Imagine if the music in America had been controlled by the government. Which artists would have still been able to make it? What albums would have been denied release? This is a thought-provoking hypothetical because American music has been so much about breaking barriers and defining new sounds. More than any other art, entertainment, media or industry, music illustrates the freedom we have in this country.
In Iran, they haven't been so fortunate. Since the country's revolution in 1979, pop music has been banned, female vocals have been restricted and creative innovation has been curbed. All music in Iran is regulated and censored by Ershad, the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which has separate committees for judging an artist's musical style and lyrical content. To get approval from the government, a song has to pass each committee's standards, and that is a rarity these days. Additionally, live performances are also scrutinized, with Ershad monitoring the appearance and actions of artists on stage.
Hope is not lost, though. While the Iranian government controls official release of music, it does not appear to forbid the existence of bands and artists who do their own thing. For those who can not get approval, there is now the benefit of the internet. While this outlet may not earn the performers money, it does keep expression and experimentation thriving in the country. For a nation with half its population under 30, the importance of this new music underground is substantial.
All of this information is very interesting, but it would be more appropriately presented in a literary format, as opposed to on film. Sounds of Silence consists mainly of interviews with bands, artists, journalists and record store owners, and the result is a very stationary experience. The only visual mobility the film achieves is through its inclusion of a few music videos, and even then it stagnantly frames the videos by filming the websites they appear on instead of editing them into the doc itself. At 97 minutes, the film is not long, but because it remains at a virtual stand-still throughout that time, it seems to go on forever.
Documentaries have a habit of being too chatty, but Sounds of Silence goes overboard. It fails because it doesn't fit the cinematic requirement to show not tell, which applies just as much to non-fiction film as fiction film. Without a narrative, Sounds of Silence is just a series of connected facts and commentaries that have no compelling sustenance. It is appalling that so many people have had to struggle for artistic acceptance and exposure, and many of those spotlighted in the film are worthy of being heard, but the film disappointingly does not do them the justice they deserve.