General Goals Of The Sound Edit

The first task that the editor faces is determining the narrative point of the scene. The narrative point must be supported or, more precisely, surrounded by sound. In a film like Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1965), which was a dramatic re-creation of the Algerian struggle for independence from France, authenticity is central to our involvement with the film's story. Because the film was composed entirely of re-created footage (not news-reel footage) of the war, the sound effects and the timbre of the sound had to mimic the authenticity of the news. Nothing on the sound track could suggest a film set. Consequently, the "liveness" of the effects and dialogue had to be as close to cinema verite as possible. Particular sounds unique to the Algerian location and culture had to be included to reinforce the film's sense of place and time.

William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977), a remake of the French classic, The Wages of Fear (1952), used a similar strategy to establish credibility. Although the story is fiction, Friedkin revealed the history of each of the four lead characters in the prologue. He made those histories as realistic as possible. One of the characters, a Palestinian, is shown on a terrorist bombing mission in Jerusalem. The attack is presented exclusively in cinema verite fashion. The sounds of daytime activity in Jerusalem, the explosion, and its aftermath are presented in a loud, unadulterated fashion. Friedkin seems to have designed the sound to be as raw as the visuals. This sequence is powerful until the artifice of the musical track by Tangerine Dream reminds us that we are watching a film. The music works against the narrative tone of the scene, but the use of music is not the sound editor's decision. The editor's goal is to find and deploy sounds that in tone and intent support the narrative goal of the scene.

A scene has an emotional intention as well as a general narrative point, and this too can be culled and supported by the sound track. In his classic Cries and Whispers (1972), Ingmar Bergman used an opening that relies exclusively on sound effects for its impact. The film tells the story of a young woman (Harriet Andersson) who is dying of cancer. She lives on an estate where her two sisters and a housekeeper attend to her. The opening sequence has no dialogue, and is lengthy at 5 minutes. It is dawn. A series of images of the estate are followed by a series of images of clocks in the house. Finally, we see the sisters, who are all asleep. The young woman who is ill soon wakes in pain.

The sound effects are presented in a heightened tone that is far louder than the natural sounds. A bell rings loudly to announce the time. When the character wakes, her breathing is added to the ticking clock and the ringing bell. Her breathing, which is labored and occasionally broken by a sudden pain, is as loud as the delivery of a line of dialogue.

The emotional character of the scene suggests the continuity of time and life. Occasionally, a change is brought home by the nature of breathing, which can be difficult or even threatened. The contrast of the temporary nature of life in the midst of the continuity of time, which is represented here by the clock, is both the tragedy of human life (it ends) and the essence of the natural context for life (it continues with the regularity of a clock). The close-ups Bergman used to visually present the clocks and the women are magnified in their intensity by the pitch of the sound effects and by the way they are used to break the silence. The title of the film couldn't be more apt; it refers to the sounds of dying.

In the next scene, the woman writes in her diary and speaks the narration. The same pitch is used for the sound of the lifting of the inkwell and the scratch of the pen. Both have more force than the voice of the character. They prepare us emotionally for the scene that follows.

It is not necessary to rely exclusively on sound effects for emotional tone. Istvan Szabo opened Mephisto (1981) with the presentation of an opera. The diva is clearly enjoying her performance, as is the audience. As the performance ends, Szabo held the applause and cut to a dressing room backstage where Hernrich Hofflin (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the Mephisto of the story, is torn apart with jealous rage. He cries and beats himself as the audience applauds the diva. This linking of her fame and his envy frames the emotional core of the story. Although he compliments her in the next scene, we know his true character, which was revealed through sound.

Film Making

Film Making

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