Great artists are also, necessarily, predictable artists. Novelty is very rarely the stuff that canons are made of; “greatness,” whatever it may be, is most often accorded an artist on the basis of a cohesive body of work (even if it is still in formation) and an identifiable assortment of thematic and stylistic traits. This doesn’t mean that familiar artists can’t still surprise us, but that surprise is predicated upon—and past that initial disruption of expectations, swallowed back into—that same familiarity. On a certain level, what we search for in those art works and artists that matter to us is a sense of integration, that indefinable but still confident feeling that all their many elements—words, sights, sounds—are directed towards a fixed, tangible goal.
Consider a moment about two-thirds into Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s L’Enfant: our antihero Bruno (Jérémie Rénier), having sold his infant son to a black market adoption ring and now scrambling to retrieve the child after the understandably perturbed mother Sonia (Déborah François) is hospitalized for hysteria and threatens to call the cops, rendezvouses with the baby merchants at a dilapidated row of garages. Entering the designated shack, he is addressed by an unseen party from a small window high up the wall, who orders him to hand back the money he had received earlier that morning. Passing the wad of bills to the gloved hand in the window, Bruno anxiously inquires whether the child is outside—and the only answer he receives is the prolonged sound of the bills being methodically flicked and counted by a well-schooled thumb, the muted, neutral sound of paper against paper somehow as harsh and heartless as the snapping of a whip. Read Andrew Tracy’s contribution to the Reverse Shot Sound Off symposium.