January 9, 2017: Embodying Voice
The singular challenge of making a first person documentary in which the featured subject is not seen speaking is how to embody their voice. Positioning the interviewee in a setting that compliments their ideas or vocation as they direct their attention towards an unseen interviewer has always felt contrived to me. So what will we see when we hear Madigan narrate the story of her life?
Inspired by a fashion photographer’s video short that presented dancers moving through space in extreme slow motion, I envisioned a series of tableaus that would feature Madigan silently playing her cello in a variety of staged and natural environments. By slowing down her trademark kinetic performance style, the emotional fabric of Madigan’s inner world becomes graphically embodied in the undulating material of her clothing. I searched two dozen first and second hand stores for an outfit with a texture and weight that would allow light and shadow to slip and slide against one another like the surface of a tempestuous ocean. Slowing down Madigan’s wicked bowing, kicks, and cello spins also reveals a nuanced realm of facial expressions and physical gestures which I can align with key moments in her voice-over as I edit. Unlike conventional lip sync, I am animating Madigan’s voice and amplifying her spirit. This method of embodying voice becomes a more deeply felt experience for the viewer because they are actively connecting sound and image.
Whisper Rapture’s narrative arc follows a woman who moves from being overwhelmed by her shadow towards embracing it. As you can see from the frame stills below, the tableaus parallel this transformation over the course of a prologue and six chapters. Madigan is initially wearing white against a dark background to portray the shadow surrounding her. By the end of the film, she is wearing black against a luminous backdrop to portray the shadow nestled within her. Each tableau is followed by one of six original music compositions.
The Prologue introduces us to Madigan’s magical and itinerant childhood roots. She is playing cello in a lush cathedral of ivy-strewn trees on Mount Davidson, in San Francisco, California.
Chapter 1 recalls the traumas of Madigan’s mother, and Madigan meeting her childhood fantasy companion, Whisper. She is playing in a black box theater space.
Chapter 2 presents Madigan’s discovery of the cello and her multi-dimensional relationship to her instrument.
Chapter 3 explores Madigan’s experiences with the mainstream mental health system and hearing voices. She is jumping into the bottom of the frame with the aid of an off screen trampoline. This sequence will be twice as slow as the other tableaus so that Madigan will appear to hover like a hummingbird.
Chapter 4 addresses Madigan’s struggles with suicidal ideation. We lit her from the rear and sides to produce a thin silhouette.
Chapter 5 offers Madigan’s fresh language for discussing madness. She is on a cliff off Highway 1, south of Half Moon Bay, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Chapter 6 connects the survivorship of Madigan’s mother to her music and activism.
Lastly, here’s an assortment of production stills from some of our tableau shoots.