Respire

Plot

A woman walks alone on campus at night.

Genres

Thriller, Short

Credits

Writer: Acacia, Noah Jackson

Director of Photography: Noah Jackson

Sound Mixer: Acacia

Editor: Acacia

Artists Statement for Respire

            In Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” she utilizes psychoanalysis to understand visual representations of women in film and their relationship to pleasure and unpleasure in traditional narrative filmmaking.  She argues that films capitalize on scopophilic instinct because the actors on screen have no control over what the audience sees, therefore “producing for [the audience] a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic phantasy.”[1]  Mulvey also emphasizes the creation of ego libido for the audience, saying that “the determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure…In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.[2]  This situates women as spectacle, not essential to the plot except for what they invoke within the hero.  This is particularly seen in show girl performances or close-ups of body parts.[3]  Because women are coded in this way, audiences identify with the active male character in a film, in turn viewing women as valuable only for the eroticism they bring with their bodies.

            The reason I chose to use Mulvey’s essay in my evaluation of Respire is because the goal of the film is to simulate emotions felt by a female bodied person who experiences the dangers of rape culture.  The film is about what you can’t see as opposed to what you can, subverting the masculine gaze into a feminine one.  This creates a reversal of the type of schopophilia Mulvey discusses in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”  In Respire, I reproduce fear experienced inside a female body through sound design as well as audio and visual editing.   There are three points in particular which I would like to focus on within these areas: the use of breathing throughout the film, the use of short clips instead of a long take, and the ending of the film.

            One of the most important contributions I made as a sound designer was the choice to introduce respiratory sounds into the film.  We considered making an interior dialogue, but I felt breathing was more authentic.  Quickened breathing is a natural reaction to fear, therefore making it easier to identify with.  I also feel it was important that I was the one recording the breathing sounds, as they have a different intonation than a male bodied person.  By keeping the breathing constant throughout the entire film while cutting between shots, it emphasizes the constant and continual fear the protagonist feels, regardless of location.  The breathing of the protagonist is heavier in the dark, indicating the fear of the unknown.  It eases as she encounters stronger lights and gets closer to her destination.  This sound design articulates the idea that the boogieman from when you were little is now the rapist waiting to jump out of the dark and take you by evoking a natural response to fear—hyperventilating.

            The reason the shot was cut—instead of featured in a long take as it was originally shot in—is to deemphasize the protagonist’s journey, disorienting the viewer in time and space so that it is clear that everyplace is one of danger for the female.  The fades create suspense; perhaps the next shot will be someone popping out of the dark?  These prolonged fades make us question what we can’t see because they draw attention to what is not there as opposed to a long take, which allows us to follow the characters movements exactly though the entire journey.

            On a related topic is the use of a fade at the end of the film.  It is important that the film was cut off before entering the house, and the use of a fade emphasizes this decision.  While it is obvious that the protagonist has reached the safety of her destination from the auditory slowing of the breath, ending the film before entering the building emphasized the secrecy of what goes on inside; especially when it follows the continuity of the unknown of the fades in-between earlier shots.  By cutting off what the audience can see, they are left to wonder what happens to the protagonist.  Is she ever truly safe?   It shows the audience that the scariest thing might not be in the dark, but in the places we aren’t allowed to go.

            These three editing techniques help to prioritize the feminine point of view in the film, allowing the audience to experience a reversal of the traditional ego that Mulvey critiques.


[1] Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 713-25. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011, 717.

[2] Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” 719.

[3] Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” 720.

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