Neil Sandhoefner’s Silent Sirens confounds, puzzles, comforts, and then, moves. For a film that does not actually have moving images, the film is memorable. It knows exactly what it is doing.
A narrator tells us three old stories along with the story of how he went to a London museum with his friends. The first, about Odysseus and the sirens; the second, about a Trojan soldier and a Greek spy who fell in love with a Trojan soldier; the third, about Harpo Marx and his friendship with Alexander Woollcott.
The common theme running through these stories is their preoccupation with the Greek god Harpocrates and through him, with silence. Odysseus could hear what his soldiers could not but was bound to miscommunication. The Greek soldier could not speak the truth and be heard, and thus was forced to mouth words and hope to be understood. Harpo Marx lost his closest friend, Alexander Woollcott to a heart attack as the latter desperately negotiated with sound and silence in his last moments. There was no better way to show this cinematically than to still the movement. Simultaneously, the writing of the narration has a strong literary quality.
The narrator tells each of these stories prompted by something he sees on the way to the museum where his friend’s girlfriend wants to see the latest work of her favourite artist. The scene is bursting with words left unspoken, an ode written in heartbreak to Harpocrates. The art style itself is best described as three levels more advanced than stick figures and yet the film makes them come alive in silence. Indeed, the movement in the film comes from the interplay between sound and silence through carefully placed dialogue and score, consisting almost exclusively of harp. The construction of stillness draws out the viewer’s predisposition to think and thus, moves.
Silent Sirens is a film that must be seen. The tone of a short story combines with myths and legends in a cinematic work that knows how to deploy sound in time. The overt simplicity of the art belies the richness of the craft at work in this film that one wants to persist in revisiting over the years.
Watch Silent Sirens Short Film
Silent Sirens: A Visual Meditation on Sound and Silence