978-1457663543 Chapter 6

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
The Film Experience: An Introduction 4th Edition
Patricia White, Timothy Corrigan
Explain the various ways sound is important to the film experience.
Describe how the use and understanding of sound reflect different historical and cultural influences.
Explain how sounds convey meaning in relationship to images.
Summarize how sounds are recorded, combined, and reproduced.
List the various functions of the voice.
Describe the principles and practices that govern the use of music.
Outline the principles and practices that govern the use of sound effects.
Analyze the cultural, historical, and aesthetic values that determine traditional relationships between sounds
and images.
The last of four chapters that deal with different elements of film form, Chapter 5 explores how speech, music, and
sound effects are constructed and how they are perceived by the film’s audience. Beginning with the chorus in classical
Greek theater, the chapter outlines the social and technological history of film sound. It then examines
voice, music, and sound effects in detail. Finally, it discusses the significance of sound in film; that is, how a
soundtrack re-creates sounds from the world around us and creates new patterns of sound that construct or
emphasize meanings and themes in a film.
This chapter encourages students to consider sound analytically, something they may never have done before. It is not
only viewing, but listening to movies that defines the filmgoing experience, and advanced sound technologies make that
experience even more immediate and immersive.
One way in which an instructor might use this opening scene from The Piano (1993) to introduce film sound is by
placing it within a larger context of voice and music in film. Ask the class: How does our reception of Ada’s
“mind’s voice” change when we are familiar with actress Holly Hunter’s natural Southern accent? What does the
musicand noisefrom the titular piano do to challenge and expand our traditional expectations about the role of
underscoring in movies? What is the difference between her voiceover and a male voiceover from film noirs like
Sunset Boulevard (1950) or Double Indemnity (1944), or from a magisterial voice of God like Morgan Freeman,
who narrates March of the Penguins (2005)?
Film is an audiovisual medium, but film studies frequently privileges the visual, referring to viewers and
spectators, words rooted in the sense of sight, rather than to auditors and audiences. A film’s soundtrack is
constructed out of many layers of sound, from the dialogue to the background score. Sound is a sensual experience
that potentially makes cinema’s deepest impression. To perceive an image, we must face forward with our eyes
open, but sound can come from any direction. During a particularly frightening moment in a film, we may cover ou r
eyes to hide from the image, but we remain connected to the action through the sound. Although film sound is the
least visible of the formal and technical elements of the movies, it is the element that engages us most viscerally.
Listening carefully requires being informed about film history and culture, as well as specific formal elements and
To teach this chapter, it can be useful to couch the evolution of film sound within a consideration of pop
compilation soundtracks from the past few decades of film history. The immediacy and ubiquity of a certain song
can lure audiences into a theater, but it can also wrench them out of their suspension of disbelief because of an extra-
filmic association. From there it may be easier for students to appreciate how more traditional film scores affected
earlier filmmakers and analyze how voice and effects work to convey a sense of authenticity and verisimilitude.
From a Historical Perspective
1895-1920s: The Sounds of Silent Cinema:
One of the more interesting examples of the “sounds of silent cinema”
is the benshi, or silent film narrator, in Japanese film culture. As celebrated as the silent film stars to which they
gave voice, the benshi popularized an art of narration by creatively interpreting silent Japanese films, as well as
silent film from the West, as they were screened, live, for audiences. If possible, you might consider visiting in class
the Matsuda Film Productions webpage devoted to “The Great Silent Film Interpreters” at
and play some of the sound recordings of the
greatest benshi.
1950-Present: From Stereophonic to Digital Sound:
Consider examining this era in the context of the evolution of
consumer audio equipment over the same period, as phonographs and reel-to-reel players gave way to eight-track tapes,
cassettes, CDs, and now digital music players.
Teaching Technical Vocabulary and Key Concepts
An approach to evaluating comprehension could be to conduct cinematic “dictees” during class: students watch a film
clip, then alone or in groups describe it using as many terms from the chapter as they can. Ask them to present their
“translations” to the rest of the class.
Students usually grasp what diegesis is (even if they don’t always spell it correctly). Even so, it is worth
spending extra time on synchronous and asynchronous sound, semidiegetic sound, and the difference between voiceoff,
voiceover, and looping. Any one of the Film in Focus sections offers abundant examples, but Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is
an especially rich text to revisit. Consider giving a quiz in class. Show clips with examples of semidiegetic sound,
voiceover, and so on, and ask students to use the appropriate term to describe the sound in each clip. Go over their answers
during class to help students master these often confusing differences.
Sound and Image, p. 215
Technologies of watchingand listening to movies have changed rapidly in recent years. Characterize the audio
experience of the last film you watched. How much of this experience was specific to the film’s sound design and how
much to the format, platform, or venue through which you watched the film?
This Viewing Cue could work as a journal prompt or as a one-page writing assignment following a class
Synchronous and Asynchronous Sound, p. 216
Distinguish an example of synchronous sound (with an onscreen source) from an example of asynchronous sound (with
an offscreen source) in the film you are studying. Are these sounds easy to distinguish?
This Viewing Cue can be used to explore the complicated play of synchronous and asynchronous sound in the Film
in Focus movie Singin’ in the Rain. During the “Make ’em Laugh” number, where is the orchestra? Or, view the opening
credits of Ghost World (2001) during class. At first it seems that the Bollywood song “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” is
asynchronous. Then we learn the music comes from a movie that Enid is watching on television. At times, though, the
image from the movie Gumnaam (1965) fills the whole screen. Ask the students whether there is a synchronous source
for “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” within the dancers’ diegesis.
Diegetic and Nondiegetic Sound, p. 217
Watch this clip from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). What would the scene be like without the nondiegetic sound?
Beginning with the fade in from black, show the scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) in which
Michael Corelone meets with and then kills Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey. How does the scene utilize diegetic sounds
(the squeaking of the wine cork, the passing subway trains) as elements that are as associative or expressive as diegetic
Voiceover, p. 224
Identify specific uses of voice in the film you will screen next in class. Is dialogue abundant? If voiceovers are used, what
are their function and diegetic status?
Consider contrasting the braying voice of Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain with the “mind voice of Ada in
The Piano to introduce a discussion about voice. Ask students to speculate what a Lina voiceover might sound like.
Would it give us new insights into her broad character? Conversely, what if we had no access to Ada’s inner l ife?
Narrative Cueing, p. 229
As you watch the film assigned for your next class, pay particular attention to its music. Is the film’s score drawn
from the classical tradition? Is popular music used? How do scoring choices contribute to the film’s meaning?
Screen the Film in Focus Singin’ in the Rain and ask students to list one scene with a traditional score, one that uses
popular music, and so on. Other films that work well with this Viewing Cue are American Graffiti (1973) and
Dazed and Confused (1993). Jeff Smith’s chapter from The Sounds of Commerce (Columbia University Press, 1998) on
American Graffiti and the pop compilation soundtrack make excellent supplemental reading.
Sound Effects in Film, p. 231
To what extent do sound effects add to a film’s sense of realism? Watch this clip from Debra Granik’s Winter’s
Bone (2010) and explain how sound effects create a particular impression of location, action, or mood.
Ree navigates a world that is marked by starling sounds (that chainsaw!) as well as meaningful silences, and her
success hinges on being attuned to each and knowing how to interpret what she hears. Consider how the cacophony
of the cattle auction contributes to Ree’s anxiety about approaching the local patriarch for help. Or the almost
audible undercurrent of unwelcome when she arrives at the house where people are playing music together. Ask
students to come up with examples of horror and suspense movies that rely on sound effects to convince us that the
dangers on the screen are real.
Sound Effects in Film, p. 231
Watch this scene from Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) and determine which sound seems especially
responsible for conveying information to the spectator. How do voice, music, and sound effects work together?
This Viewing Cue works particularly well as a journal entry prompt or as an exam question. Ask them to engage
with the interplay of nondiegetic score, diegetic natural sounds, and semi-diegetic voiceover. Or consider asking
students to identify a scene from a film screened for class, then describe another such scene from a fi lm they’ve
watched outside of class.
Popular Music in Film , p. 228
Most students come to The Graduate and Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction with extradiegetic
associations with the leads, Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta, respectively, as the ages they are now. The shock of
seeing them as younger men might provide a good way of recreating the shock caused by their respective films
soundtracks when they debuted. One way to explore the blurry distinctions between diegetic and nondiegetic music
in Pulp Fiction could be to ask students as a class to assemble a compilation of original versions and covers of the
songs on the soundtrackhow does “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soonmorph and become sinister? How pronounced
are the similarities or differences? Discuss how and whether the film’s use of pop songs achieve this same balance
between subject and style. Are some more successful than others? Why? Another approach would be to watch
YouTube clips of Al Green performingLet’s Stay Together” and Dusty Springfield singing “Son of a Preacher
Man” alongside the sequences in which they are heard in Pulp Fiction, or discuss how the sped-up tempo of the
Lemonheads’ cover of “Mrs. Robinson” (recorded to promote the home video release of The Graduate) works
against the mood the original creates in the film.
Sound and Image in
Singin’ in the Rain
(1952), pp. 218-219
There are a number of wonderful musicals, but Singin’ in the Rain has the added advantage of a plot that pivots
on the relationship of sound to image, the history of film sound technologies, and the process of recording and
reproducing sound. It also has moments where the distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic sound gets very
Discussion Question 1:
Can Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood hear the orchestra accompanying his singing and dancing in the
title number?
Discussion Question 2:
Why can we only hear the taps of his shoes some of the time? Furthermore, why would he wear
tap shoes outside a dance studio?
Discussion Question 3:
Why didn’t Don wear one of the bright yellow raincoats featured in the “Good Mornin’” number
(seen just minutes before) to see Kathy home? These questions can make students more conscious of how filmmakers
play fast and loose with sound design in their quest for greater “authenticity” and help them become more analytical
listeners. Peter Wollen’s shot-by-shot analysis of the number in his monograph on the film (Singin’ in the Rain, British
Film Institute, 1992) is a useful resource.
The Role of Sound and Sound Technology in The Conversation (1974), pp. 236-237
Harry Caul’s surveillance expert hit screens a few months before the resignation of Richard Nixon. Placing the film
within the context of Watergate crimes like illegal wiretapping and the secret recording of telephone
conversations can launch a lively discussion of the ethics of surveillance. Sound is used in service of narrative, but the
narrative is about the uses of sound.
Discussion Question 1:
How is sound used to suture us into the story—and implicate us in Caul’s eavesdropping?
Discussion Question 2:
How does sound designer and editor Walter Murch subvert the conventions that usually govern
sound perspective and room tone to tell the story?
Discussion Question 3:
How is the physicality of sound represented in the scene in which Caul plays his saxophone
along with the record player, or when he later returns to his ransacked home, festooned with unraveled magnetic
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