Bernard Herrmann is a key figure in the history of film music. His partnership with Albert Hitchcock resulted in the creation of cinematic masterpieces. His scores were innovative and helped create a powerful emotional connection with global audiences. His music has been a key component in the success of Albert Hitchcock’s filmography. Bernard Hermann has said himself that Albert Hitchcock only created 60% of a film and he was responsible in creating the other 40%. Though he has created a legendary career through his composition for Albert Hitchcock’s films, it is important to remember that Hermann had already created a strong name for himself in film music before he began collaborating with Alfred Hitchcock. He debuted as a composer for film with Citizen Kane , a film that is often rated by critics and cinephiles as the greatest film of all time. His score stood out as a genius musical accompaniment to a deeply psychological work. Bernard Herrmann created specific themes for the central character’s innocence in childhood as well as his obsession and ambition in his adult life instead of a central theme motif for the character himself. This creates a deeper level of complexity to the film’s reading and to the character of Charles Foster Kane.
Bernard Herrmann has created musical motifs that have altered film sound altogether. It is hard to imagine the soundtrack for a horror film with out hearing the shrill shriek of violins that Herrmann first pioneered in the film Psycho. He knew the importance of displaying the protagonists inner thoughts and emotions audibly. In Herrmann’s score for Vertigo, a film about obsession, he conveyed the main character’s driving force of anguish and pain of love and conveyed it through his music. These techniques were not used in film before Bernard Herrmann took them and applied them to film music. It is important to consider that twenty years before Bernard Herrmann “talkies” did not exist and the techniques that we take for granted today had yet to be invented. Herrmann understood the importance and difficulty of his work and demanded respect for it. His demand for respect is in part responsible for his fall-out with Albert Hitchcock. Hitchcock has been recorded saying that Bernard Herrmann’s music should add to the tension on screen, and nothing more than that. Herrmann was greatly bothered by this statement believing his music conveyed the deeper emotions of the characters and the connections between characters. In listening to his works, it is evident that his music transcended the standard role of film music and progressed the complexity of the cinematic language.
Ever since the creation of the feature length film, music has had a prominent role in film. During the silent film era, live music accompanied the cinema often timed to match with different events and emotional beats in the film. This accompaniment followed film into the talkie era even though the films had the ability to use dialogue. These scores and soundtracks still play a pivotal role in modern film even though they are often overlooked. Some of the best soundtracks in cinema history do not call any attention to themselves. They are perfectly synchronized with the changing moods of a film and help the viewer emotionally connect with different characters and themes. This is evident in Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the anti-colonial film “The Battle of Algiers”. This soundtrack involves the use of Military March drum snares backing piano and brass instruments which create a growing tension that mimics the battle between the conquered Algerians and the foreign french imperialists. The article entitled “The 20 Best Film Scores of Ennio Morricone” by Luis Bevilacqua states, “The marching drums are protagonists both at the beginning and end of the song, evoking the Military tone of the movie and the highly-charged atmosphere.” (Bevilacqua). The arc of the music directly correlates with the arc of the story where intense moments of stress and anguish feature dissonant tones and moments of liberation feature bright optimistic tones. While the audience views the film, they lose track of the fact that they are listening to a musical score but the emotions conveyed in the score still percolate in the viewers mind and help transport the viewer into the world of the film.
Other scores, however, use musical themes to help define the film through sound. For example, the James Bond series features the same introductory music throughout all iterations of the franchise. This theme serves to unite the entire series of films and helps set the tone right from the start of the film. Since James Bond is a smooth talking, well dressed, intelligent secret agent who defends Great Britain from the most evil of foes, the character’s theme has to reflect that image audibly. This theme song features jazz horns, electric guitar, along with standard orchestral instruments in order to create an epic, youthful but classy soundtrack which sets the mood for the audience. This song is now recognizable worldwide and serves as promotion for the franchise. Whether the soundtrack of a film is instantly recognizable or not, the music sets the basis of a film’s soundscape and has drastic effects on the audiences reading of a particular film.
Sound technology has a strong connection with the science fiction film genre. Science fiction offers a wide variety of settings in which sound is used creatively to help create the world featured in the film and to help immerse the viewer. This ability to create convincing soundscapes is strongly shaped by the technology that was developed and implemented in the 1970’s and continues to grow with modern advances in sound software and hardware. For example, the development and acceptance of multitrack technology coincided with the production of science fiction narratives such as “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Sound systems continued to develop drastically with the rise of the digital age allowing for new formats such as Dolby Digital, Digital Theater Systems, and most recently Dolby Atmos which allows for sound to be projected from directly above the viewer creating a “dome of sound”. Science fiction films use this advanced multichannel sound space to immerse the viewer in surreal environments like never before. These advances can clearly be seen in the sci-fi blockbuster Gravity. This film had the unique challenge of creating a convincing soundscape for space beyond earth’s atmosphere, a location which in reality does not allow for any sound. The sound design team came up with a creative solution to this major hurdle. They filtered sounds to make them sound as if they were projected through water. Metallic scrapes and collisions were muffled and Eq’ed in a way that transformed the sound from how it would sound on earth to how it would sound in a surreal environment where sound had very little substance to percolate through. The sound mixers also used sound perspective to help vary the sound space and make the environment apparent for the viewer. For example, scenes of Ryan inside the international space station feature sounds of Ryan’s breathing and body movement’s which sounded similar to how sound normally travels through an oxygen filled atmosphere. When the camera’s perspective switches to outside of the space capsule, the sound space switches to the muffled, eerily silent environment of space which helps convey the feeling of isolation in a non personal environment where the danger is persistent. When watched in a theater with proper stereo equipment, these sound design techniques have a profound effect on the viewer’s emotional state, creating dramatic tension as well as childlike fascination and wonder. With further developments in this field, the effect created by combining high quality sound and picture will only serve to further the immersion of audiences into a world of imagination.
The advent of new technologies revolutionized and inspired the development of Documentary film. With the invention of the camera, the reality of life could be documented in a medium that showed the actual moving form of people all over the world. Cinema goers were excited to see the cultures that they had only previously heard through stories and books. The documentary “Nanook of the North” by Robert J. Flaherty became a instant classic after showing the struggle an Inuk man and his family in the Canadian Arctic. All though people loved viewing the life of these Native people, the film was filled with elements of docudrama since the concept of separating films into documentary and drama did not exist at the time. Scenes and story elements were artificially created which lead viewers to gain an unreal perspective on the life of these People. The technology during the time of production of this film was very cumbersome. Flaherty used a Bell & Howard camera along with a portable developing and printing machine and some lighting equipment. After having enough footage for test screenings, Flaherty accidentally dropped a cigarette on the original and highly flammable nitrate stock and lost 30,000 feet of film. He was forced to return to the arctic to gather new footage. This weakness in the film technology at the time almost destroyed the entire project.
As time progressed and the technology developed, new modes of creating documentary film became possible. As synchronous audio and visual system was created, filmmakers began to be able to conduct taped interviews, a facet of Documentary film which has become a staple in the genre. The mixture of sound and vision also allowed for viewers to get a much more realistic sense of the world captured on film. People could finally hear the environmental soundscapes that exist in differing regions around the globe. Though we may take this for granted in our modern society, this was a revolutionary invention which had profound effects on the film industry of the day.
Camera technology continued to advance which led to increased portability with increased graphic resolution. Handheld cameras allowed for filmmakers to film in difficult environments with greater ease. This development can be seen many films from the 1960’s and 70’s. The Vietnam War was able to be documented in this manner and became the first war to be nationally broadcasted to Americans on television. This had huge implications on how the Americans viewed the Vietnam War and war in general. The American population finally had a glimpse into some of the atrocities of war through this combination of captured film and sound. With the constant creation and application of new film technologies, Documentary film has continued to advance to better educate the global population.
The film Nashville by Robert Altman use of sound creates a new style of musical genre. Set in wake of the JFK assassination and under the shadow of the Vietnam War, Nashville uses the country music capital of the world to show the strong and controversial political environment of mid 1970s America. The strategical musical repertoire involved a large ensemble class which, in film scholar Rick Altman’s opinion, serves to “provide a terrifyingly effective critique of the mythology which serves as a foundation for the entire enterprise of American life today.” (Magee 106). Set within the early 1970s, the timely music helps showcase the American society that existed and the interconnection between music and politics in such a volatile period. The music also serves to connect the multiple story lines and characters featured in the film. In an early scholarly article on Nashville, Carrie Rickey wrote “[It is the music that] helps unify the fragmented bits of Altman’s narratives. The fact that this is a movie about sound and its effect on what you watch.” (Magee 107). Complex sound techniques are a prominent feature which Altman uses with a great deal of finesse to ensure that these effects do not call attention to themselves but instead add a level of realism through sound. One such revolutionary technique, was the use of multiple boom microphones for different characters. Prior to the production of this film, sound was recorded by a single boom mic placed over the main character. This method only allowed for a small sample of the sound featured on set to be heard in the final film. Altman, however, decided to mic all the major sound sources and mixed the tracks in the most realistic way possible. When a loud speaker plays in the background of a scene, the audio from that speaker is not faded out to make room for a clear dialogue track. It is instead kept in the scene at full volume so it would be heard as it would be in real life, without sounding as if it were modified through the use of digital audio processing techniques. Rick Altman argues that Altman’s sophisticated sound editing may be read “as an overt attempt to breakout of cinema’s heretofore literary model, to fight the tendency to reduce sound to its meaning.” (Magee 107). By mixing the sound to best display the truest meaning that the sound represents, Altman pioneered new advances in the aesthetics of the combination of sound and image.
Creating a diegetic sound track allows for a great deal of freedom and control. Sound can be altered to give characters personal motifs, create an environment audibly, and progress story. Adding audio events to the soundtrack can extend the set and articulate the offscreen space. The audience can understand events without the events being shown through picture. This is a great technique to utilize to further the story’s progression without the need to overtly show the event. The use of reverb, delays, and echoes helps shape the environment the director is trying to create and can help produce realism as well as help immerse the viewer in the cinematic space. These tools were used strategically by early filmmakers to tell stories that captured the imagination of audiences past and present.
One perfect example of a film in which the soundtrack is vital to the storytelling is Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956). This film tells the true story of André Devigny’s experience as a prisoner of war in Nazi Occupied France. The sound track is rich with silence with the sporadic use of sound to create a sense of suspense. The lack of sound serves to intensify the portions of the film when sound is present. As Fontaine, the protagonist, sharpens a spoon and chisels away at his door, the viewer is keenly aware that the sounds created by these actions could lead to Fontaine’s demise. As Fontaine continues to methodically navigate the high security prison complex, sound helps show the the obstacles that stand in his way. As Fontaine hides on the top of a building, a guard’s footsteps can be heard near by indicating the gravity of Fontaine’s current predicament. “The ability to focus our attention on details works with sound effects […] where each object gains a specific timbre.” (Bordwell & Thompson). The viewer is able to understand the deadly implications that even the most minute sounds carries.
Fontaine’s internal monologue serves to give the story context as well as to help the viewer understand Fontaine’s personal experience in a surreal environment. The article Functions of Film Sound in A Man Escaped explains “the commentary helps clarify the action. Certain temporal cues suggest how long Fontaine spends in prison. As we see him working at his escape plan, his voice-over tells us, ‘One month of patient work and my door opened.’ At other points he gives us additional indications of time.” (Bordwell & Thompson). This voice over is extremely important for the progression of time. With a film that takes place in such a confined location, these temporal markers are pivotal in giving the viewer a sense of time and rhythm. This film rely’s greatly on sound to engage the audience as well as to progress and divulge information about the unfolding events.
Sergei Eisenstein embodies the concept of the Soviet Montage Theory in his works. His juxtaposition of images creates new and deeper meaning to his films. His montages are not just a mixing of shots but instead a clashing of shots. Through his composition he is able to make individuals seem small but crowds and movements seem huge. His edits show the overwhelming power of the social forces depicted in his stories. While cinematography and editing are generally the first things that come to mind when thinking of the great Russian filmmaker, his work with sound is truly genius. In the reading, Eisenstein Film Sense the author shows how Eisenstein’s sound accompaniment correlates to the visuals being displayed. The composition of the mise en scene can be displayed graphically based on the subject’s or subjects’ orientation on screen as well as the depth of the background. This graphic display then was read by a composer and used to write the music based on how the viewer linearly views the image. This gives each shot its own unique musical composition which when mixed with the juxtaposing shots, creates meaning in the same way that the juxtaposition of shots give meaning visually. Each shot has a tonality which matches its visual counterpart. It also helps create a single, unified message through the combination and intermingling of picture and sound. This level of detail involves a great deal of creative talent and hard work and is almost unnoticeable to the common viewer. Even though I have studied Eisenstein in the past, I never knew that this element was even featured in his films. This display makes me marvel at the fact that even when cinema was a very new art form, artists like Eisenstein were viewing each element of cinema individually and finding new, subtle ways to connect these elements and elevate their art to a deeper level.