In 2011, writer/director Julia Leigh offered us a look at visual storytelling at its best in her Australian film Sleeping Beauty. Through careful, photographic composition and thoughtful connection of images, a story unfolds that is cinematic, beautiful, and haunting. All with minimal use of dialogue.
In this project, Leigh frequently trades exposition for visual interpretation which can be a difficult choice given (as evidenced by the body of critical and casual reviews) that the majority of viewers are more comfortable with a film that explicitly explains its every moment. Such a technique can be valuable not only in filmmaking but in all forms of storytelling; we may choose to paint our images and allow our audience the pleasure of interpretation rather than verbalizing our characters’ attitudes, and choices.
For a study in less-dialogue-is-more, have a look at the following:
- Lucy’s attitudes towards her various occupations are revealed in tiny bites, without exposition. We learn of her internal state through her actions, reactions, postures, gestures, etc. For example, she tunes out of her copy clerk job by using headphones yet she practices her new hostessing skills with her most cherished friend.
- When Lucy feels glamourous, we see her bed as an opulent perch high above a twinkling cityscape. When she feels stark, the same bed is revealed in the harsh morning light as being a cheap arrangement set atop milk crates.
- Lucy happens upon a sleeping passenger on a train. She sits next to her, works up the courage to stroke her cheek. This small moment speaks volumes about Lucy’s own circumstance, those who are involved, and her own role in her unusual arrangement.
Little is said about the protagonist’s feelings about the changing situations of her life but much is mirrored in the filmmaker’s choices of what to reveal, how, and when to reveal it. These essential concepts of filmmaking are worth revisiting and sharing with storytellers working in all forms, no?