Noise Review

Melbourne, in the run-up to Christmas. Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is a cop, and not sure he wants to be. He’s also plagued by tinnitus and suffers a blackout on an escalator. His boss not sympathetic and sends him to man a police van near to a shopping strip in a suburban community knocked by a series of murders. Meanwhile, Lavinia (Maia Thomas) is the sole witness to a multiple shooting on an underground train and believes herself in danger.

Noise, written and directed by Matthew Saville, is a slow-burning film that begins as a thriller but soon reveals itself as a character study. The script is unusually constructed in that it has two plotlines and two protagonists (Graham and Lavinia) who only meet in one scene, though their stories are linked in other ways that I’ll leave you to discover.

This film has attracted a lot of attention since its premiere at Sundance in January 2007. Although I don’t rate it as highly as some people do, it’s certainly impressive. This is Saville’s first feature: he’s previously made a couple of shorts (one of which is included on this DVD), a 50-minute TV film Ray Hallsdotter Live, plus other TV work. Admittedly, credit has to go to Bryony Marks (who is married to Saville) for her moody score. DP László Baranyai’s camerawork is rich and dark-hued, drawing on film noir though in Scope and in colour. And, given its central character’s medical condition and the film’s title, Emma Bortignon’s sound design is a particular standout.

The film begins intriguingly, if possibly a little misleadingly, with Lavinia on the underground train. Saville leaves a little work for the audience as we don’t see the whole of this scene, despite what it may seem at first: in fact, we revisit and continue the scene two more times. We don’t know the whole story until about half an hour before the end. The performances are all solid, but somehow that’s not quite enough: Graham’s story interested me but I felt at a distance, which means that the film’s ending does not carry the weight that it should. There’s a sense that Saville’s visual ability is – so far anyway – in advance of his writing skills, and this is a film that rather unravels itself before it reaches the end. The scenes of violence are not especially graphic, though anyone offended by multiple uses of the C-word should take care.

It’s still worth seeing. As Saville says in the extras, 2005 and 2006 have been two particularly strong years for Australian cinema, and maybe 2007 will be another one. As I write this, Noise has been nominated for nine Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Picture, Saville for both direction and writing, Cowell for Best Actor, plus nods for Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Original Music Score and Production Design. (The winners will be announced on 6 December 2007.)

Madman’s edition of Noise comprises two DVD-9 discs, encoded for Region 4 only.

Noise was shot in Super 35 and is presented here as it was in cinemas, in a ratio of 2.40:1. The DVD is anamorphically enhanced, as you should expect. Much of this film takes place in semi-darkness if not actual darkness, often with a bluish tone, so shadow detail is very important. There is some grain which is inevitable given the low-light conditions, but the colours are strong and blacks are solid.

Living up to the film’s title, the soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is consistently immersive and imaginatively designed. From the ambient sounds accompanying Lavinia’s walk down the underground, to the high-pitched white noise simulating Graham’s tinnitus and some deep bass rumbles, this will give your system a workout. Lack of noise is just as important too: not for nothing does Saville cut to a black screen and silence before the end credits come up. There is a 2.0 (Dolby Surround) alternative. Some may quibble that there isn’t a DTS track, or some lossless variant, but as it goes this soundtrack is pretty impressive. Subtitles (in yellow) are available for the feature only, not for the commentary or any of the extras on Disc Two.

The commentary is a multi-participant affair, with a voiceover introducing each one as they appear: Matthew Saville, Trevor Blainey (producer), Brendan Cowell, Maia Thomas, Luke Elliot, Emma Bortignon (sound designer), Bryony Marks (music composer) and László Baranyai (cinematographer). Inevitably some of these don’t say much, but the track is well edited and has few dead spots.

Madman have a good track record for their DVD releases of contemporary Australian films, and this is no exception. Disc Two has a great deal of extras (the titles count goes up to 52), really too much to take in in one go. It is divided into five sections.

First up is “Pre-Production”. This begins with “Workshop”, videotaped readthroughs of three particular scenes, featuring Brendan Cowell and Maia Thomas amongst others. These run 1:36, 2:49 and 3:38, and there is a “Play All” option. The section concludes with storyboards of the opening and closing sequences, which you can navigate through with your remote.

“Production” begins with a behind-the-scenes featurette (split into two titles, running 17:52 and 15: 43) itself divided into three sections: “Pre-Production”, “Production” and “Post-Production”. This is mainly candid footage – there are no interviews with anyone, nor is there much sense of anyone playing to the camera.

Ten Cast and Crew interviews follow. These follow standard EPK principles: the interviewee answering a question that appears on screen in text. The interviewees are actors Brendan Cowell (7:26), Maia Thomas (7:47), Katie Wall (4:36), Nicholas Bell (7:20) and Henry Nixon (3:14) and crewmembers Matthew Saville (7:17), Trevor Blainey (6:09), production designer Paddy Reardon (12:41), Emma Bortignon (8:17) and László Baranyai (11:11). There is a “Play All” option.

Deleted scenes follow (22:43), timecoded and in non-anamorphic 2.40:1. There is an optional commentary by editor Geoff Hitchins. Particularly interesting is the original opening sequence with Lavinia on the train, which plays without a break. In the finished film it’s shortened and split into three. This is followed by a stills gallery of photographs taken by Matthew Saville, with occasionally jokey captions added. This is self-navigating, running 18:22. A second gallery, of production stills taken by Suzy Wood, runs 4:07.

Section Three is “Post-Production”, which begins with more interviews, these ones done with the media on the film’s release. The first is with Matthew Saville for Australian TV’s long-running film programme At the Movies (28:14). Saville is interviewed by Margaret Pomeranz, who stays offscreen. There’s quite a bit of rapport between the two, and a nice joke at the expense of Pomeranz’s co-host David Stratton. Next is an audio-only piece, for the radio station RRR with Saville and Trevor Blainey. A briefer interview from TV follows, from Australia’s Channel 31’s show Popcorn (3:15), with Saville and Brendan Cowell. Finally, a discussion from Australia Radio National’s show Australia Talks with Matthew Saville. The “Post-Production” section ends with the theatrical trailer (2:09).

Section Four is “Bonus Films”, namely two shorts. “Europe” (7:02) is directed by Brendan Cowell and “Gents” (3:28) by Matthew Saville. Both are eye-catching if slight. They are presented in 2.35:1, the latter anamorphic the former not.

The final section is “Madman Propaganda”. The anti-piracy ad you’ve seen countless times before leads to a still advertising the Noise soundtrack CD and then a trailer for Lucky Miles (also AFI-Award nominated). After that, you can select trailers for Candy, Last Train to Freo, Ten Canoes and Look Both Ways. There is a “Play All” option.

Noise is an intriguing, stylishly-made film that for me didn’t hold together as well as it should. Have done. It’s certainly well worth seeking out and I will be interested to see what Matthew Saville does next. Madman’s DVD package is exhaustive, not to mention exhausting.

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