The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974). ‘The Conversation’ is one of my favorite all-time films. I love the pacing, the overall tone, the music. The entire film revolves around sound, around conversations overheard and how the meaning of those conversations is contextual and can be used to interpret (or misinterpret) the speaker’s meaning and behavior based on the listener, and the listener’s intentions.
There are several scenes of the main character (played by Gene Hackman) listening, processing, altering frequencies, playing with noise levels, relistening, and editing a conversation which drives the whole story. The amount of shots of playing with audio tape, rewinding it, fast-forwarding it, repeating movements, and obsessively, repeatedly listening, is incredible and adds so much to the understanding of the mechanics of both the main character’s life and work, and of the story itself. The careful, detailed editing and focus on a person honing their craft, is interesting in and of itself, but with the knowledge that the results of that craft hold the fate of several people emphasizes the importance of those details, of the need to be exacting in one’s approach.
What has always hit me emotionally is how the context of the whole film shifts with the altered emphasis of a single word, which is heard many times throughout, while poring over the conversation, but is then heard slightly differently. Even though I expect that moment, every time I watch it I am surprised and awed by the subtlety that has such a major effect.
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005). I am a fan of Ishiguro in general, but I think this was the first book I read by him and it made me want to find more. It’s about a group of kids and adolescents in an orphanage in England. They know they are special somehow, but it isn’t evident why. Eventually some figure it out, and though the book isn’t about a surprise ending or anything like that I will still spare the spoiler. There is a mysterious and haunting sci-fi element to the whole story, which is an interesting aspect to what otherwise seems like a very grounded world in an extremely real place. The events are just a vehicle for the larger themes explored though, as it becomes an existential conflict about identity and humanity, which is inherently relatable, and Ishiguro concertizes this in the reality of growing up in an odd and scary scenario.
This museum is an amazing place because of the amount and variety of work that you find. You can go there every day and not fully exhaust what it has to offer, still finding new pieces, new rooms, new paths, just in the permanent collections. Pick a century, a geographic location, a medium, a movement – you’ll find it – at least to some extent even if it isn’t exhaustive.
In general, it’s one of those environments that I find incredibly vast and incredibly intimate simultaneously, as you are surrounded by so many people and art and echoes but can carve out these moments, allowing the weight of a piece or a room to affect you without concern of time. This could be true to some extent in any museum or gallery, but I find that the sheer size and abundance of this place emphasizes the contrast of large/small and external/internal.
Here, I feel comfortable just walking aimlessly, even if there is a desired wing or exhibit as a destination, because there is a strong probability of unintentionally stumbling upon something incredible. I’ve had many serendipitous moments of randomly passing a piece of work that inspired me, just on the way to look for the restroom or a drink of water, or accidentally entering a room that I found fascinating as a means of passing through to a different, intended one. It’s really a benefit to ignore all maps and guides and just wander and get lost, because you will always see something new, and learn something new.
Likewise, the architecture and acoustics are a sight (and sound) in and of themselves. Standing in the crowded lobby, with its ceilings that extend to the second floor, is a work of audiovisual performance unto itself. Every time I go I hesitate and pause there in order to appreciate what is happening in the space before entering the museum proper. When I consider going to the Met, this is what I think of first, and possibly what I look forward to most, even though there is such a wealth of work and history within those walls.