The Sounds of Silent Mike

21Apr22

I’m excited to share the next video in my Breaking Bad project, “The Sounds of Silent Mike,” focused on fan-favorite character Mike Ehrmantraut. This was a nice palate cleanser for me, after spending around a month laboring on my last video, “Breaking Genre“—this video only took two days of editing to produce, as its scope, speed, and parameters were much more manageable. I hope the efforts were worth it.

Below is the video, followed by a short contextualization that I intend to publish with it as part of the larger “Chemistry of Character” book (I recommend reading it after watching the video). One additional thought I had in putting this together (and in conversation with Chris Keathley after he watched a draft) is how this video might function (or not) as “standalone scholarship”—many of the videos in the project are designed to stand-alone, and could even be published as a journal article at a place like [in]Transition (“Focusing on Hank (and Marie)” was in fact published in Mise-en-scène.). Some of the other videos I’ve made are clearly less scholarly and more experimental, such as my TV Dictionary entry or “Knock About” piece, both of which function as more interstitial videos between more elaborated chapters. “The Sounds of Silent Mike” is more substantive and analytical than those, but arguably less elaborated than something like “Breaking Genre” or “Walter’s Whiteness.” So I’m curious how people might characterize this piece in terms of norms of scholarship, criticism, and publishing—is it a standalone academic video essay or more a part of a larger project? I welcome your thoughts and comments on those definitions, and anything else arising from this video!

And one last bit of news before the video: I’ve been working with Lever Press to develop a new book series called Videographic Books, designed to publish long-form audiovisual scholarship like this Breaking Bad project. If you have something in the works, check out the page and reach out to me with your idea!

Contextualization:

One challenge of making videographic work about Breaking Bad is how to convey one of the program’s most important facets: patience. For a series known for high-tension action sequences, a good deal of time is spent portraying very little happening: characters waiting for their next move, engaging in a slow-moving tedious process, or otherwise being more dormant than typical for television drama. But videographic criticism is built upon editing things down, distilling them to key moments and juxtapositions that aims to move quickly and efficiently. Thus it is a challenge to portray the temporal patience represented on Breaking Bad, and the patience demanded of its audience, in a video essay.

“The Sounds of Silent Mike” tries to tackle this challenge by placing the focus on sound, especially Mike’s nonverbal sounds and silences. The goal is by calling attention to such silences, viewers of the video are attuned to the presence of patience in watching Mike—whether he is skipping stones in a river or methodically clearing a building of cartel enemies. For viewers of the series, our memories and impressions of characters are often tied to specific sounds, and for Mike, this signature ranges from silence to short words, sighs, and grunts, all presented with a sense of patience.

While it is never explicitly mentioned in the video, Mike’s characterization stands in contrast with other characters in the series largely through their different approaches to sound. This contrast is most stark compared to Walter White and Saul Goodman (and Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul), both of whom are noted by their propensity to speak their way out of problems, often impatiently. Both Walt and Saul/Jimmy are blessed with the ability to convincingly lie at will, and they both use that talent to escape tough situations. In contrast, Mike often accomplishes his goals in silence, whether quietly taking down enemies in a warehouse or escaping the cops in a playground.

Of course, Mike’s voice and non-verbal sounds are dependent on Jonathan Banks’s performance, building on both his natural gravely tone and his interpretation of Mike’s sonic presence. The video does not try to differentiate what elements come from Banks versus the writers’ narrative designs versus the production (and post-production) team’s efforts—clearly these techniques and choices reinforce each other, creating a distinctive sonic footprint. In total, this video aims to make us aware of the net effect of these elements, both in constituting Mike’s character and contributing to a larger appreciation of the program’s use of sound.



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