German literary scholar Stefanie Orphal, author of Poesiefilm: Lyrik im audiovisuellen Medium [Poetry Film: Poetry in the Audiovisual Medium], has an essay up at Poetryfilmkanal on “The fascination of hearing poetry films.” Here’s an excerpt:
In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of matters of sound and acoustics, in film studies as well as in other areas. Our understanding of poetry film can benefit a lot from this development. The principal point that we can take from this research is this: Not just on the level of signs, in terms of text-image-relations, but on the level of perception itself sound and image are fused into something completely new, into a third thing that is more than the addition of both elements. While experimental film maker Maya Deren meditated on this effect as early as 1953 on a podium on poetry and the film, contemporary scholars like film theorist Michel Chion have systematically laid out how what we hear, shapes what we believe only to see in the audiovisual experience.
One of Chion’s central terms is ›synchresis‹, by which he describes the psychophysiological phenomenon that lets us attribute discrete events that we see and hear simultaneously to the same source, e. g. the dubbed voice to the actor on screen. Such an effect – also called cross-modal association – is subtly operative in the perception of all audio-film, but it is crucial to the experience of poems in an audiovisual context, because voice over poems are often clearly not part of a diegetic world and what we hear is set apart from what we see creating counterpoint and contrast. But even in the most modernist and experimental efforts of counterpoint or of contrasting sound-image-relations, in our perception both sound and image are always drawn together, contaminating each other as Michel Chion puts it. The effect of this play of forces can be intriguing. What is fascinating about poetry film, to me, is the stunning effect when such a complex combination of elements brings about something new, the impression that something is revealed in the image or in the poem.