Sync-Sound

* A writing assignment from the BFA program at the School of Visual Arts.


The advent of sound in cinema was met with mixed reactions. Filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin loathed the idea of movies with dialogue but experimented with sync sound in films like the un-ironically named Modern Times. His classic film, The Circus, wrapped production the weekend the first talking picture was released. The first talkie, The Jazz Singer, starred Al Jolson. In the closing scenes of The Circus Chaplin chose to use a normally upbeat song of Jolson’s (Blue Skies) to end his movie, but the rendition that plays The Tramp off is sad and solemn (Weddle). It should come to no surprise that Eisenstein also hated the idea of sync sound, it would ruin his beloved montage (Giannetti 194).

Other filmmakers were eager to experiment with this new technology in their artistic medium, despite its technological drawbacks. In the early days of talkies the filmmaking experience was cumbersome, because of the stationary mics and loud cameras (Giannetti 194). Though Alfred Hitchcock points out that most cinematic experiences are silent (Giannetti 194) and he famously not a fan of “interminable dialogue, which must inevitably send a cinema audience to sleep” (Hitchcock), he did not shy away from it. Hitchcock was weary of sound but understood it’s power. “Sound has many other uses, however. It can serve very effectively to denote the progress of the action” (Hitchcock). Other directors, like David Lynch, use sound for maximum effect; creating disorienting or discomforting scenes through sound design.

Hitchcock's third film The Lodger is referred to as “the first true Hitchcock film” (Barrett). In The Lodger Hitchcock uses the sound of foot steps from upstairs to build suspicion that the quiet upstairs neighbor may be Jack the Ripper. The artistry of sound is easily missed, whether foley artists finding the right sound to signify a crushing skull on film or director slipping in subliminal messaging, like the subtle slashing sounds of windshield wipers in the Psycho shower scene (Giannetti 200). Sometimes sounds, like a Wilhelm Scream, are added as a bit of an inside joke. For those who may not be in the know, The Whilhelm Scream became popular after the sound designer on Star Wars used a sound effect he found labeled "Man being eaten by alligator.” It has since been used in a number of film, tv and video games (Lee).


Beyond sound design, a filmmaker also uses music to help tell their stories. Some filmmakers agree with Pudovkin and Eisenstein, that music should be used sparingly to enhance the reality as merely an accompaniment, the musical pieces should retain their own integrity (Giannetti 205). Other filmmakers fill their narratives with musical pieces that distract from the narrative, turning montages into music videos.

Works Cited :


Barrett, Michael. “'The Lodger' Is the First True Hitchcock Film and His First Masterpiece.” PopMatters, PopMatters, 21 Feb. 2020, www.popmatters.com/the-lodger-first-true-hitchock-film-first-masterpiece-2495387718.html.


Hitchcock, Alfred “Production Methods.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/topic/Alfred-Hitchcock-on-film-production-1989444/Production-methods#ref323255.


Lee, Steve (May 17, 2005). "The Wilhelm Scream". Hollywood Lost and Found. Retrieved December 26, 2017. http://www.hollywoodlostandfound.net/wilhelm/index.html


Weddle, David (April 28, 2003). "Nothing Obvious or Easy: Chaplin's Feature Films". Variety. Vol. 390 no. 11. p. 6. ISSN 0042-2738.