Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Sound of Metal

Darius Marder: Sound of Metal (US 2020) with Olivia Cooke (Louise) and Riz Ahmed (Ruben).

Sound of Metal / Sound of Metal.
    US © 2020 Sound of Metal, Inc. PC: Caviar and Flat 7 Productions present in association with Ward Four. Produced by: Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche. Producers: Kathy Benz, Billy Benz.
    D: Darius Marder. SC: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder – story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance.  DP: Daniël Bouquet – negative: 35 mm – colour – 2.39:1 – digital intermediate 4K – released on D-Cinema. PD: Jeremy Woodward. Cost: Megan Stark Evans. M: Abraham Marder, Nicolas Becker. S: Nicolas Becker. ED: Mikkel E. G. Neilsen. Casting: Susan Shopmaker. Line P: Chris Stinson.
    C: Riz Ahmed (Ruben), Olivia Cooke (Lou, Louise, Lulu), Paul Raci (Joe), Lauren Ridloff (Diane), Mathieu Amalric (Richard), Domenico Toledo (Michael), Chelsea Lee (Jenn), Shaheem Sanchez (Shaheem), Chris Perfetti (Harlan), Bill Thorpe (The Man), Michael Tow (Pharmacist), William Xifaras (Michael's Father), Rena Maliszewski (Audiologist), Tom Kemp (Dr. Paysinger), Elan Sicroff (Pianist), Jeremy Stone (ASL Teacher), Ezra Marder (ASL Student), Hartmut Teuber (Karl), Hillary Baack (Toldeo), Adam Preston (Jake), Jonathon Lejeune (Frank), Sean Powell, Dani Miller, Alex Kilgore (Surfbort members), Margaret Chardiet (Pharmakon member).
    Loc: Massachusetts, US.
    For Dorothy Marder.
    Languages: English, French, ASL (American Sign Language).
    121 min, [132 min in TIFF and according to the press notes].
    Festival premiere: 6 Sep 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
    The original release date was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    US premiere (limited): 20 Nov 2020.
    Streaming premiere: 4 Dec 2020 Prime Video (Amazon Studios).
    Helsinki premiere forecast: 5 Feb 2021 – released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Topi Oksanen / Sophia Beckman.
    Helsinki corona emergency security: max 10 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Press screening at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 20 Jan 2021.


After losing his hearing, a musician must find stability now that his life has been upended. Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke star in this ground-breaking drama from the producers of The Rider, and directed by Darius Marder, writer of The Place Beyond the Pines.


Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) live together, two nomads traveling gig to gig on an endless American tour. Their music is loud, frenzied and passionate, until one day Ruben is overwhelmed by a severe ringing in his ears, which quickly gives way to deafness. Ruben is suddenly overcome by anxiety, depression, and soon enough his past addictions begin to surface. Ruben checks himself into a home for deaf addicts run by an eccentric deaf veteran, Joe. In this world of silence and under Joe’s tough, observant care, Ruben must confront himself more honestly than ever before. But the love and sound of his old life echoes in Ruben’s mind, calling for him to return

AA: Sound of Metal is an outstanding fiction feature debut by Darius Marder, whom I know as the screenwriter of The Place Beyond the Pines. Its director Derek Cianfrance, in turn, is credited with the story of Sound of Metal.

At first sight, Sound of Metal seems to belong to familiar contexts, but on each count it surprises by turning out to be something else.

It starts as a powerful music drama featuring a touring duo called Blackgammon, consisting of the vocalist-guitarist Lou (Olivia Cooke) and the percussionist Ruben (Riz Ahmed), playing loud music belonging to the heavy metal / punk / grunge spectrum. The fury of their act brings to mind movies about performing arts as an extreme sport such as Whiplash and Black Swan. But it is not a saga of a brutalization of the spirit nor a perversion of art, on the contrary.

The main theme is Ruben's coming to terms with his deafness, and in this respect Sound of Metal is at its most original, breaking new ground in a distinguished lineage of movies about handicaps. The greatest insight is offered by Joe (Paul Raci) who simply states than in their community, deafness is not a handicap. It is an overwhelming challenge for Ruben to accept this, but we anticipate him orientating himself towards a new life in this open-ended movie.

At its most profound level, Sound of Metal is a philosophical study about perception. Our consciousness and our identity are based on our faculties of perception, and when they change, we change. "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world", said Wittgenstein, and in this movie we observe even a switch to a completely different category of language: American Sign Language (ASL).

This is fascinating also from the viewpoint of the genesis of the cinema as silent cinema. There are passages of silence in Sound of Metal, but mostly an ingenious soundscape has been created by Nicolas Becker to convey the world of the hard-of-hearing. 

This feature evokes a special subcategory of the cinema, namely Beethoven movies. They all of course dramatize the composer's incredible struggle to come to terms with deafness. A special favourite of mine is Mauricio Kagel's dadaistic Ludwig van (1970). Most recently I have seen Klaus Wyborny's Hommage an Ludwig van Beethoven (2006) focusing on the composer's late style partly along similar lines.

In Darius Marder's sequence of deaf children following a piano recital by feeling its vibrations with their hands on the instrument I was thinking about Beethoven's mid-period and late piano sonatas and how he ordered the most formidable pianos from Nannette Streicher, Erard, Broadwood and Conrad Graf to create unheard-of sonorities that he himself could not hear except in his mind – yet he physically needed the piano as a sounding board.

Even Beethoven's habit of conversation books has a counterpart in Sound of Metal.

Sound of Metal is also a love story between Louise and Ruben. Their romance is a shared Bildungsroman and a healing process from traumas of childhood, family and addictions. Without saying a word, they know it's over. Together, they have grown. Growth cannot be stopped, and now they have grown apart. What was, was the best life can be. Ruben: "You saved my life, made it beautiful." Louise: "You saved my life, too".

There is even a wider love story in the rural rehabilitation community run by Joe in an atmosphere of love and dignity. Paul Raci's performance as Joe is novel, unique and unforgettable, and it changes our perspectives of the possibilities of dialogue in a condition of deafness. This is the first time I see dialogues conveyed with real time computer transcription.

The most electrifying of the soundtrack selections is heard in Lou and Ruben's RV tour bus: a vinyl record on which Bessie Smith sings "Careless Love Blues" (credited to W. C. Handy) with the trio of Louis Armstrong (cornet), Charlie Green (trombone) and Fred Longshaw (piano). It burns like fire.

Daniël Bouquet has shot Sound of Metal on 35 mm photochemical film, great for capturing the subtle vivid detail of the nature surrounding the rural rehabilitation community premises. It has been conveyed very well in the 4K digital transfer.

A parallel Finnish film occurred to me while watching Sound of Metal: Tuukka Temonen's wonderful Aika jonka sain (with an unfortunate English title: One Half of Me), the true story of the para-equestrian Jaana Kivimäki, who despite permanent invalidization in the finale realizes that "I have now a better life than before the accident".

PS. This film resonates with the presence of the poet Amanda Gorman in the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden today. Gorman has an auditory processing disorder, and she is hypersensitive to sound, but she sees her speech impediment as a strength.




"It’s been about eight years since I began writing Sound of Metal as a scripted feature. The project actually began years earlier as a collaboration with my dear friend and frequent writing partner Derek Cianfrance. At that time, it was an exploratory, hybrid documentary involving a real couple in a Metal band. The seed of that project grew into the film it is today. "

"What draws us to certain subject matter at certain times is a fantastic and wonderful mystery. I can speak to various aspects of this project that were always obvious inspirations such as the cinematic exploration of sound POV, or the lure of a transformative, road, love story. But the larger and most important themes in this film presented themselves over many years and many, many drafts - especially once my brother Abraham joined me in the writing process. "

"Abraham and I spent years mining the deep truths of the music, story and characters - some inspired by our own family, including our grandmother’s experience as a New York, Jewish, lesbian, photographer and cinephile who went deaf after taking antibiotics in her 60s. She (Dorothy Marder) was an intense, inordinately intelligent, orphaned alcoholic who - already a loner - found herself further trapped between two cultures, the hearing and the Deaf, without the means to connect to either. She spent the rest of her life petitioning to get films captioned. This film is dedicated to her memory.  "

"I also drew heavily from my own vivid memories as a child growing up in a spiritual community home in rural Massachusetts. The teachings of this community where I was raised were those of a man named Gurdjieff, whose philosophies became very important to the film’s narrative. It only dawned on me years into the writing process that for the first ten years of my life, my weekends were spent amongst a community who worked together in absolute silence. "

"Although the road to shooting Sound of Metal was absurdly difficult, it is clear to me now that every turn it took, every false start and disappointment - no matter how tragic at the time - led me to a film that I believe is far better for it, especially as it pertains to the cast. Finding Riz Ahmed for the role of Ruben was both unexpected and utterly revelatory. He exhibited the sort of commitment to process that is frankly rare in an industry that likes to stack projects and “stay busy.” Four months prior to shooting, Riz moved to Brooklyn to work with me, learn the drums from scratch and learn ASL by working intimately with the Brooklyn Deaf community. He sank himself into a deeply emotional and physical process that I think he would describe as life-changing. "

"I shot the film chronologically, which allowed the actors to fully experience the various emotional turns in the story. It is my feeling that as much as possible we should encourage real life in our films, rather than remove it. The live music in the film is literally played live, as opposed to having various musical parts shot separately to be cheated and mixed later. We committed to the bravery of real, raw experiences rather than false polished perfection. "

"It was important to me that the film was genuine and visceral in its approach, and that this story provide a window into a culture and way of life that encapsulates so many people: Deaf, hard of hearing, and CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). In order to create an authentic experience of deafness, Riz wore custom devices in his ears that emitted a white noise of varying intensity, thus allowing him to experience the closest approximation to progressive deafness that we could simulate, including the inability to hear even his own voice. "

"We think of films as make-believe, and to some extent they are. But I lived this film in a myriad of ways and I asked everyone who worked on it to live it too. My hope is that watching Sound of Metal is a visceral experience that you remember less as something you watched and more as something you lived.

Columbia matrix W140626.
Will Handy (lyricist)   
Bessie Smith (vocalist)   
Louis Armstrong (instrumentalist : cornet)   
Charlie Green (instrumentalist : trombone)   
Fred Longshaw (instrumentalist : piano)   
    Category: Vocal
    Language: English
    Master Size: 10-in.
Source: Rigler-Deutsch Index.
5/26/1925 New York, New York  1  Master: Columbia 14083-D  10-in.
5/26/1925 New York, New York  2  Master: Columbia 14083-D  10-in.

Wikipedia: "Careless Love" is a traditional song, with several popular blues versions. It has been called a "nineteenth-century ballad and Dixieland standard". Although published accounts have cited 1926 as the copyright date, W. C. Handy copyrighted "Loveless Love" in 1921 under Pace & Handy Music Co.
    Dance, Daryl Cumber, ed. (2002). From my people: 400 years of African American folklore (1st ed.). New York: Norton. p. 116. ISBN 0393047989. OCLC 47922828.


"Ruben is a drummer and one half of the metal duo Blackgammon along with the singer, his girlfriend, Lou. They live in an RV while driving across the country to perform gigs. Ruben begins to suddenly lose his hearing. He goes to a pharmacy in order to figure out what is happening to him. The pharmacist refers him to a doctor that Ruben is able to see immediately. The doctor performs a hearing test and determines Ruben can only successfully hear 20-30 percent of words and his hearing will continue to deteriorate rapidly. He may be able to get cochlear implants to improve his hearing. However, the implants are very expensive and are not covered by insurance. The doctor suggests that Ruben must first eliminate all exposure to loud noises and after some time undergo further testing. In spite of this, Ruben continues to perform."

"Lou finds out what is going on and wants to stop performing for Ruben's sake and safety, but Ruben wants to continue. She is also concerned about his sobriety, as he is a recovering drug addict. They call his narcotics anonymous sponsor, Hector. Hector finds a place for deaf recovering addicts that accepts Ruben. It is a rural community run by a man named Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Ruben leaves with Lou because they will not let her live there with him and he is only concerned with getting the implant. Lou leaves and gets Ruben to go back to the community, as her main concern is his well-being."

"Now back at Joe's community, Ruben begins to meet the other members, attend meetings, and settle into his new life. He is introduced to Diane, a teacher, and the children in her class. He also begins to learn American Sign Language. Joe tasks Ruben with writing endlessly and sitting peacefully, in an effort to be comfortable with the silence. Joe tells Ruben he will be doing the same, simultaneously. Ruben joins Diane's class and starts to connect with the children, as well as the rest of the community. He gives the children and Diane basic drumming lessons."

"Up to this point, Ruben's stay has been sponsored by a church. Joe offers him a more permanent way of staying on and tells him to think about it. Ruben periodically uses the computer to check in on Lou and see what she is up to, discovering her to be experimenting with her own music in Paris. He gets his friend Jenn to sell his drums, sound board, and other music equipment. Ruben then sells his RV. He uses the money to get cochlear implant surgery. Ruben asks Joe if he can loan him money to buy back his RV while he awaits activation of the implant. Joe refuses, as the foundation of the community is built on the belief that deafness is not a handicap."

"Once the cochlear implants are activated they allow Ruben to hear but not in a traditional sense and he has to get used to it. He is disappointed, however, to find that the implants cause irritating feedback that disrupt his attempts to regain his old way of life. Ruben flies to meet Lou at her wealthy father Richard's house in Belgium, where she has settled into a new lifestyle. Richard welcomes him and allows him to stay there. At a gathering, Lou and her father perform a duet, though Ruben's implants prevent him from enjoying it. Ruben and Lou discuss the possibility of playing music and touring again. Ruben notices this makes Lou anxious and tells her everything is OK, that she saved his life. Lou tells him that he saved hers too and the two realize that the time they have spent apart has made them very different people. The next morning, he wakes up, takes his things, and leaves while Lou is still sleeping. After being bothered yet again by the noises of feedback, he sits down outside and removes the cochlear implant processors, enjoying the silence.

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