Thursday, November 19, 2020

Hearing Loss Is Marvelously Conveyed in “Sound of Metal”

Amazon Studios will release “Sound of Metal” in theaters tomorrow, November 20th, before bringing it to Amazon Prime on December 4th. This affecting story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer who begins to lose his hearing, is extremely powerful and very worth seeing. My review from AFI Fest is here. If you’d like to go into the film without knowing more about it, come back to read this piece after you’ve had a chance to see it.

I had the opportunity recently to participate in a press conference with a number of the artists who worked on the film. Making his feature film debut, Darius Marder served as director and co-wrote the script with his brother Abraham Marder, who was also the film’s composer, and Derek Cianfrance, best known for “Blue Valentine” and “I Know This Much is True.” Darius describes the true intentionality behind the film, which was to “do something new that hadn’t been seen or specifically heard” and “almost like putting on a virtual reality headset.” Sound designer Nicolas Becker and editor Mikkel Neilsen worked together to highlight immersive sound and bring the audience in to the experience of hearing loss. Neilsen explained that he worked with the film largely as a silent movie, determining when sound would be necessary to add and analyzing how much sign language should be seen on screen in the use of close-ups and framing shots.

Abraham detailed a fascinating process of creating plenty of music for the film then slowly taking most of it away over the course of post-production “so that you can really hear and see the story.” He and Becker used instruments that could produce vibrational sounds and mimic the sound of the inner ear. For Darius and Abraham, this experience was personal as a result of influential memories of their grandmother, who lost most of her hearing late in life. Abraham remembers that she felt isolated because she wasn’t part of the hearing community or the deaf community, and though she had a headphone system with a microphone she could give to people to use, it wasn’t practical for a family gathering. Abraham added that she was a cinephile and was passionate about the dream of seeing proper captioning in all films. The film is dedicated to her.

Capturing the alienation that Ruben feels was essential to the success of this experience. Production designer Jeremy Woodward and costume designer Megan Stark Evans worked to create an environment full of meaning with rich subtext in each scene. Woodward assembled and decorated the Airstream that serves as Ruben’s mobile home with his girlfriend and lead singer Lou (Olivia Cooke), while Evans chose clothing that spoke to the way both Ruben and Lou expressed themselves and evolved over the course of the film as their own relationships changed. Woodward also transformed a church and dormitory into an on-set deaf community which mirrored the warm, embracing attitude that welcomes Ruben in over the course of the film.

This film was shot chronologically, which allowed the crew to go through Ruben’s journey with him as Ahmed utilized his muscle memory to become more accustomed to the way his character needed to exist. Darius gave Ahmed custom-made earpieces that didn’t let him hear his own voice, the culmination of an extensive “nerdy research process” into the unexpectedly common reasons people lose their hearing, like medication or as a byproduct of their mental wellness. Abraham, a musician, was also experiencing tinnitus during filming, which Darius joked was a kind way of him relating to what they were doing.

The finished product is extraordinarily resonant, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the process to get there was guided by purpose and an effort towards accessibility. Thanks to the collaboration of these talented artists and everyone else who worked on the film, it offers a remarkable window into a world that for many will be jarring, honing in on how a dramatic loss like this hits the senses thanks to an intentional “highlighting of the extremes.” It does more than merely provoke thought – it invites audiences in to begin to grasp the gravity and isolation of an unexpected and irreversible new reality.

No comments: