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Public Places, Private Thoughts
Nicky Hamlyn
Public Places, Private Thoughts
The use of voice over in all these works differs markedly from the way it is usually deployed in TV programmes and documentary forms.

Invariably in the latter, words provide the primary informational structure while images illustrate and embellish the text. This relationship also serves to mask the intrinsic inadequacy of images: their ambiguity and contingency. In the work discussed here, however, the words on the soundtrack complement, or may contradict, the illusory fullness of an image, reinforce its inadequacy or stimulate the viewer to piece together a picture from fragments. Images are primary, but at the same time their power, ambiguity and inadequacy is acknowledged. In First Memory the words on the soundtrack carefully complement the images. In many shots there are large areas of dark, into which we can imaginatively project mental pictures of things we never get to see on the screen. Pacing, too, is important here. It must be slow enough for us to be able to absorb sounds and images at a sufficient degree of slowness that we can become aware of how we are imaginatively transforming the information for ourselves.

In a film like Norwood, with its continuous narration, the sheer profusion of speech draws attention both to its own function and to the relative dumbness of the images. In Out West, public icons are juxtaposed with intimate personal recollections, emphasising the often disjunctive coexistence of inner and outer phenomena and mental states. In Series 1 Part 2 an idea of the American West is distilled from a few tiny fragments, while Margaret Tait's word/image relationships encompass everything from audio-visual puns to ironic assaults on cliched notions of Scottishness. Yellow Wallpaper works by simulating electronically the mental state described in words written at the same time as Edison was creating his Kinetoscope, the device which, more than any other, has facilitated the bewitchment of the mind, its transportation to illusory worlds and imaginary states.

Nicky Hamlyn
Still from Outwest by Cordelia Swann, 1992
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