«Le son est le singe de la lumière»
Athanius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis (1650)
We see Adam Sandler dancing in the supermarket to Jon Brion’s rhythmic, dissonant music, as he is buying enormous quantities of dessert. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is a carefully choreographed film, and also a seemingly lightweight work within Anderson’s filmography characterized as it is by pieces of huge ambition and scale. The film is first and foremost an exercise in careful synchronization between sound and image (the music was to a large extent worked out before shooting). Coordination as an overriding impulse suggests the search for actual correspondences in unexpected places.
The most obvious play with color and sound in Punch-Drunk Love takes place intermittently in the abstract digital color patterns designed by Jeremy Blake and recurring throughout the film – stripes, patches, conglomerates of color. In Brian Price’s analysis of the film, the abstract color sequences serve to halt the narrative flow of the film. The colors that are contained in the image leak, escape, consequently disengage form. There are obvious traces of the modernist heritage of visual music and experimental cinema here (Survage, Eggeling, Richter, Fischinger, Lye, McLaren, Disney, Eisenstein). These practices attempted historically to liberate color from being an intrinsic quality of an object. They are also, in particular in their synaesthetical incarnations, asking questions about the general relationship between color and sound, forming attempts to make sense of the world. Music has traditionally been seen as a means to understand color and light. Both are organized and conceptualized similarly – in scales, tones, ideas about harmony.
In Punch-Drunk Love, attempts at controlling color are not primarily found in the abstracted digital realm but more evidently in the analogue/photographic, live-action/concrete mise-en-scene. Surrendering to the geometrical and the monochrome as a kind of risk management strategy, in order to avoid accidents and confusion, Barry’s blue suit (which he wears throughout the film) is coordinated against the blue-striped wall of his office at the beginning of the film. Light is controlled through sound, as in the subtle movement of Barry clapping his hands to turn off the lights in his bedroom before going to sleep.
Punch-Drunk Love is a film of accidents. There are accidents of light, color and sound, even speech: consonants are interchanged so that when Barry opens his mouth the word “good” comes out as “food”, for no obvious reason. The artefacts appearing outside Barry’s storage room-like office are both concrete and chromatic. Their sources are often unclear. Following a car crash, which is both sudden and unexpected, the central and mysterious object of the harmonium is dropped on the street from a passing cab. Lens flares similarly continually appear as autonomous mysterious objects, at times spilling over the images. Here, Anderson’s color images become Deleuzian “affection-images”. Like the close-up, they are detached from concrete causal relations and the specific time and space of the action, constituting “any-space-whatevers”. The subjective color vision of the camera is comparable to the main character’s subjective view of reality. The combination of color and sound, by a synaesthetic model, is not primarily a “complete” representation of reality; it is rather an interplay located in perceptual and cognitive capabilities.
There are indeterminate artefacts of color and sound here, and indeterminate sources of characters’ emotions. Sudden outbursts of rage and violence echo sudden outbursts of color and sound. Similar to the way lens flares act within the image, the music sometimes transgresses the dialogue, spilling over. Likewise, snippets of dialogue also interfere with the music in the recurring entr’actes of color abstraction. While playing the instrument, yellow light emanates from the harmonium, as if it is carrying a secret, a solution, or salvation in Barry’ search for harmony and love – through confusion, pain and disorientation – in short, in the state of being punch-drunk.
Eirik Fresvold Hanssen
Eirik Frisvold Hanssen