Director Suzanne Steinberg has completed her latest feature film ‘The Voice That Was Louder Than Before,’ an experimental film shot in Scottsdale Arizona. According to Steinberg, this film completes a trilogy of dark, personal experimental films that began with ‘The Sound of Running Water‘ (2013) and followed by ‘Shattered Glass‘ (2014). Much like her previous films, ‘Voice’ is a deeply psychological, strongly emotional film that journeys through sexual repulsion, mental illness and suffocating self-loathing in an avant-garde, mostly experimental cinematic landscape.

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The central character of ‘Voice’ is Alice, presented in 5 different incarnations throughout the film: a shy 8 year old (Emmy Pearson), an angst-ridden 15 year old (Zoe Tanton), a socially awkward 19 year old (Nicolle Ashley), a sexually dysfunctional 29 year old (Lauren Hall) and a mentally ill 45 year old (Dawn Nixon). While each manifestation drifts in and out of the film at will, the main focus is on 29 year old Alice who provides a soundboard for her past experience and is the precursor to her confined future. Alice spends much of her time being exploited by every man she meets. Most appear to be johns that pay her for sex, demeaning and ridiculing the girl in the process. A photographer (Mike Watkiss) exploits and harangues her, a steady boyfriend (Terrance Roundtree) verbally abuses her and an endless parade of men hurl money and insults at her. As Alice flashes backwards and forwards, she continues an external monologue, regardless if there is someone to share her thoughts with or not. She provides her assessment of the role of women in general (“The only thing a woman brings to the table is her anatomy”), her repulsion for sex and her complete disregard for the capacity to love. Most of the film focuses on sex, and never in any positive way with Alice illustrating her dim view of humanity and her seething misandry. Among the many childhood traumas Alice experiences; she is ripped from the arms of her playmate/first love (Trevor Robins) by his mother (Tori Osborn) who confines Alice in a box and hurriedly scrawls epithets such as ‘slut’ and ‘whore,’ defiantly declaring ‘not my son!’ in magic marker on the side of the box. In later recollections Alice cries out “there’s only two people in here” repeatedly as two men high five over the girl and write the same epithets on her back. Depression and darkness surround Alice as she begins an endless odyssey of treatment, doctors, relief and relapse fraught with painful recollections of matriarchs, martyrs and myths.

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Stylistically, ‘Voice’ is Steinbergs best film to date. While still heavily relying on the thinking out loud style of narrative from her previous films, Steinberg dramatically picks up the pace with rapid fire edits, multiple angles, incongruous inserts and an array of video fx that transfix the viewer. Black and white is the order of the day of course, and Steinberg uses it well, with splashes of color interspersed through various scenes effectively reminding us that relief and joy are but fleeting moments, especially for the main character. In ‘Voice,’ the director (finally) grasps the essence of metaphors as expression, allowing them to exist solely as visual statements without any preface or explanation. Some are a tad patronizing (walking on eggshells, really?) while others are exquisite and powerful such as the ‘tree woman’ and a child’s hopes and dreams literally getting crossed out by a domineering mother. Much of the film takes place in the directors home, which first appeared in her early films as a somewhat lifeless space devoid of any distraction, but now appears on screen as a completely hopeless, swirling minimalist vortex that rejects energy and light and collects sorrow as though it were dust. An image that director Steinberg is quite comfortable with.

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The Voice That Was Louder Than Before does well in capturing the brooding emotions and utter hopelessness of the main character and uses the medium of film for such deeply personal expression quite effectively. ‘Voice’ still relies heavily on the narrative to make it’s points while the harsh, utterly nihilistic observations on the human condition (or complete lack of humanity altogether) often get hyper extended. While also exploring the dark places of rejection, isolation, loneliness and even mental illness, ‘Voice’ spends much of it’s time  prominently presenting sex as a passionless, painful absurdity conducted for only two reasons: money and control. In Alice’s bleak world all men are dogs and all sex is rape; the men in her life demand sex strictly for the purpose of humiliating the object beneath them. The punishing injection of feculent bodily fluids is lulled and paved in the glistening bauble of subway tokens and the effulgent allure of stale Halloween candy. As well as a writer, artist and activist, Suzanne Steinberg is currently the only filmmaker in Arizona creating films that are experimental. Steinberg’s latest film’ is a roughly presented, relatively fast-paced experimental collection of the directors musings, ponderings and personal (negative) experiences that remind us all that in the intense light of projection, traumas burn like cathartic moths and fall to dust. What remains of the experience manifests itself on the screen, for all to observe, experience and evaluate.

The Voice That Was Louder Than Before will premiere on Thursday, September 22 at 7 pm at the Tempe Pollack Cinema. Tickets are 15.00 (cash only) at the door or can be purchased for 10.00 in advance through The Voice That Was Louder Than Before event page.

Final Take – Shouting in shadows.

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