Telling a story in motion pictures like an oral poem

I’m still impressed about how it is possible that we still have Homer’s poem, even though its stories have been passed onto the future generations orally. In fact, the transmission was an activity of the aoidoi, and then of the rhapsodes, who sang their own epic songs at the noble courts of the aristocracy. Oral poets used a highly elaborate technical and metrical language to chant these verses.

Now we can see these verses written in books and volumes, thanks to the invention of writing.
A process of writing, like
cinema today, made its own sights and sounds.

We gestate in sound, and are born into sight. Cinema gestated in sight, and was born into sound.”1

Walter Murch

Walter Murch’s quote is an interesting point to reflect on in order to tell a story in motion pictures; It is not just an assertion of the birth of motion pictures, it also tells us about its elements, sight and sound.

Cinema is the language and tool to tell a story. I guess Murch has reminded us that we are servants of this storytelling art. We are similar to the aoidoi and rhapsodes who used verses and metrical language to tell a story in a poem.

In fact, today we know of the wars, heroic stories and deeds of the Iliad and the Odyssey; we value these stories more than we value the metric techniques that were used to pass them on.

I’m writing this because to create a sound for a motion picture that is technically perfect could be easy. However, if we decide to break the rules and, instead, serve the story and the feelings it wants to convey to the audience in the movie theatre, then the task becomes difficult.

Which rules would we break? I guess the most technical rules would take us away from the emotions aroused by the story we are telling.

We have reminded ourselves that cinema is a language, and like any other language it is a tool to communicate.

A language that represents our humanity and culture. Therefore, cinema is always in movement. In fact, it is called it cinema, from the archaic greek kinéma (κίνήμά) which means movement.

It could be easy to associate rhapsodes to actors, but I guess every craftworker and artistic figure working in a motion picture must be similar to an actor, or to a rhapsode, in attitude. Everyone who works on set must feel the characters’ emotions and contribute to the storytelling. I said everyone because the cinema is an art that springs from the collaboration of each department with the director: production, design, film editors, cinematographers, sound designers, screenwriters, set decorators, customers, music composers, vfx designers. The list could continue… but, in the end, collaboration is the way!

The cinema’s techniques aren’t a pure formality, as they serve the cinematic narration. One of the major risks is reducing the technique to pure form. The form could be empty, without feelings to express, and it would not serve the story.

Aoidoi and rhapsodes have used many techniques as pure forms. However, this formal limitation is only due to the fact that they had no other way to transmit their poems. Still, Homer’s poems are not formulas, rules or empty forms. There is a relationship between the form and the content, theme or story; “the content determines the form, even if the form affects the content synchronically”. 2

1 From the foreword to “Audio-Vision”, by Michel Chion