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Tenet up: listen, Christopher Nolan, we just can't hear a word you're saying #christophernolanpileon


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In case you're not tired of the topic, here's a column from today's issue of The Guardian, prompted (I guess), by Nolan's new book.

 

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Tenet up: listen, Christopher Nolan, we just can't hear a word you're saying

The Tenet director has dismissed critics of his poor sound mixing by blaming us for being too conservative.

Why must he keep toying with our perception of sound?

 

We’re all aware of the impossible situation that film currently finds itself in. Screens started shutting in the summer. This is because the big new movies have all been postponed. This is because movie studios are nervous about losses. And this is because Tenet, the great bellwether of cinema in 2020, underperformed theatrically.

 

But perhaps an alternate dimension exists where cinema is still thriving. The Eternals is breaking box-office records. No Time to Die is still showing to packed houses. Pre-sales for Dune are through the roof. And it’s all because people flocked to Tenet in their droves. What separates that dimension from this? That version’s Tenet had a better sound mix. People saw it, they understood it, they didn’t immediately tell all their friends that it was frustrating and incomprehensible, and as a result it gave Hollywood the confidence to spring back into action.

 

It’s hard to be anything other than completely perplexed by Tenet’s sound mix, where almost every scrap of dialogue that isn’t being screamed by Kenneth Branagh is smothered under a thick blanket of soupy noise. Don’t get me wrong, it might still be a good film – I’m looking forward to watching it at home with the subtitles on to find out – but a movie where you have to try to lip-read several complicated theories about the nature of time isn’t exactly accessible to a mass audience.

 

Nevertheless, Christopher Nolan is bullish on the matter. The topic of his sound mixes comes up in the new book The Nolan Variations, and he claims that his peers have called him up to complain about it.

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Rest of the column, a five-minute read (at the most):

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/nov/16/tenet-up-listen-christopher-nolan-interstellar-sound-mixing

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I think a director can spend so long with their film, from the start with the script, through the weeks/months shooting of it, then the many many hours in the editing room, that they end up totally losing the big picture perspective of it. And they no longer can see it "fresh" like someone who hears it for the first time without any prior knowledge. 

 

One of the many downsides to this, is that the director knows every syllable of dialogue inside and out, better than anybody else on the planet. Thus if there are issues in audibility with the dialogue, the director might gloss over this as they already mentally "hear" it inside in their own mind 110% perfectly crystal clear as they know the dialogue itself so very very very well. 

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55 minutes ago, Vincent R. said:

His art, his choice, move along. 

 

And yet, you commented! Wait. Let me translate that into Nolanese. @#%^*(&. ?( ______________%&^P{}>:K

 

I kid.

 

Ya, I'm mostly done with this. But I find it interesting that general-interest media such as The Guardian, are noticing and discussing. And for me, it really does get in the way of his films. But at least having Nolan take credit/blame for this lets people know that the sound department didn't screw up... Some of my non-film/video friends have also commented on Nolan's sound... I don't recall them mentioning that in other mainstream (e.g., non mumblecore) films, because of the consistent high quality of sound departments' work.

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On 11/17/2020 at 9:37 AM, Vincent R. said:

His art, his choice, move along. 

This is part of a trend, and not really the time to move along in my opinion. He is certainly not the main culprit, but part of this “movement” towards an audible dialogue can be attributed directly to him. I am really glad to see people other than sound professionals talking about this!  Thanks for posting Jim!

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On 11/17/2020 at 7:37 AM, Vincent R. said:

His art, his choice, move along. 

Sure, if I were in the post house for this project, I'd keep my mouth shut (boy, did I ever step in a big pile commenting on films when I worked at a post house).  And yes, certain people such as your self who are product representatives or those who work in Hollywood on major features would tend to keep their mouths  shut for purposes of not showing bias and staying employed. But for the rest of us,  I would think if there is anywhere one should talk about a movie's sound, it's here.

 

If one can't  share and discuss art, what's the point of art?

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14 hours ago, Paul F said:

certain people such as your self who are product representatives or those who work in Hollywood on major features would tend to keep their mouths  shut for purposes of not showing bias and staying employed.

Oh you gonna play it below the belt now? From a technical point of view I will be the first to start a discussion. This is not it.

 

14 hours ago, Paul F said:

If one can't  share and discuss art, what's the point of art?

fair point, yet in the end, there is no right or wrong in this. I believe gradually we can conclude this now, after x-amount of Nolan's movies with overwhelming sound. 

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Vincent, I had no intention of punching below the belt. I do regret using the term 'mouths shut'. That certainly is not a polite way of expressing what I wanted to say. It's an unfortunate term that came to mind because of my experience at a major post house where I managed to shove my foot into my  mouth on occasion even when I made complementary remarks. I learned that no matter what I thought, good or bad, I needed to keep my mouth shut and not have an opinion about anything.

 

I was also a product manager. As such, I know that one has to have a neutral voice and not make opinions in certain subject matter.

 

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On 11/23/2020 at 1:06 AM, Vincent R. said:

Oh you gonna play it below the belt now? From a technical point of view I will be the first to start a discussion. This is not it.

 

fair point, yet in the end, there is no right or wrong in this. I believe gradually we can conclude this now, after x-amount of Nolan's movies with overwhelming sound. 

 

Are you saying that his movie’s profits are the measure of their quality?
 

This thread is about a sound problem that has “broken” into the non-sound-guy world.  That’s pretty special! It is not a fabricated sound problem, it is a real sound problem. People other than sound guys cannot hear the dialogue. That is a sound problem.
 

Shrugging one’s shoulders and saying “that’s his style” is perfectly acceptable for you to do, but it is pretty outrageous to advise everyone else to do the same, and then get defensive when they react with their opinions.
 

I don’t think it’s any fun to read a bunch of old dudes complaining. If that’s what this seemed like to you, your reaction is understandable. But I think you projected a little. We have already talked about this here many times, and I appreciated the article.  It’s still worth talking about, in my opinion.

 

Dan Izen

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3 hours ago, Izen Ears said:

But I think you projected a little.

I think you are projecting a little, or a lot. All I said was "his art his choice, move along" (meaning to me: it doesn't matter, millions of movies are made, with certain artistic choices, whether it is sound, lightning, whatever). I guess the bait was in the latter of my sentence, the "move along", that for some reason I am the subject all of the sudden over here. 

3 hours ago, Izen Ears said:

Are you saying that his movie’s profits are the measure of their quality?

No, I was talking about his style. Like, how David Fincher's films are basically always dark and green, Gaspar Noé shocking without borders, And Vin Diesel films is sponsored by white wife beaters.

 

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23 hours ago, Vincent R. said:

I think you are projecting a little, or a lot. All I said was "his art his choice, move along" (meaning to me: it doesn't matter, millions of movies are made, with certain artistic choices, whether it is sound, lightning, whatever). I guess the bait was in the latter of my sentence, the "move along", that for some reason I am the subject all of the sudden over here. 

No, I was talking about his style. Like, how David Fincher's films are basically always dark and green, Gaspar Noé shocking without borders, And Vin Diesel films is sponsored by white wife beaters.

 

I apologize for misunderstanding you. I thought when you said to move along, you were telling me what to do. It also appeared you were judging everyone for discussing a problem because you don’t think it’s is a real problem. And by the way that is not projection, that is misunderstanding. Accusing Paul F of playing below the belt is projecting.

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