REVIEW: The Mimicry of Body, Form and Craft: Allison Hrabluik's The Splits
Daniella Donati | April 15, 2016
Allison Hrabluik’s The Splits is a fifteen-minute film that features twenty-five people performing an array of actions from the mundane to the extraordinary. Through the use of montage and relational filmmaking, Hrabluik seamlessly fashions together image and sound to make a cohesive film of contrasting actions.
Hrabluik uses the camera to focus in on faces, actions and areas of the body that are performing the activities There are numerous shots depicting performers’ faces, hands, and feet because that is where the tension and mental focus is placed. At times a face will take up the entire frame and during those shots one can see the concentration on the task at hand. The eyes appear glazed, indicating that the participant is no longer aware of everything around them and are only focused on what skill they are trying to achieve in that moment.
Hrabluik’s particular method of filmmaking establishes associations between disparate actions and images, through intuited or sensed relations. This can be observed in sequences of shots linked through formal qualities, such as the related colour palette of a sequence intercutting an opera singer’s orange wig and a pyramid of flesh-toned hot dogs encased in their buns, or between the composition of images, such as the close shot of hot dogs boiling in water intercut with a close shot of a tasseled dress moving. There are also transitions that work through related physical actions. For example, the distinct repetitive slap of ground meat being thrown against a table is intercut with tap shoes hitting a battered board, or the grooming of an Afghan show dog set against images of a woman having her hair cut.
Hrabluik also takes a similar approach in her editing of sound, taking diegetic sound, sound that is present or implied to come from within the image, and using it as non-diegetic sound, sound that has no apparent source within the image. This approach can be seen with the use of the opera singer’s voice, which is present throughout the film in shots where the opera singer is absent.
Another noticeable element within Hrabluik’s sound editing is the use of silence and breath. Throughout the film there are points at which the sound is cut and the audience is left with silence, before continuing on to the following scenes of tension and focus. The silence, in some cases, mirrors or parallels the preparation of the subjects, taking a breath in anticipation of physical and mental effort. An example of this is when there are two quick shots of one of the female gymnasts, one with and one without sound, before it cuts to an image of three gymnasts crawling across the floor without sound. Being the longest moment of silence within the film it can be seen as the calm before the storm, preparing the audience for the escalation of visible tension and the building of sound that concludes the film.
This culminating escalation is rendered both visually and audibly, with scenes of a show dog climbing up a seesaw as the operatic voice climbs in octaves. As the voice continues, the image cuts to the three gymnasts. The two women face the camera and the male gymnast places his hands on their shoulders and lifts himself into a handstand, pressing the balance of his weight on their shoulders. The soaring operatic voice comes to a climax just as the female gymnasts’ composure is pushed to the breaking point. The film concludes with the collapse of this interplay between visible focus and tension, the levity of the actions and subjects, and the careful editing of sound used to weave it all together.