Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

 

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An often undervalued aspect of cinema is highlighted in this absorbing documentary.

 
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Bernie Krause

 

There may in truth be a lack of logic to it, but it is not altogether surprising that over twenty-five years have elapsed since that fine documentary about cinematography Visions of Light and that only now do we have a feature film about sound in cinema. The truth is, of course, that using clips to illustrate just how much sound can enhance a film makes for a work in which the visual appeal is strong too. Furthermore, this work by Midge Costin backs that up with valuable filmed comments from a whole range of people. Thus among the directors contributing their thoughts here we have such names as Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Ryan Coogler, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Robert Redford and Peter Weir. But equal time is given to revealing observations from less familiar names including many in the industry whose work is directly concerned with the sphere of sound.  Indeed the central contributions come from such noted practitioners as Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom who added so much to the impact of Apocalypse Now, Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan respectively, each a highlight in a distinguished career.

 

In so far as the emphasis in Costin’s film is almost entirely on American cinema the range of it is limited, but in other respects the territory covered is wide. Making Waves goes right back to 1877 to stress that the great cinema pioneer Thomas Edison created the phonograph long before turning his attention to film and it then proceeds for the most part in chronological order as it picks out key developments over and above the coming of the sound era. These include the first use of a synchronised music track, the turn away from the reliance on stock sound effects maintained by individual studios for regular use, the switch from mono to stereo and the adoption of multi-tracking and of surround sound. Barbra Streisand memorably describes her insistence that stereo sound be used for the 1976 version of A Star Is Born and that live recording be adopted to enhance her singing in Funny Girl. Elsewhere you might expect the work of Hitchcock to be touched on with special reference to the music in Psycho but, rather more imaginatively, Costin opts to turn instead to The Birds and to feature an attack scene without music which stands as a powerful example of how sound effects can be more effective than any score.

 

In addition to covering the historical developments, the film’s later scenes set out to explain the various fields that are part of cinema’s world of sound: dialogue editing, automated dialogue replacement, SFX, foley work and ways of creating a sense of ambience. All of this is achieved without ever becoming too technical for the general viewer to grasp and it leaves us with a clearer awareness of how much sound contributes to the experience of cinema and how it does it. The film does not neglect to bring out also the contribution made by female technicians which is hardly surprising given that Costin is herself an established sound editor. At the close the emphasis is on the fact that sound in cinema is very much a collaborative art, one in which all the elements come together in the re-recording mix. There is certainly much more to be said on the subject of music scores, but this is an informative and rewarding look at an under-appreciated side of cinema.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, Pat Jackson, Bobbi Banks, Richard Beggs, Ioan Allen, Murray Spivack, Randy Thom, Christopher Boyer, Dane Davis, Skip Lievsay, Sofia Coppola, Ryan Coogler, Alfonso Cuarón, John Lasseter, Ang Lee, George Lucas, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Andrew Stanton, Barbra Streisand, Peter Weir, Hans Zimmer.

 

Dir Midge Costin, Pro Bobette Buster, Karen Johnson and Midge Costin, Screenplay Bobette Buster, Ph Sandra Chandler, Ed David J. Turner, Music Allyson Newman.

 

Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet Corp./Goodmovies Entertainment-Dogwoof.
94 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 1 November 2019. Cert. 12A.