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Sound In Franz Fanon: Black Sk Essay, Research Paper

Sound in Opening of Isaac Julien s

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask

Marci Ikeler

Language of Film

December 7, 2000

Sound is a very important element in any film; however, it receives particular importance in a documentary because the director must weave together factual information with nondiegetic music, non-simultaneous dialogue, and recreated sound effects. In the documentary Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask, director Isaac Julien confronts many of these challenges successfully within the first few minutes of the film.

In the opening sequence of the film, Julien presents the title and production credits over a soundtrack of nondiegetic music. This sound is overlaid with the onscreen, diegetic, external sound effect of chalk scraping a chalkboard; correspondingly, we see a simultaneous image of a hand writing text on a chalkboard. Finally, three booms of a bass drum in the music track (with a mellow timbre, low pitch, and medium volume) appear in synch with the visual presentation of the production credits on the screen. In this manner, Julien prepares us for a film with a complexly layered soundtrack.

After the credit sequence, Julien introduces the audience to the film s major themes in an exposition sequence that depicts a man chanting in a psychological institution. His chanting is diegetic, onscreen, rhythmic, and displays high fidelity in terms of realism. The only low fidelity aspect occurs in terms of sound perspective: the volume of the man s chattering does not vary, although his proximity to the camera in the visual image varies. Also, there is a sound effect track of heavy breathing and static background noise so that the silence between the man s chanting does not seem surprisingly empty. Finally, nondiegetic operatic music enters the soundtrack over the dialogue and sound effect tracks, creating a pensive tone that reflects Frantz Fanon s struggles with racial identity.

Overall, Julien manages to create an excellent opening to the film Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask through his use of layered sound. The layers, in turn, reflect Frantz Fanon s search for identity among the influences of many opposing cultures.


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