Reviews

'In Pursuit of Silence' Challenges the Senses

In Pursuit of Silence's technical mastery overcomes its overuse of interview commentary to illustrate silence's numerous edifying properties.


In Pursuit of Silence

Director: Patrick Shen
Rated: NR
Studio: The Cinema Guild
Year: 2017
US Release Date: 2017-06-23

It is nearly impossible to walk down a city street or ride a subway without being overwhelmed by a cacophonous flood of digital music, plasma screens, and aggressive cell phone chatter. For some, these aspects are signs of excitement and power. But for director Patrick Shen, this restless energy stymies a more enriching and healthier state of existence which can only be accomplished in markedly quieter environments. Shen’s new documentary, In Pursuit of Silence, makes an illustrative but somewhat convoluted attempt at conveying this point.

In Pursuit of Silence’s footage is consistently beautiful and purposeful. This is particularly so for the film’s first few minutes, free of any dialogue, where Shen lets long-takes of vivid, well-composed imagery convey tranquility’s many splendors. A protracted wide shot of a winding forest path in Carver Park, Minnesota  -- quiet, save for the melodic tune of brown leaves rustling in the wind  -- provides peaceful escapement. A still grass field in Iowa under a cloudless, deep blue sky looks like a rich painting; an ode to nature's rich colors.

Every so often, Shen mixes into his sequence of nature images surprising takes on more modern devices. In one inspired scene, an empty roadside gas station in the pitch-black night gives the sense that even structures not normally associated with enriching thought can engender a meditative response when basked in quietude.

Throughout In Pursuit of Silence, lifestyle choices are effectively challenged through crisp contrasts between footage of quiet sanctuaries and urban sprawl. A scene of monks walking down a monastery’s long, columnar halls -- split between darkness and splashes of natural light cascading from its windows -- captures walking as a simple, ruminative act. Contrarily, Shen captures the modern metropolis as an overbearingly loud, fragmented digital castle which give walking a nasty- treadmill-torture kind of feel. Of course, this conflicting imagery is polarized, and Shen's heart is clearly on the quieter end of things. But when In Pursuit of Silence simply portrays these images, it avoids being preachy, allowing for audiences' active eyes and ears to make the final judgment on the importance of serenity.

It's ironic then that In Pursuit of Silence overly relies on typical explanatory voiceovers and interruptive interview segments to advance its argument on silence’s virtuous properties. All too often, scenes which commence with an organic portrayal of relationships between sound and environment -- be it a lush, relaxing tea garden ceremony or the blaring streets of Mumbai -- are rudely interrupted by redundant explanations.

To be clear, this is not a knock against the interview subjects themselves. They are universally eloquent, offering informative takes on the virtues of natural tranquility, and waxing darkly poetic about the dangers of modern technology. (“There is such an intensely, overwhelming drive to contribute our little ricocheting response to the soul crushing in of the moment.”) Indeed, enjoying silence does not necessitate muteness. However, quantity of words does affect this pursuit, and Shen overly employs commentary which detracts from a continuous, reflective immersion into his already deeply detailed footage.

When Shen does employ dialogue effectively, it's from a lived-in, relational perspective. In one such scene, Shen has a child speak into a camera in a public school classroom located just a few feet away from a subway station; she talks about how it's hard to concentrate on her work with trains constantly passing on by. For anyone who is a parent, or who simply cares about the state of public education in urban cities, this scene -- as opposed to those in insulated laboratories or academic settings -- is of the sort which can emotionally propel activism, or at least a small change in lifestyle choices.

In Pursuit of Silence is a wonderfully shot film and one which is best experienced on a big screen where its images’ composition and acute sound mixing can be fully appreciated. However, for all the filmmakers' accomplished technical work, In Pursuit of Silence does not consistently heed to its own message on how quiet observation is more enriching than over-explanation.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image