Clips and Discussion from Week 1

Today we discussed a variety of clips from (relatively) recent films that showcase the different aspects of a film’s soundtrack:

  • speech, sound effects, and music
  • the musicality of soundtrack (texture and timbre)

I thought I would share some clips (where available) and brief notes to help cement some of the central themes from today’s discussion.

Hunger Games: Cornucopia Bloodbath

This clip starts a little later from where we started in class. Most of our discussion addressed the way that sound and lack of sound focused the audience’s attention to the psychology of the scene. Here’s a recording of Laurie Spiegel’s Sediment (1972).

Good Will Hunting: Boston Common

Again, this clip starts a little later (it misses the end of Elliot Smith’s song). Many in the class talked about how the scene exploits some of the dichotomies between the two characters: urban / nature, inside / outside, seasoned / young. The close-up on Robin Williams is slightly against convention. As Scott Kaufman recently explained, framing is an important way for filmmakers to focus the audience’s attention and reveal information about characters and narrative. By not utilizing the shot/reverse-shot editing convention, and by limiting the soundtrack to ambient noises of the Boston Common, this scene further heightens the emotional payout when the score finally enters. Thus, the soundtrack shifts at a crucial moment for the narrative (and development of both of these characters).  On another listen, I hear even more of the bird song mentioned by veterans of Prof. Clark’s Music and the Environment course. I wonder if the sound designers for this film thought of them as music or not.

Y Tu Mamá También: The Road-Trip Begins

This is soundtrack polyphony that overturns the traditional hierarchy of sound in film. Dialogue is no longer central due to attempts to push the envelope of sonic versimilitude in cinema. All of the audio is meant to sound natural and “real.” One student noted that the balance between ambient noise, music from the car stereo (filtered to sound distorted), and dialogue made it resemble the experience of sitting in a car with friends and talking over a blasting radio. As you watch again, note how the silence (and gap) before the voice-over works to shock the audience to attention. (Unfortunately, YouTube only has this without subtitles. Luckily, the film is on reserve!)

Atonement: Opening Credits, Robbie Arrested

Unfortunately, the clip of Robbie being arrested is unavailable online (but the film is on reserve, and I’m sure there are other ways to see it through the interwebs). We had an extended conversation about both of these clips, and what exactly the bleed-through of Foley and score means at varying points in the first half of the film.  The rhythmically additive nature of the typewriter and banging noises cause agitation and discomfort while also showcasing the nature of Briony’s role in the plot’s development (and dreadful fallout of that incident in the scenes that follow).

That’s all I can remember for now. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments, if you like. Until next week!

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