In the movies, suburbia is still laced with traces of its utopian origins. It's an American image, really: faux wood grain station wagons slowly cruising down densely foliated tree-lined thoroughfares. Birds chirp peacefully in a soft quietude signifying a somnambulistic inertia, as if the suburbs were a deadly calm where straight people retire.
Every time I hear that kind of quiet on a soundtrack, I cringe. The suburbs are full of sonic irritation and aural aggravation. Far from settling in the suburbs, you would be nesting in noise. Cheap housing with badly sprung floors work as lo-fi boom boxes to amplify the hollow wooden din of TVs, radios and cassette players - usually all at once and coming from competing territories in the family war zone. Absurdly narrow streets with speed bumps extend the low rumble and pitch bends of hot gear changes as hoons come home for mum's dinner, bellowing their car sound systems like warrior emblems of taste. Dogs snap at every move, triggered like neurotic Pavlovian beings, barking out a sample of their own imprisonment.
While the city and inner urbania construct drones - flattened soundscapes of dense, low frequencies and endless cycles of pink noise - the suburbs emit a non-stop series of distinct occurrences. It starts with the tolling crash and boom of trucks picking up recycled glass bottles, and does not end until the first Minah birds pierce the reverberant enclaves of corrugated tin carports. It awakes with the scream of the newborn and withers only after the last hoarse screech of domestic conflict. Many people are attracted to the suburbs, believing they will escape the claustrophobia of housing commission flats or inner-city apartment blocks. The acoustic reality is that in the suburbs, the people next store are amplifiers of all you wish to censor, suppress, silence.
To go to a shopping mall is a therapeutic respite from the acoustic terror of suburbia. Bathed inside its binaural warmth, you can float along its glistening corridors, carried on the wash of white noise which combines music, speech and sound into a sonic foam of consumerism. Sound comes from everywhere all at once: you are constantly targeted by an array of speakers while you are never displaced from the bodily throng of bustling shoppers. The lushness of the mall is the produce of many people doing many things. Not unlike the electrical feel when you're in the midst of a crowd at a large outdoor event, the mall generates a low current massage of calming vibration as you become one with its air-conditioning, flowing with its control of the masses. Fight it if you will. Go to your high street boutiques. Shop over the internet. Giving in to the mall is a numbing yet nonetheless sensory experience.
Under the open-eared acceptance of director Vince Giarrusso and producer Fiona Eagger, the sound design of MALLBOY is allowed to capture the complete sonorum of suburbia and the rich impasto of shopping mall ambience. MALLBOY is not a noisy film per se, but there certainly are no idyllic pauses which paint the suburbs as a receptacle of pastoral calm away from the big bad city. And why should it? The cinema is not a concert hall: it does not require the hush of mute respect to follow its stories. The cinema expels us, projects us and snares us in its enlivened spaces. More films could sound the noise of life and immerse us in all that occurs beyond the edge of the frame. Forget journeying to another planet. Go to the mall.