sound and film

Theory of the Film: Sound by Bela Balazs

Theater ,as an experience , has always been incomplete without sounds. Before the invention of cinematic cameras, which initially gave rise to silent films (which itself is a complete different genre as an art form),sound has been one of the most indispensable attributes of plays and theatre. Also , one will notice that even silent films are not completely silent. There are different kind of background music being played, to depict a range of emotions based on the situation. Some of the examples being Charlie chaplin’s The modern times,Great dictator etc.In fact , different plays have always been associated with their own distinctive dialogues. For example, Shakespearen plays have always been associated with over  exaggerated display of emotions through dialogues varying continuously between low pitch and high pitch, which one can see in excerpts of Shakespeare wallah (the film), where actors take up the roles of different characters of Shakespeare.

Though this essay by Bela Balazs is regarding the effect of sounds on films, one can relate to different kind of auditory features mentioned in the essay to his/her real life itself .In the essay the author talks about the acoustic world around us, and  the discovery of noise, which is characterised by  “  The sounds of our day to day Life-we hitherto  perceived merely as a confused noise, as a formless mass of din”. Now  that I think of it, there is always this buzzing never ending composition of sounds while im spending my day, even if im spending it peacefully at home. The sounds of the rustling of leaves from the  trees surrounding my home, sounds of birds (especially crows),sounds of vendors selling their wares on the street below,sound of the whistling of the cooker in the kitchen, the sounds of the water flowing from the tap, sounds of children playing outside, sound of the moving fan above me on the ceiling…….as one can notice this list is never ending. But the most important feature of this combination of sounds is that this sound isn’t really noticeable.This sound is just there,all day long, while we are going on with our lives and one  wont notice it unless he/she is really bored with his/her life. In films though, what I have notices is that directors often just put vey few acoustic sounds to give a sense of the surrounding.For example, if it’s a scene of a jungle at the night, some never ending acoustic sounds are the croaking of frogs, and hooting owls,and to add a sense of horror, they add howling of the wolves. Argo is one of the movies which comprises of scenes ranging between continuous background sound (best described as: a confused noise, as a formless mass of din ) and that of complete silence to depict fear. The scene in which the six americans had to venture out onto the market,with a chance of being caught featured cries of vendors in the background and the confused noise from the people in the crowded street.But a second later ,there is complete silence as they sit in the van (while being terrified inside heart of hearts) ,and pretend that they are a film crew.This scene is especially contrasing because there is a lot of confusion and movement outside of the van, but inside everyone is sitting still out of fear.

Then the author talks about the concept of silence, which  I found to be one of the most intriguing topics. The reason being, even to depict silence in  films ,one needs to use particular kind of sound. By silent the author doesn’t mean the complete absence of sound ,but the sounds which give the viewer/listener the essence of silence. Even in real life,if we are alone at our homes, it’s the essence of silence that makes us uncomfortable,and not the silence itself. The essence being : the amplified sounds of tick tok of the wall clock,or the sounds of movement of the ceiling fan blades.Its this focus you have on on these minimal sounds that make you feel that there is no sound around you, along with this ,in a complete silent room, coupled with the sund of the wall clock and the fan blade, it’s the sound of your own bloodflow which creates more tension within you. As the author said, ” The silence is greatest when we can hear very distant sounds in a very large space.”  One of the best examples regarding the concept of silence is the film cast away. The scene where Tom hanks is stuck on the island , all alone,and one can only hear the sound of the waves in the background, and only the sound of fire burning in the night out of firewood. This essence of silence is in complete contrast with respect to the start of the film,where there is a lot of noise,as tom hanks being a fed ex employee is always worrying about being on time. Towards the end of the film, after spending about four years alone on the island, a  sad instrumental is played, when he loses his only inanimate friend Wilson,which is actually a basketball, with whom he shared his feelings with.

Also,the author has talked about the concept of asynchronous  sound. He described it being,” In a closeup in which the surroundings are not visible, a sound that seeps into the shot sometimes impresses us as mysterious, simply because we cannot see its source. It produces the tension arising from curiosity and expectation” .I ,like everyone else, have had various experiences with asynchronous sound. Often,while walking down the street, if I hear a loud noise of an engine coming towards  me from behind, coupled with  loud honking , Im often terrified as I imagine  a huge truck crushing me into pieces as it runs over me from behind, and then unable to contain this curiosity regarding the source of this terrifying sound, I turn my head back, only to realise (and this has happened a lot of times) that the sound was coming from a bike without a silencer, having an ultra loud customised horn.  In the film Inception,the first scene starts with an example of asynchronous sound.Leo di caprio is shown lying almost unconscious,with the camera focusing only on his eyes, but one can still hear the sound of the waves in the background .Also ,the concept of silence is used extensively in the film: whenever leo  is rolls the top indicating whether he is in a dream state or not, only the sound of the top rolling is  given maximum importance, other scenes being depiction of leo and his wife being old,walking together in the world that they created, during which a mellow instrumental is played,to give a feeling of nostalgia.The best scene though when towards the end a Hanz Zimmer instrumental is played, which portrays a sense of accomplishment.

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