One of Michael Snow's earliest experimental works, Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx To Dennis Young) By Wilma Schoen (1974), presents 26 successive scenes, each one a variation in the relationship between sound and image.
“Michael Snow’s Rameau’s Nephew Etc. makes me crazy, makes the top of my head go flying off. I have a need of its particular regenerative insanity at least once a month.”
“All manner of cinematic sound is under consideration, including voice-over and an off-screen voice giving direction. The apparent source of the sound is pictured—a speaking figure—but this is no guarantee that the voice will be in sync; the film intends to counter such common assumptions. The language of this film is primarily English, though French, Spanish, and German are also spoken, and the spoken English can be broken down into its various dialects. Intense communication is leavened by miscommunication, whether from garbled speech, pedantry, weak signals, dubbing gaps, reversals, voice-over, or secret code.
An incorrigible punster and talented writer, Snow has a fascination with, and enjoyment of, verbal play that long predates his preparations for Rameau’s Nephew. It goes back to his childhood, when his art production was the adventure cartoon. When he began to write this film, he scribbled down folksy expressions, advertising slogans, clichés, and snatches of conversation, which he translated into text and then reprocessed into scripts that are curious evidence of the oral/aural divide. He also created anagrams of the participants’ names, as well as his own, which becomes Wilma Schoen. [...]
The work is sometimes described as polyphonic in its musical sense, for at this stage in his cinematic work Snow was averse to any storytelling structure. His desire, frequently expressed, was to make image-sound compositions. Rameau’s Nephew is generally analyzed as a ‘talking film,’ but its images—Snow’s settings and framings—are unforgettable, for their colour, if nothing else. Holding this film together, leading the viewer from scene to scene, are the extraordinary breadth of its variations on the theme and its sometimes mute comedy.”