I’m kind of cheating here, since I’m essentially copying/pasting what I’m working on for my final paper, but I figured I’d share my thoughts anyway as they seem relevant to this week’s/last week’s readings. Metz states:
…everything out-of-frame brings us closer to the spectator, since it is the peculiarity of the latter to be out-of-frame (the out-of-frame character thus has a point in common with him: he is looking at the screen.
By offering himself as a crossing for the spectator, he inflects the circuit followed by the sequence of identifications, and it is only in this sense that he is himself seen: as we see through him, we see ourselves not seeing him.
Here Metz is referring exclusively to characters (physical bodies in the visual sense) off-screen. With off-screen sound, on the other hand, it would appear as if the opposite were the case. An interesting case study is von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others. Our protagonist, Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Mühe), a captain for the East German Stasi, is ordered to wiretap a famous playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). There is a consistent juxtaposition between the character listening (Weisler) and the character being listened to (Dreyman). However, when the sound is off-screen (I.e., when we see Weisler and hear Dreyman) we identify with Weisler. And when we see Dreyman on-screen we remain in identification with Weisler, whom we know is still listening upstairs. In this sense, Metz is correct in asserting that the spectator/auditor will identify with the character off-screen, but this thesis is not universal with all off-screen elements, particularly sound. In other words, when characters are off-screen we identify with them as Metz states “the out-of-frame character thus has a point in common with him: he is looking at the screen” (though in the case of Weisler his look has to be imagined since he is not actually present in the room), but when sounds are off-screen, we could assert something quite the opposite; “we have a point in common with the on-screen character: we are both hearing the same thing”. Therefore, off-screen sound can act as a form of suture, but in a manner that doesn’t require the shot/reverse shot system. “The Absent One”, to use Oudart’s term, is Weisler when we see Dreyman. When we see Weisler and hear Dreyman, there is no absent one. The synthesis of sound and image acts as the suture. The spectator may still desire to see Dreyman, and he/she can, but this desire is not based on a fulfillment of a lack or absence since Dreyman is present, at least aurally, when we see Weisler.
Another good example of this concept is Fritz Lang’s M. A blind man recognizes the murderer whistling off-screen, but we don’t identify with the murderer. We are sutured into the text because we hear what the blind man hears.
Here are some clips. The scene I’m referring to in M occurs at 56:02.