THE STORY – Explores the elemental phenomenon of sound and its power to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us.
THE CAST – Edgar Choueriri, Joanna Fang & Sam Green
THE TEAM – Sam Green (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
Filmmaker Sam Green has spent much of his documentary filmmaking career examining the importance of sound, often incorporating live-recorded original scores by well-known bands into his films. With “32 Sounds,” he takes his interest a step further, creating a documentary unlike any that has come before. Part meditation exercise, part history lesson, “32 Sounds” is a groundbreaking and memorial — albeit scattershot — cinematic experience that will force viewers to reconsider how they engage with the world.
It is difficult to say what “32 Sounds” is about. Green wants to tell a history of sound, and the film is partially that, covering the early days from Thomas Edison’s inventions onward to experimental musicians and iconic horror films. But Green also wants to consider how history — not just of sound, but also of life itself — is guided by sound. This means that the film’s interview subjects range from foley artists to exiled American political revolutionaries. With that, Green wants to explore how sound can be a form of immortality and how the ghosts of the past linger through audio recordings. Green also doesn’t want to tell a story; rather, he wants the audience to *feel.* As a result, the film is also meant to be less a film than an exercise for the audience. The audience is, at times, urged to close their eyes and listen. In other words, what is “32 Sounds” about? Sound — in every possible iteration.
In many ways, “32 Sounds” feels like the culmination of Green’s career. Here, he finds an outlet for decades of audio and video recordings. Fortunately, the film is more than the dry sort of “history of sound” one might watch in a science class. But, as a result, the film bites off more than it can chew. Green’s own soft, pensive, often rambling narration suggests that not even he is sure what he wants to say or where the story is going. Some of the questions he raises are undoubtedly tasty food for thought, while others feel pseudo-intellectual. But “32 Sounds” isn’t about the story it tells; instead, it’s about what it makes the viewer feel. Film is a visual medium, first and foremost, but most great films realize that effective sound is integral. Green has created a film that could be (and sometimes explicitly should be) watched with the viewer’s eyes closed.
Listening to “32 Sounds” is an amazing reminder of how our ears perceive depth, how sounds influence emotions, and how Hollywood ensures that movies sound like humans think the world should sound rather than how it actually sounds. Oscar-winning Sound Designer Mark Mangini (“Dune,” “Mad Max: Fury Road“) has created an extraordinarily immersive soundscape that truly sucks the viewer in, mingling real world and artificial sounds, thereby demonstrating the distinctions between types of surround sound and more. If the film’s narrative, to the extent one even exists, is less than engaging, at least the film is riveting to listen to. Just as some films compensate for weak stories through stunning visuals, “32 Sounds” compensates for scattershot storytelling through its hypnotic soundscape.
“32 Sounds” likely won’t change how you hear the world, but it will certainly give you more of an appreciation for sound. There are far more riveting and better-made documentaries this year to be seen, but there are few more interesting ones than this to listen to.