Nostalgia of the Light – An Analysis

Watching a small clip from Guzmann’s Nostalgia for the Light (2010), the most captivating moment for me was when the black and white contrasted images of the craters on the moon fades to a black and white kaleidoscope of the shadows of the leaves on the kitchen window. It was at this point that I properly understood the power of visual juxtaposition in this piece.

Nostalgia for the Light relies very heavily on montaging juxtaposed clips with a voice-over narrative. The images are composed with superior cinematography in mind, and are mostly of still subjects, with hints of movement only available when there is actual movement of the subjects in the background, such as shifting of the light and shadows, or the leaves on a tree swaying in the wind. This adds a stillness to the aesthetic of the film, because while the cuts are not long, they are not rapid or dynamic either. The framing is extremely intimate, with close to extreme closeups of the inanimate subjects. The lighting on these subjects (which are all either everyday homely items, or astronomy instruments) are very warm, and even though sometimes there are strong shadows, they are never rendered alienated or intimidating. The colors are also very vibrant and saturated. This is contrasted very strikingly with the highly stark and monochrome images of the moon at the beginning of the clip.

The audio is extremely minimalistic, with the focal sound being the narration, or when there is no narration, diegetic foreground noises – eg the grinding of the gears on the telescope; the squeaking of the hatch opening on the roof. Furthermore, in ground sound, there is the sound of nature, to complement the environment of the frame during the montage of household items. These
nature sounds included the chirping of birds and some light breeze noises, and may or may not be diegetic, but is more likely to be mixed in during post-production.

Narratively speaking, it was a little confusing when trying to understand the contents of the narration in relation with the visual. Logically speaking, there is little correlation between what the narrator is talking about (Chile, astronomy and social revolution) and the images that we are shown (household items such as furniture, pictures on the wall etc). It isn’t until the location of the montage moves onto the dusty remains of the observatory that I can begin to form a more coherent correlation between the visual and the audio. Alternatively, it is possible that the visual media and the audio isn’t meant to have an immediate correlation, but exist to complement the tone of the other – that is, the intimate and comfortable visuals complement the reminiscent nature of the narration, and the calm slow tones of the speaker complements the softness of the images.

One other interesting moment is when specks of light and dust becomes super imposed onto a shot of a tree blowing in the wind. The colorful image (blue, yellow and green) starts fading into a almost monochromatic and impossibly detailed shot of specks of dust and bokeh floating in the air. This leads me to think that the dust and bokeh were treated with special effects. It is also a
beautiful transition from the urban setting of the house to the more foreign settings of the observatory. In a clip that is heavy on cuts between changing visuals, changing physical location using a fade seems to be a conscious effort to minimize a jarring transition from home-life to astronomy.

Nostalgia for the Light contains many layers of deeper and inferred meaning, drawn from both aesthetics and content. It beautifully incorporates photographic cinematography and slow camera movements to create a sense of calm and stillness, and mixes this visual with a continuous but non-discordant audio narrative and other background audio materials, both diegetic and non-diegetic
to the visuals.

Conventions of Sound

Sound production, manipulation and mixing is something which I do not have much prior experience in. Ruoff (1993) outlines some interesting and important factors when working with sound in media, which I explore below.

Having come from a linguistic background, Ruoff’s outline of how conventional spoken conversation and dialogues differ greatly from scripted or written dialogue, purely because the spoken dialogue will always contain interjections and “hemming and hamming” as a natural and necessary part of lingual semiotics. However, it was very interesting to then expand on this knowledge to the scope of documentaries, within the discourse of audience understanding of conventions. For example, if a conversation that was supposed to be candid, or observational “fly on the wall” was too clean, or too organized and orderly, the audience would immediately feel that it was put on, regardless of whether the camera frames the subjects in a ‘hidden camera’ manner, or any other visual cues. By the same token, if a face-to-face interview was too disorderly with interjections of “uh huh” or other verbal prompts, it would be distracting to the viewer or listener. This fully explains the importance of recording through separate channels (and using directional mics – shotgun mics) especially during an interview, as to minimize and have full control in post over the interjections if
they occur during the interview.

It’s also interesting to learn about interview techniques that are specific for the screen, or for audio productions. My background was in written and published journalism, so interview techniques mostly taught us to not use leading yes/no questions, or to allow the subject to tell their own story through their own words, not through your questions. This remains true for video and audio interviews, but even more importantly, it’s a matter of recording and interviewing for the answers to be used in the final product. So, the whole idea of asking the interviewee to answer in a full sentence allows the editors in post to leave out the interviewer’s question. This obviously goes against a ‘natural’ conversation flow, but this is a discourse unique to interviews, where the staged theatrics of a ‘conversation’ is how we expect a successful and coherent interview to go.

The above points are majorly important to the projects which I am working on this semester, but are also widely applicable when creating any kind of media product which may include sound.