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Jesse Sweet on: Antonioni Hears Manhattan

Abigail Savage on: Antonioni Hears Manhattan

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The Reeler Blog

Antonioni Hears Manhattan

For all the debate and discussion over what defines a great New York film, we rarely if ever devote an appropriate amount of recognition to those movies that really sound like New York. The best recent example that comes to mind is Ramin Bahrani's Man Push Cart, which, in its long observational interludes along Manhattan's avenues, doesn't just look astonishing but sounds like a confession: music with the lifespan of a breeze; concentrated waves of chatter over car and foot traffic; paper on metal on wood on rubber; the disconsolate shriek of subway tracks. The sound of loneliness, really, in one of the world's most populous cities.

I can't quite get into Walter Murch's introductory ramblings about the "wondrously stalagmitic" landscape of his youth, but BLDGBLOG today revives a staggering essay by Michelangelo Antonioni describing the New York he heard circa 1970, apparently preparing for a film to be shot here:


It is six o'clock in the morning. Another rumble blends with the first, then drowns it. A faint explosion, far, far away. The wind returns, rising from nothing, spreading, it seems to stretch in the still air, then dies. The hint of a tram, faint, remote. It is not a tram, after all, but another kind of sound I cannot recognize. A truck. A second one, accelerating. Two or three passing cars. The roads in Central Park twist and turn. A line of cars. Their exhausts a kind of organ playing a masterpiece. A moment of absolute silence, eerie. A huge truck passes. It seems so close that I feel I am on the second floor. But that sound, too, quickly fades. A squeal. A ship's siren, prolonged and melancholy. The wind has dropped. The siren again. The murmur of traffic beneath it. A bell, off key. From a country church. But perhaps it is the clang of iron and not a bell. It comes again. And still once more. A car engine races, furiously, with a sudden spurt of the accelerator. In a momentary hush, the siren again, far away. The metallic echo rises. A terribly noisy truck seems just outside the window. But it is an aircraft. All the sounds increase: car-horns, the siren, trucks; and then they recede, gradually. But no, another rumble, another siren. Irritating, persistent, right across the horizon.

It's probably too dramatic to say you'll listen differently after reading this than you ever did before, but, you know, that's why he's Antonioni. Find the rest here. (Hat tip: GreenCIne Daily)

Posted at July 6, 2007 1:20 PM

Comments (2)

This is a fine article...but you forgot to mention the man behind the microphones on "Man Push Cart." Chris Gebert has been responsible for some of the most mind-bending soundscapes to reach the screen in recent years. It's about time someone started paying attention. Kudos and good ears.

It was nice to get recognition on the work I did on this film. As Sound Designer on the film, I created something called a "walla by" for Man Push Cart; the people walking past, talking on their cellphones, to each other, were meant to intentionally isolate Ahmad from the world around him. It was great that you picked up on that! New York City is a veritable jungle gym of sound for a sound designer, to be used in any manner of ways. Every sound you hear in Man Push Cart was intentional and extensively deliberated over by me and Ramin; it was exciting that someone could hear our choices.

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