- Discuss Why The Development OF Sound Could Be Regarded As The Most Important Development In Filmmaking History
This essay will delve into the development of sound and also into why it is regarded as the most important development in filmmaking history. We always say we are going to see a film at home or at the cinema. We never say we are going to see and hear a film. The reason for this is because films are intended to be classed as a visual medium. But really it is visual and sound medium.
In fact it is more arguably more of an aural medium as there are a lot of involvements to correct sound in movies. This involves sound recording, sound mixing, sound editing, voice over narration and ADR. Sound has developed more in depth as in quality wise. Each of the films is employed to examine a particular aspect of film sound, including music, editing, effects, Foley, ambiences (ambient noise), the voice, the mix process and, finally, exhibition (Whittington, 2007: 10). From that you get a realisation on why sound is important in filmmaking history. Whereas picture quality it was technically from black and white to colour. And now it went from celluloid film to higher resolution digital.
Warner Bros studio was a pioneering studio for sound. Innovate new equipment, and create an audience for feature-length, all sound films (Weis and Belton, 1985: 15). It started off with the groundbreaking achievement The Jazz Singer (1927). Warner Bros decided to state their future on sound development. It was a risk that they were willing to take. They used The Jazz Singer for the success. As the 1927-28 season opened, Vitaphone began to add new forms of sound films to it program. Though The Jazz Singer premiered on October 6, 1927, to lukewarm reviews, its four vitaphoned segments of Al Jolson’s songs proved very popular (Balio, 1985: 240). The Jazz Singer was the first ever feature length film to include dialogue. The popular quote was “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet”. To record the sound, it was used on the Vitaphone. It was ad libbed mainly because the rest of the film is silent. This has hugely developed as now the entire film has sound and the films have dialogue throughout. Whereas The Jazz Singer that was the main dialogue whereas the rest of the film is silent. This dialogue was important so it gave the audience a taster of what dialogue sound would be. It was like giving a test to see if it reached out.
The audience could not believe that they were witnessing motion pictures with sound. They were demanding more from what they were receiving. The film’s phenomenal success suggested that sound might provide more than a cheap way of reproducing stage acts and music (Thompson and Bordwell, 2010: 178). This led to the major studios realising that sound was becoming a popular aspect towards the audience. People were so amazed by the invention of sound, that they would feel misplaced if they saw another film without sound. Seeing a narrative film without sound would be an abomination (F. Dick, 2005: 35). This was important for the studios to not lose any money or fame.
The use of non diegetic sound, such as the soundtrack score, is very effective towards a film. This is because it helps create the atmosphere involved in the film. For example, in the Steven Spielberg’s classic horror film (Jaws, 1975), we hear the famous theme to establish that the shark is coming towards its victim. “Master” theme: the tritone, the legendary “devil in music” (Niebur, 2010: 194). The reason why this scene works is through John Williams’ score. He starts off slowly paced and, once the shark is really close to the person, the music jumps up so high that we get terrified from hearing it. This creates an impression an impression of emptiness or mystery, most often without the spectator knowing it; the spectator feels its effect but does not consciously pinpoint its origin (Chion, 2003: 132). The incidental music helps to create suspense for the audience. Without this score the film would not have worked at all. If it was mainly though cinematography then it would be suitable but not at the horror level. The music score is what helps create the terrifying atmosphere.
The Dolby surround sound system was introduced to the film industry and was an extremely important development in filmmaking history. It was the next sound resolution. Dolby cinema thus introduces a new expressive element (Chion, 2003: 151). The main reason for this was its creation of a realistic atmosphere within a film. It also helped developed noise reduction within the film. So you had no more of that hissing sound anymore. This was a huge challenge when it came to big fantasy or science fiction films such as (Star Wars, 1977), for example. This is because the film was highly fictional, so they had to make the audience believe that it was realistic enough to escape within the word of the film. “Film’s extraordinary power to imitate reality has made realism a central feature of cinema aesthetics”. (Lapsley and Westlake, 2006: 156) So it was made to appear like you are watching the events on the screen as if they were real. This helped to create a sense of realism for the audience.
An example of this is in the scene in (Empire Strikes Back, 1980). where Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fight using light sabres. (YouTube (2014) Luke Skywalker VS Darth Vader Empire Strikes Back Bespin Duel HD watch?v=C-DeI3ohVbY) It is an obvious statement that lightsabers do not exist in reality, but the film’s main purpose is to make it a reality within the film. You see the two characters swinging their lightsabers, which create this terrifying techno type of a sound effect. Ben Burtt, for example, created for the Star Wars series (Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back  and Richard Marquand’s Return Of The Jedi  the whir of light sabers, sounds of spaceships engines, and pneumatic doors that were memorably new audio creations (Chion, 2003: 125). Ben Burtt created something unique by controlling the sound and bring in the realism through the sound design, This is important because it helps to create suspense as well as fear towards the audience. Without the sound it look unrealistic and will won’t make the duel scene believable.
The use of surround sound has developed into something unique in filmmaking history. This is because filmmakers want to create a realistic environment within the film. This is helped with the visual aspect of the film, but it is mainly through the sound that the film achieves a sense of realism. Walter Murch had pioneered using monaural technology (Chion, 2003: 124) . Walter Murch started to play with sound in (Apocalypse Now, 1979). The Helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now became a signature sound of the film. (LoBrutto, 1994: 92). This means that every single detail needs to be there or else, the audience will realize that it doesn’t sound right.
Surround sound has developed majorily during the years. For example, in Steven Spielberg’s (Saving Private Ryan, 1998). the opening scene at Omaha beach has a lot of sound effects. These include gun shots, water effects, bullets hitting the ground or water and explosions. Nothing in the camera-work, the use of lighting, colour, sound or editing draws attention to the illusionist nature of reality effect (Hayward, 2006: 334). This is why I consider surround sound important for filmmaking. Without these effects, the film would not have worked and it would not achieve the film achieves a sense of realism despite the hand held cinematography.
Every film has a boom microphone to record the best sound they can possibly can. But there are times when the sound does not come out as originally planned. An example of this would be if there is a big dialogue scene and there are strong winds during that scene. As soon as they look at the footage and ear the sound they realize that the wind has ruined the scene. It was hard at first to hold the microphone when it was introduced. Microphones were insensitive and hard to move (Thompson and Bordwell, 2010: 179). It was also difficult to mix the sound as the technology was just introduced and they would get confused on how the system worked. It was difficult to mix soundtracks (Thompson and Bordwell, 2010: 179). Now, that is all developed into something more and numerous amounts of people working on just the quality of the sound. The early days of sound required more work during production. For example, if there was a non-diegetic music scene, then the people had to bring their instruments on set. If music were to be heard, the instruments had to play near the set as the scene was filed (Thompson and Bordwell, 2010: 180). Now you do that through post production stage.
This is where the invention of ADR comes in, which is of great importance. ADR stands for Automated dialogue replacement. ADR is important because it replaces the dialogue. This can be also be known as post production dubbing or even sound looping as they are all similar. The energy and realism of ADR work can be judged in the final film by the performance, pitch, tempo, and emotional intensity synchrony with the image and original track (Sonnenschein, 2001: 33). The actors look at the footage over and over again until they can get the dialogue right. But this is considered as a pain to the actors as they have to match the mouth movements as well. If they do not, it will look out of sync and will instantly take you out of the film. When the voice is close, we hear effects of breathing, lip and tongue movements, and enhanced high frequencies that give greater presence (Sonnenschein, 2001: 33). A great example of ADR is the original (Star Wars, 1977) trilogy. The character of Darth Vader was voiced by legendary actor James Earl Jones. Ben Burtt, sound designer for Star Wars, relates how the development of Darth Vader’s sound began with many different elements of heartbeat, breathing, and machine to create his all-powerful, evil presence (Sonnenschein, 2001: 33). This is to show that even a sound of a voice can bring power towards the audience.
You can cheat it as well. For instance, if there is a dialogue scene which involves not seeing the faces of the characters, you can say whatever you can in that space of time. This contrasts with the normal dialogue in the film, which only emits from the central speaker (Sonnenschein, 2001: 159). ADR is important in getting the best sound possible. It will look odd if they add dialogue without ambience. When there are no sound effects, music, or dialogue, there must be, at the very least, room tone or environmental sound (Weis and Belton, 1985: 57). Ambience sound is also recorded separately. This is important because the sound can be blended during post-production. Ambient sound sound that envelops a scene and inhibits its space, without raising the question of the identification or visual embodiment of its source (Chion, 1990: 75). An example of this is from the scene in (Heat 1995), where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are talking in the cafe. (Youtube (2014) Heat – The Diner Scene watch?v=5gyfIvMd4T0) Before or mostly after they film that scene, the sound crew would record the ambience involved. This is important to make it sync all throughout. “Normality” is established as a continuous flow, and the absence of sound, in the language of the sound technicians, is its “death” (Weis and Belton, 1985: 57). Without the ambient sound, the scene will make you realize that each shot is filmed in different times. This will take you out of the film instantly.
There is also voice over narration. It is used to establish what is happening. It has been used effectively in the early years such as in (Double Indemnity, 1944) for example. Walter Neff still has the strength, he recites his whole story into a dictaphone. The film then becomes a flashback in the form of a testimony that is being recorded and dramatized at the same time (F. Dick, 2005: 42). Walter is narrating throughout the film and establishes what has happened. Voice of unseen speaker (narrator, commentator, actor, host/hostess, announcer, etc.) that is heard above a shot or scene (F. Penney, 1991: 219). This development is important for filmmaking because it gives the audience an idea of what is happening. They gives us information on say a character or part of the plot. The voice-over also detaches us from what we’re seeing, by making it ‘past’, but it also conveys a lot of extra narrative information that ranges over and above the precise details of the ‘purge’ we’re seeing (Sider, Freeman and Sider, 2003:162) They can say it when they are filming on the day. But voice over narration makes the storytelling unique for the audience.
A unique example of effective use of voice over narration is for (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994). Morgan Freeman’s character narrates the entire film to establish what and why it’s happening. An example of this is, in the scene where he meets Andy (Tim Robbins) for the first time in the film. This gives the audience the idea of what his first impression is and what the importance of the impression is. (YouTube (2014) The Shawshank Redemption: “Red Meets Andy” watch?v=Gt75VjvRW34) We may have known what his impression was later on if voice over narration wasn’t involved within the film. Voiceover narrator engenders images with its own logic (i.e., not that of continuity editing), just long enough to establish the film’s narrative framework and setting (Chion, 1990: 172-173). But the use of it, especially for this scene, helps the audience to get to know these characters and make them believable as well. This is also where the use of realism comes in as we become interested of listening to the voice over. We seldom inquire about the source or identity of the voice because we are usually interested only in the information the voice is conveying (F.Dick, 2005: 40). The development of voice over narration has improved vastly, mainly through the technological approach. It sounds clearer now as we now have the dolby sound which gives the crisp clear effect for the audience.
However, sound may not be important as much as cinematography. This is because we can see what is happening rather than hearing it. You would not want to hear a film over the radio because it will look weird. The best advantage is that you can use your own imagination to create what scene it is. This can be a lot easier and forgivable when it comes to a scene involving two characters with extensive dialogue. However if there a scene which involves running away from someone, it can be a lot harder to imagine. This is due to the fact you wouldn’t know how far the person is after the other person.
The use of cinematography maybe more important in filmmaking history. This is because we can witness what is occurring on screen. We know what shot is steady and what shot is hand held. The use of steady shots helps us to be engaged within the film. For example, if there is a dialogue scene and the shot is steady, we realize that we would want to be interested within the characters. Add to narrative by opening up more space (F.Dick, 2005: 56)On the other hand the use of handheld shots is helped to create suspense and tension. For example, in this scene in (The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007), the use of handheld shots is using to create suspense. (Youtube (2014) The Bourne Ultimatum (4/9) Movie CLIP – Bourne vs. Desh (2007) HD watch?v=uLt7lXDCHQ0) We see the character chasing after someone, and the use of handheld shots is used to create tension. How mainstream realist cinema hails its viewers to take up the position it offers, treating the text as natural, obvious, simply there to be enjoyed (Easthope, 1993: 11). If this was shot steadily, it may have worked but not too effectively. This is because that it will end up dragging if the shot was too steady for a long amount of time.
Another development which could be regarded as an important aspect for filmmaking is the mise-en-scene. Mise-en-scene therefore encompasses both where the audience can see, and the way in which we are invited to see it (Gibbs, 2002: 5). I would class it as a development, because you can see its major improvements. For example, back in the 1960’s, it was all colourful and cheery. A great example would be (West Side Story, 1961). They are wearing bright clothes and every scene appears to be bright. This tells us that the film is light hearted and through its the mise-en-scene. Colour is an important expressive element for film-makers, and is often mobilised by means of costume, which has the advantage of a direct association with a particular character (Gibbs, 2002: 5).
Another example for important use of mise-en-scene is Double Indemnity. This is because it also conforms to the film noir genre conventions. The scene where Walter is inside Phyllis house, we see the use of chiaroscuro lighting. This type of lighting creates prison effect though the venetian blinds. This gives us the idea that Walter is trapped and he has no way out. The femme fatale is a siren who draws the male into a murder plot (F.Dick, 2005: 138). This development is important because it gives us the idea of what a single prop could be responsible for.
This has developed again with the lightsaber scene between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in Star Wars. Obi Wan Kenobi has a blue lightsaber and Darth Vader has a red lightsaber. We know that Darth Vader is evil because his lightsaber colour is red. This illustrates the devilish side of the character. “The character of Vader himself becomes a principal symbol of evil” (Silvio and M. Vinci: 2007, 14). If we never saw the actual footage and just heard the scene we would be very confused. It could work through dialogue, but it is the prop of the lightsaber that gives the instant idea of who is good and who is evil. Red gives this devilish or demonic idea of the character. Whereas the colour blue gives this saviour or innocence idea of the character. Color is a natural ingredient of visual reality (Lehman, 1990: 62). We would not know that through sound as the mise-en-scene is more important for this scene.
I personally couldn’t forgive bad picture quality. Grainy picture quality, on the other hand, might be forgivable. For example in (Cloverfield, 2008), it is shot using the found footage with grainy picture. But the film is enjoyable, because the sound is clear and doesn’t make it distracting to watch. We can forgive a film if it has bad picture quality, but it is highly impossible to forgive a film which includes bad sound quality. A perfect example would be Danny Boyle zombie horror film (28 Days Later, 2002). The film was shot on cheap digital cameras and we realize it because it looks too pixelated. The sound guides us of what we can witness on screen. But we can still enjoy it because the sound is extremely clear.
Overall, I think that the development of sound could be regarded as the most important development in filmmaking history. This is because there are a lot of layers involved. These include sound recording, to sound dubbing, to sound effects, to sound mixing and sound editing. I would class a film a visual and audio medium rather than just a visual medium. As I have stated that if we just hear a clip, we can grasp so much. Also we can take advantage by creating the scene using our imaginations as we hear it. It has developed dramatically as, the makers of the film now spend more time on sound rather than the footage. I would class sound as sixty percent of the film. This is mainly due to the fact that you have so much to include in a film in order to make it a believable success.
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