped with adrenaline, while DeNiro talks like a cop reciting ordinances. Both are caught in moments of absolute stillness and impassivity, and channeled momentum and forward movement.

4. The intensity of focus of these character and their screen performances allows Mann to shape the external ambience of their world. Mann’s ‘scoring’ then is the atmospheric air and environmental pressure. As an exemplar in the presentation of psychological portraiture and character interiority within action-based scenarios, Mann transforms the noise into a hovering, asynchronous shimmering mass which breathes on the soundtrack.

Black River

1983 dr. Kevin Lucas

1. Landscape, environment, site and condition are all factors that set up a relationship between the world as is and the world as excerpted, framed and contextualized by the filmmaker. All films are as much statements of a director’s ability to articulate that relationship as they are symptoms of how little a director is aware of the broader placement of his or her film in relation to all hat exists beyond the frame. The myopic, neurotic and delusional aspects to Australian cinema prove this again and again.

2. Kevin Lucas’ filmed opera is for me a rarity of a film that voices at every audiovisual instance exactly how its cinematic form conducts the issues which propel that form. In this sense the film’s strength lies in its operation as an ideological feedback loop. In every possible way, black dispels white and white repels black at every meta-narrative and micro-semantic level. It is a filmic open scar, a fresh wound, a torn tissue of Australian culture and infected with European disease. Its beauty is in its formal violence.

3. Play BLACK RIVER 1983 dr. Kevin Lucas – opening excerpt

4. BLACK RIVER grants me the violence I perceive every time I see a landscape trailer for the ABC or a 4-wheel drive ad. Both are forms of land-rape which is glorified as beauty delivered by rapacious technology. From an international perspective, Australia is land – land alone, devoid of people, culture, enterprise, history. (This is why SURVIVOR was filmed here.) Australian cinema believes it celebrates this, but in effect all it is doing is claiming an undeserved legacy of land and time of which it neither understands nor articulates. This is a core ideological problem in Australian cinema, in the sense that it is ultimately landless.

5. BLACK RIVER is a statement of land against this landlessness. Again and again throughout BLACK RIVER, land is depicted as time, while time is depicted as occupation.
6. Throughout this drifting divide between land and landlessness – perfectly symbolized by the rising river and its gothic aftereffects – characters are sonically placed as vocal types. The utterance of the film’s OUR FATHER summarizes the innate chauvinistic stubble-scaring nicotine-stained maleness which represents Australia so well it hurts. The oratorical tone of the white cast beautifully represent the stubborn pomposity of all that passes as ‘culture’ in this country. And Maroochy Barambah’s voice is a fitting snake of hissing revenge – her sibilance cute through every audiovisual moment when she appears.

7. BLACK RIVER is the result of a director touching the land on which we walk, and conducting its vibrations into cinematic form.


1999 dr. P.T. Anderson

1. MAGNOLIA might be symbolized by the organic molecular burst that is the beautiful heart of every flower – a soft explosion across time, appearing as a captured image – but it is equally reflective of what happens when a director allow every frequency of noise to enter the filmic world created. MAGNOLIA, though is not a conceptual projection of this: it is an actual process. (Detail the background to MAGNOLIA and the relation between Aimee Mann)

2. Play MAGNOLIA 1999 dr. P.T. Anderson - One

3. MAGNOLIA is a song or song-set rendered as audiovisual structure whose vertical stratification is more important than its horizontal linearity. As such, it grows from the vertical sensational central to music’s polyphony – the simultaneity of sono-musical effects. MAGNOLIA live within its songs, and in knowing its landscape so well, then allows its characters and performers to point to the world outside their being.

4. MAGNOLIA is a celebration of noise. It thrusts you into a world of multiplicity and does not allow orientation in that space. It subjects you to noise and the overloading effect of too many people talking nothing and too few people talking something. Noise is thus welcomed, admired and honoured in the film’s mix, granting us the post-schizophrenic state which film script crafting has spent the last half century trying to nullify, flatten out. Scriptwriting is essentially Prozac. The cinema can ultimately be the mind at its most dysfunctional, irrational and destabilized.

5. Later in MAGNOLIA, each and every character eventually is allowed a palpably visceral and present projection of emotion, wherein PT Anderson uses film to listen to their inner turmoils. He neither depicts it, captures it or projects it. This is based on the social notion that it is only when we listen to someone do we understand them. Watching them, looking at them, filming, directiing them – these are not was to know people, actors, characters.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.