The Sweetest Sound
Directed by Alan Berliner
(several Alan Berliners)
Ah, what’s in a name? “Two words, five syllables, twelve letters,” in Alan Berliner’s name, but there’s far more in a name, and in Berliner’s film, The Sweetest Sound. Morrie Warshawski of the Jewish Star said that a Berliner film is like a New York minute; a lot happens in a short amount of time.”
So what is it? A study in cultural anthropology or psychology? History? Religion? Phonology? WellÖyes. A lot does happen, but it might be better in an even shorter amount of time. Berliner has compiled a collage of narrated sound and image into a narcissistic, egocentric search for identity.
It opens with a description of Same Name Syndrome, in which the afflicted suffer from obsessing about sharing names (or not sharing them), and from wondering who shares theirs. After an interesting, but often dragging, overview of the meanings of names, specifically his own, Berliner decides he hasn’t found his individuality yet. So he invites the twelve other Alan Berliners in the world over for dinner, not to poison them, he assures, but to find the real Alan Berliner.
The meeting doesn’t seem to result in anything other than giving the director yet another perspective in which to see himself. He is Alan Berliner, Jewish white male filmmaker of Central European ancestry. But another of the twelve Alan Berliners is too. The search for uniqueness continues.
Berliner blends a lot of eccentric and archival footage, and sound effects and flashing images in his film. Each element is carefully selected and placed for the purpose of meaning. He examines the etymology and socio-cultural connotations of names. Thanks to JFK, Berliner’s name will forever invoke the image of a German pastry.
But aside from some good trivia and provocative editing techniques, The Sweetest Sound lacks something. The director never finds out whether names make us who we are, or vice versa. Berliner’s sister calls it one of those givens in life. “You have brown hair; you have green eyes; you have a name.”
So what’s an SNS sufferer to do? Get the first Web site, maybe, but don’t make a film about it.
– Troy Pieper
The Sweetest Sound will show at the Walker Art Center this Friday.