This post will explore the audio design (excluding the musical soundtrack) of a sequence from Anna Broinowski’s Forbidden Lie$ (2007). the post is predominately stream-of-consciousness, I’ll be writing as I hear different sound effects throughout the sequence. It should be noted, that there are important sounds that I have not commented on (such as the ‘camera-click’ motif). This is not to discredit their relevance, I have simply chosen to take an analytical approach to the objectives of the overall sound design and, as a result, chosen some examples over others. I have also edited and loosely organised the post, thus, it is not entirely raw stream-of-consciousness.
The sequence begins with music, which we are not examining in this post. Layered atop the musical soundtrack is audio of tweeting bird. This may have been recorded by the filmmakers, or sampled/sourced elsewhere. Upon first listen, it appears possible that it may also be a part of the musical soundtrack, however, without access to precise information regarding this soundtrack, we will assume it has been layered. What suggests layering is that the sample is not synchronised with the music. For example, as it plays, the ‘tweeting’ continues into (not-quite) halfway into a bar of music. It is out of time. It is also amplified through increased gain/volume. It appears much louder than the musical soundtrack. Interestingly, it is repeated a number of times. It’s like an audible motif.
Layered atop of this are some recorded chimes.
Again, these were either recorded by the filmmaker in a studio, specifically as a sound effect or were sourced externally. Like the birdcall, they play a number of times. An almost pantomime-level musical crescendo is layered above the soundtrack as a visual transition swirls the romantic on-screen lovers further into their dream.
What follows is a series of Foley sound effects. They are loud above the soundtrack and very high intensity. When the female character throws her scarf from the car, the accompanying Foley is at a completely cinematic level. It is deep, booming and highly reverbed.
It’s possible that it is recorded with large mallet percussion. As the scarf lands on the grass, the Foley is something very heavy and solid being thrown onto a thick, dense surface creating an unrealistic thud that a scarf would never dream of making.
Then we hear some beautiful footsteps likely recorded by a Foley artist walking in sand, or, at least on a soft surface.
Then it all stops. We hear the click of a tape recorder which accompanies a freeze in the visuals. We have been woken up from the dream. The audio of Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist who leads the documentary’s investigation against Norma Khouri’s fantasy-world (see: lies). After the ‘tape has been stopped’, the first thing we hear that is not in this heightened, over-dramatised, theatrical world is Husseini’s, “This is not the truth!”
Followed by a recorded “thud” and the sound of sand blowing away, as the woman in the fantasy disintegrates into the desert sand, blown by the Middle Eastern winds. The sound is possibly achieved by pouring sand or a similar substance (sugar? salt?) onto a fairly resonant surface. It also seems to be layered with, perhaps, the winding back of a tape or record. This rewinding compliments the earlier sound effect. Once the tape recorder has stopped and the world declared a fantasy, it is now being rewound, undoing what the lie has created.
The cover of the book is given its own, full frame (our first time alone with it) as a ‘cash-register’ sound effect is heard. This is totally theatrical. Performative. It is offering a subjective reality. Showing the cover alone is not performative. It is a presentation of an objective fact.
Displaying the cover accompanied with this sound effect, added in Post-Production, is deliberately using the power of association to have the audience draw their own conclusions. To evoke an understanding; to awaken an embodied knowledge that this book = $dollars$ and these $dollars$ are a priority (over, for example, truth or the text’s larger social impact), which substantiates an overarching theme of the film that is, notably, titled: Forbidden Lie$ (2007).
And this is how the documentary continues. As Husseini introduces herself, the أَذَان (adhan; call to prayer) underscores her speech. What this does is it subtly gives her, particularly to the Western viewer, an Arab authority. She seems a credible, legitimate source in the Arab world. As opposed to Norma Khouri who, when introduced, is met with those familiar chimes and bird motifs from the earlier dreamland. These are deliberate, purely performative actions executed by the filmmaker. They are uninterested in appearing impartial, rather, they are interested in presenting their subjective truth as truthfully as possible.
When Husseini reads a passage from the text in question and Khouri’s reading is introduced, layered on top, it again delegitimises the writer. Why? Because her American accent holds less authority, about the places she is reading of, than Husseini’s Jordanian one.
What underscores Khouri’s reading is a suspenseful, cinematic soundtrack coupled with a beating heart, quickly unraveled once Husseini’s voice cuts in to explain Khouri’s misinformation. The audio alone is enough to ridicule the subject.
This is accentuated, again, once the fun, upbeat (Greek-influenced?) music is introduced in the salon. Every statement we hear from Khouri is a shambles. Husseini and the now-introduced Dr. Amal A. Sabbagh shut down everything she has to say, with fact, but not in an expository or objective sense. In a performative one. The audio engineering and sound design bring this performance alive.
Broinowski, A. (Director). (2007). Forbidden Lie$ [Motion Picture].
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