If a human is present pure silence does not exist. The quietest place on earth is an anechoic chamber. When a human enters the chamber they will notice two hums one high and the other low. The high one is from the nervous system firing while the low one is blood flowing through the body. Patrick Shen's film shot all around the globe carries a similar message from the experts. Too much noise is pollution, surprisingly noise pollution starts at a low decibel level and that the sounds that many of us are exposed to daily can do severe pyscholigical and physical harm.
Several shots in forests, parks and fields are used as a linking device between subjects with a measured decibel count in the corner of the screen. These reading of a still natural setting lie in the lower sound range of 30 to 45. The narrative contrast these passages with shots in the New York subway, a busy bar, airplanes passing overhead and even a public school next door to an elevated rail. These location have sound ranging in the 100 db range and beyond which effects concentration, is annoying and occupies the majority of ones attention.
The production focuses on a few key subjects. The leading figure is John Cage who's silent composition 4'33 sparked anger and outrage when first performed but is now revered with audiences finding it a unique opportunity to share silence with a large group of people. Greg Hindy who took a vow of silence to walk across America appears towards the latter part of his journey. Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki forest therapy project in Japan that has brought healing to the participants, reduces the effects of some diseases and improved mental health of the subjects is also presented.
Cinematography is especially important in a film where action and sound are at a minimum. Shen and Brandon Vedder shots feature rich vibrant colours that jump out in the field, forest and park scenes. The production uses a lot of shots through windows or open spaces allowing natural sunlight to lighten an area or to bring out the shadows if that's the desired effect.
Two sequences exemplify the duelling themes of the film. One is a Japanese Tea ceremony in Kyoto the other a montage of shouting talking heads on cable news shows. In the former the guest for tea leave all of their status, outside thoughts and even their shoes behind before entering the teahouse to enjoy the ritualistic event of tea. In the latter each person talks louder than the other filibuster to get their point across into an ever increasing level of noise and pointlessness. Ego and Self importance rule in the cable news show panel world.
In Pursuit of Silence is a bold attempt to explore the importance of silence and how as a modern technological society the nuances of the art have been largely lost. The production does well to include the overabundance of stimuli on the eyes as part of this pollution as well. The film touches on many subjects in several countries with the anechoic chamber and tea house spots being the most meditative. Shen's film is very informative on an important subject that lets the viewer know that everyone should take some time and just turn the volume down for the good of their mental functioning and their physical health as well.
*** Out of 4.
In Pursuit of Silence | USA / UK / Japan | 2016 | 81 Minutes.
Tags: Silence, Noise, Pollution, 4'33, John Cage, Kyoto, Tea House, Decibel, Reflection, Meditation.