straight down the line

Diegetic Sounds > Music

I have never really taken the time to listen to the impact that audio can play in storytelling until this week. I guess it is just a part of film and radio that I have taken for granted until now, because you don’t really notice something like that when it is used correctly.

I guess I kind of jumped the gun on this topic last week in my post on cinematography. In the last paragraph I discussed the impact that the music, or lack of music can have on a scene. I referenced specifically the scene in Killer’s Kiss where the characters fight with the mannequins.

The beginning of this scene has strong suspenseful music and then suddenly there is only diegetic sound. I would have expected the suspenseful music to cause more suspense than the diegetic sounds, but I don’t believe that is the case. The music is almost overpowering takes away from the scene making it almost comical, where as the diegetic sound is very realistic. I, as the viewer, was more engrossed in the fight from the diegetic sounds than I was with the music. Also, I think that the realistic sounds goes with the theme of noir showing the gritty, realities of the world and the reality is that a fight scene is harsh and awkward sounding, there is no powerful music escalating to a dramatic moment like there is in so many superhero movies these days.

I had a similar reaction when I watched the two clips from the beginning of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil opening shots. I felt that the version of the scene with the overpowering theme music took away from the suspense of the scene. The second version below that emphasized the ticking sound in the beginning and had the music that incorporated the ticking sound was far more enticing to watch. I was on the edge of my seat for the moment when the car blew up, because of how the music interacted with the ticking sound and what was happening in the scene.

I am starting to realize just how important sound can be from looking at these clips. The angles and shadows are important in creating the noir feel of a film, but without these specific sounds I would not consider these films to be noir. If a laugh track was used in the Touch of Evil opening, the movie would have had a distinctly different feel. When I listened to the #ds106radio on Tuesday night, the radio show was from the 1940’s and the show was the Maltese Falcon which many of our readings for this class has referenced. The actual show was really well done. I was shocked at how real the sound effects felt, like the fight scenes. I also couldn’t believe how flawlessly the show was able to slide into a flashback without any confusion felt by the listener. However, there was a live audience for the show which at times could be heard when I was listening that I felt took away from the overall mood of the show. The article I read, “Radio Noir in the US”, discussed how many directors explicitly chose not to have an audience for this exact reason.

I also think it is worth mentioning how much tone can have an impact on radio noir. I was stunned at how some of the voice actors were able to make their voices sound so sinister and take on a persona of their own without anyone being able to see them. I could tell who fit all of the noir tropes without actually seeing any of them and I also felt the noir atmosphere. In general though, radio noir is not my favorite form of noir. I am astounded by the skills necessary to pull it off, but I found it difficult as a visual learner to stay interested in what was going on and not let my mind wander. I also had a lot of trouble keeping track of who each voice belonged to. I guess it is a good thing I did not live in the 1940s.

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