Monday, October 06, 2008
Silence is Golden
Silence is Golden
Directed by Chris Shepherd, England, 2006.
(Watch it here)
Winner, Best Short Film, Rushes Soho Shorts, 2007
Winner, TCM Turner Classic Shorts 2006
Winner, Audience Award, Zagreb 2006
Winner, Best Narrative Short - Northampton Independent Film Festival 2006
Winner, Grand Prix - Prague Short Film Festival 2006
Winner, Best Live Action Short, St. Louis International Film Festival 2006
"Silence is Golden" focuses on a boy named Billy whose neighbor is "a right loony" who likes "banging," and not in the sexual sense of the term. The neighbor constantly bangs on walls, windows, anything--and with only the thin wall separating their rowhouses, he's driving Billy's mother crazy. The neighbor is apparently mentally disturbed, as his only reason for banging is that the pain in his chest is like "a knife cutting into me," and both Billy and his mother remark on several occasions that "everyone knows he's a retard." The film follows Billy as he creates elaborate imaginative scenarios to cope with both his neighbor's incessant banging and his mother's alcoholism (that seems to be exacerbated by the banging). At one point, the neighbor bangs so violently on the wall that the little porcelain figurines on Billy's mantelpiece start shaking, and in contrast to Billy's mom's screams of frustration, Billy imagines the figurines coming to life and laughs.
I just realized that up to this point, all of my film blog choices have been about children and their wild imaginations, so I guess I must really love that theme, and I apologize for not contributing anything new and interesting. But "Silence is Golden" is interesting in unique ways, and particularly in the use of animations to illustrate Billy's imagination. There's a huge difference between simply showing Billy lost in thought, obviously trying to block out the stressful noises of his mother and neighbor, and actually penetrating Billy's mind to visually demonstrate the extent to which Billy detaches himself from reality. When Billy sees police and ambulances show up at his neighbor's door, after which there is no more banging on the wall, Billy doesn't deduce the obvious--that his neighbor is dead--but instead imagines that he's gone on a mission "to save the Earth from alien invaders." This speculation is followed by an animated (and rather violent) depiction of this scenario in the form of Billy's doodles.
When Billy hears banging again after days of silence, he rushes downstairs to see what it is. Disappointed, he finds only someone nailing boards over his neighbor's windows. It is at this point that we realize that Billy hasn't been trying to block out the his neighbor's banging the way his mother has with her drinking. Rather, the inexplicable banging, and the possibility for imagining this provided because of its mystery, was the only escape Billy had from his dysfunctional home life. He starts hearing the voice of his mother screaming at him, and to block it out, Billy himself starts furiously banging his head and fists against the wall.
Another interesting aspect of this film is the fast, aggressive editing, especially during the scene where Billy imagines himself to be in a video game-like setting where he's looking for nuclear missiles after being screamed at once again by his drunk mother. The aggressiveness of the editing is startling when set against the child narrator, because it totally contradicts the typical notion of childhood innocence. We see Billy not only retreating into his imagined scenarios, but doing so in a truly manic way. The editing suggests, then, that Billy's imagining is not that of a typical child, but that of a child who is driven to forcefully, almost violently, separate himself from his physical surroundings.