Monday, October 06, 2008

Silence is Golden

Silence is Golden
Directed by Chris Shepherd, England, 2006.
14 minutes
(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.


Anonymous said...

that was a high pace and vaguely disturbing film - definitely see the perspective of the boy trying to escape his own troubles at home by imagining the troubles of his neighbor. it's interesting that this is juxtaposed with such a video-game-like imagination.

Kung #*~!*** said...

The neighbor dies?! I didn't catch that. I though maybe he was committed or something like that.
jeez. that's dark.

Cecilia C-W said...

I assumed he did, since if I remember correctly (it's been a while), they carried him out on a covered stretcher, and later they boarded up his house.

Chris Sheperd said...

In response to Anonymous:
Chris Sheperd is all about juxtaposition. Whether it's live action and animation or comedy and social critique, there's a lot of juxtaposition going on here.
I fact, Chris Sheperd is probably juxtaposing something with something somewhere right now.

Alli B said...

The brown color palette in this is really intensely dreary. That and the banging makes for a pretty unpleasant effect overall.

Jan Michael said...

Ingmar Bergman comes to mind when watching this heavy and disturbing film.

::TajN:: said...

I must say that I didn't like the first half of the film...I think it was a little too much noise and colors and action, but then the end was very interesting....I particularly liked the scene where the mother was standing at the top of the stairs after getting piss thrown on her and she was yelling at the boy. He looked so small at the bottom of the stairs and yet his mother was the childish one, taking everything out on her son. The end when he runs out to find someone boarding up his neighbor's house is also sad along with the boy's conviction that he will "never grow up to be an old crazy geezer like him..."

::TajN:: said...

oh, i forgot to mention the music. I thought it was an interesting choice....oftentimes didn't match the scenes it was paired with to create a fantastical feeling, which i know was on purpose. After such a heavy ending, I was surprised when the end credits' music came on....

Drew Rosensweig said...

Delving into the child's mind is, in my opinion, the most intriguing part of the film, and really gets across his psyche better than almost any other aesthetic decision.

Lissi said...

This was for me quite a disturbing film of a young boy attempting to deal with troubles at home by using his own escape through video-game imagination. Entering into the mind of this child was the most fascinating, yet somewhat disturbing part of the film for me.

What happened to the neighbor? I`m not sure how I interpret this...........