Sound of Metal director Darius Marder on using sound and silence as a language in Riz Ahmed's film
In an exclusive interview, Darius Marder opens up on Sound of Metal, working with Riz Ahmed, and steering clear of making a film on 'how hard it's to be deaf.'
Director and co-writer Darius Marder started working on his fiction feature directorial debut Sound of Metal over a decade ago. What began as research for a documentary about two-piece American sludge metal band Jucifer finally resulted in the feature.
“It was a wonderful process, just very gruelling,” he says in an exclusive interview with Firstpost. “There’s no support to do this work. It’s not like I had some magical fairy giving me money or anything. You have to really exist in that space of believing in something for a very long period of time.”
When they began shooting, Marder sought to make the viewing process as experiential as a 2D screen would allow. “I wanted to feel some life on the screen,” he says. To do this, they filmed on 35 mm, which does not allow for instant review shots. When the film rolls, it keeps pace with real life.
Sound of Metal opens with a gig for which the actors – Riz Ahmed (Ruben) and Olivia Cooke (Lou) – spent several months training, and performed in front of a live audience, distorted guitar and Cooke’s guttural vocals leading Ahmed’s drums in for an impressive solo, bringing to screen the electricity that hangs in the atmosphere at a metal gig. “Most of the time when you play music in films, they do each part separately, and have a professional playing, and it’s very easy to make someone look good. But not easy to capture life. Capturing life requires that you’re not playing it safe,” says Marder. “And that’s a very hard thing to do with the pressures that there are to make a movie. It’s also a very wonderful thing to do. Because it really dares the universe to conspire.”
The couple start and end their days with music, finding and losing themselves in sound; as Ruben goes about his day on a typical morning, Darius brings viewers into his soundscape, with the sound of opening and closing blinds, churning blender, dripping coffee, panting as he exercises, air whizzing as he cleans equipment, and more. Yet, around 10 minutes in, as the film leads up to Ruben facing his loss of hearing, the film steers thematically toward deaf culture and addiction, with music taking a backseat – as jarring for the viewer whose first impression of the film was live music as perhaps for Ruben. “I really wanted the film to defy our expectations. Because it has so much to do with shedding identity. So in a way I want the audience to have to shed their own expectations as they go,” says Marder.
Sound, which Marder uses as a language, continues leading the audience through Ruben’s deafness.
In some scenes, when he is experiencing sudden bouts of hearing loss, Ahmed is wearing an earpiece that plays a high-frequency sound in his ears, so his disorientation and slight loss of balance are genuine responses. The film also offers detailed, layered audio sequences that bring alive the tension and surrounding muffled sounds that accompany the silence of his hearing loss, amplify the sounds of shuffling air from actions and movements when he is in the deaf community home, and strikingly, illustrate the processed, unnatural sounds that offer him hearing once he has gotten cochlear implants. “And it’s not just about sound. It’s about picture-cutting as well. About how you cut in and out of sound, when (you cut), what’s the rhythm of your movie, what is too much and not enough, how far can we push the audience, and where do we push them too much,” explains Marder.
The decision to aurally explore the transition from hearing culture to deaf culture in a late-deafened person stems from a deeply personal place. Darius, co-writing with his brother Abraham Marder, often returned to his childhood, and brought many of those things into the film. The brothers were inspired by their grandmother Dorothy, a Jewish, gay, photographer with an “incredible eye” who was living as an artist in New York City. When she suddenly got sick, she had to take antibiotics which saved her life but her hearing was lost. “Losing her hearing really cut her off in a way that was so painful for her,” he says. She then straddled the two worlds of hearing and deaf culture, not fully fitting into either. “That space in between, which we might call limbo or purgatory, left her at the mercy of her addictive tendencies.” But even as she struggled in some ways, she tried to follow through with her passion for film, spending the rest of her life petitioning to get captions on films, but “never saw that happen.” In dedicating the film to her, Sound of Metal, besides being a caption itself, is an entirely captioned film.
So even as Ruben navigates the world of deaf culture, the focus of the film takes another turn, portraying a human life that is also part of deaf culture, instead of offering a deep dive into the culture and their way of life. “A lot of it is about seeing past these identities, and into the more specific humans that are behind them,” says Darius, whose film reminds that the deaf community, much like every other marginalised community, is made up of individuals, and is not a monolith. “I didn’t really want to make a story about how hard it is to go deaf. It’s really (about) how hard it is to be a human.”
Sound of Metal is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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