Contextual Analysis – The Boy with the Violin (BBC World Service 21st November 2011)

The Boy with the Violin, a documentary produced for the BBC World Service is essentially a journey of discovery. Setting off on a mission to find a boy photographed in the war evacuating with only his violin case, this quest brings about more of a story of the countries unrest and effect on the people involved.

The documentary is introduced by a violin being played with a hint of an Indian story due to the tone of Bollywood sounding tune, the narrator then begins to speak and the listener is aware that they are now listening to a piece set in Sri Lanka. The story is split between the voice of a narrator and real life stories being told by those involved. This creates a more personal link to the listener as the feel the effects of the what has happened to the people of Sri Lanka. The tones of voice within the speakers and the use of distressed people and sounds of conflict in the background highlight how hard it has been for the people. Similarly, the imagery of ‘walking over dead bodies’ is a recurring theme through the documentary. Each person who is telling their personal story mentions how they had to leave loved ones behind or the surroundings around them as they fled. Again, this strikes emotion with the listener because it makes them more aware of the horror that swept through the innocent lives of the people involved in the war.

At the beginning, the narrators voice sounds very similar to that expected of a news reporter. It is very formal and almost emotionless, relating an image that he is relaying information and has no real investment in what he is portraying. However, as the documentary progresses, he becomes more emotionally invested and the audience can hear the emotion of how upset he is through his voice when he finds out the boy he is tracing cannot be contacted. Also, all the knockbacks he received through the fear of people not wanting to speak out is obvious although the listener can also understand this fear through the words the narrator uses whilst explaining. The authenticity of the piece and definition of the location is translated through the use of traditional Indian language the conversation between the narrator and the soldiers at the checkpoint and also the use of archive sound of people in trouble used in the background throughout.

The descriptiveness of the picture used to track the boy also draws the listener in as they are now personally involved in the hunt for the child they are visually aware in their own minds of how the boy looks. Another example of using imagery description to paint a picture in the listener’s minds is when the narrator explains his surroundings as he is travelling in the truck. The huts dotted around a landscape with ‘soldiers on mobile phones’, bunkers with bullet holes. It is easy for the audience to recognise this scene from visual news reports but also to add a more personal view from their own interpretation of what they are hearing.

Towards the end the story revolves more around the topic of music and how it is used within communities to celebrate or mourn depending on the mood of the community. Music is a connector and brings people together, it reflects how people feel and also acts as a communicator of feeling. The people interviewed discuss how certain music they used to play reflected certain people in power yet since the war they feel they can no longer play certain things because they were related to the wrong people. The final words of the narrator seemed particularly poignant “when the music ends, what’s left…?” particularly as like the picture of the boy many people chose instruments as their prized possessions to flee with. At the very least if they lost everything else they still have music.

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