Student Name: Ai He
Couse Code: LT121
Tutor Name: Jeffrey Geiger
Analyse the uses, strategies, and meanings generated by ONE of the components of modern cinema (choose from A or B below), drawing on specific examples from TWO films on the module:
b) light AND/OR colour.
The component of modern cinema that I chose to write for this essay is sound, and the two films that I am going to use as examples are Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952) and Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998). Admittedly these two films are vastly different from each other, no matter in the respect of the time of production, the narrative or the film genre. However, despite the distinct differences between them, there is one common point is that sound takes an essential part in these two films.
In order to discuss the uses, strategies and meanings of the sound in these two films, we need to define 'sound' as a film term first. The sound in film normally can be divided into two kinds – diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound. The diegetic sound is also called actual sound, it is the sound whose source is within the frame, and most of the diegetic sound can be heard by characters. The diegetic sound includes voices of characters (dialogues), sounds made by objects or characters (footsteps, objects dropping etc.), and music that is presented from the scene space, for example a character playing a CD or listening to a concert. In the case of the non-diegetic sound, which is also called commentary sound, it is the sound from outside the screen and normally cannot be heard by characters, such as voice-overs (internal monologue), sound effects that are added in post-production and the music that are added for constructing mood.
Due to the rapid development of techniques and the foley art, comparing to the silent cinema age, sound is taking more and more important part in the modern cinema nowadays. The importance of sound can be seen through following aspects: Firstly, it sets the thematic style of the film, for example if we hear pop music in a film, we can assume that it is a relatively mainstream film, on the contrary, if we hear opera in a film we can sense that the film style would be relatively independent. Additionally, the theme music of some classical films can directly remind audiences of the film, for example the theme music of Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984). Secondly, sound contributes to construct the atmosphere and the mood. In certain stage of the film narrative, especially in the stage of emotional climax. Thirdly, the sound, in particular the voice of characters is essential to shape the character. The character Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain is a character mostly constructed by her voice. From the beginning Lina Lamont speaks in high voice and it is not very comfortable to listen to, thus from the first sight of this character, audiences already had a rather negative impression of Lina Lamont. Last but not the least, the sound helps to catch audiences' attention, this can be seen the most from thrillers and horror films. The sound and scream that suddenly appears is often used to present jump scare. On the other hand, some low, repetitive sound can also function in catching attention, because they are low, audiences feel nervous thus pay more attention trying to hear them clearly. This provokes a even more intense and scary atmosphere.
Although Ringu is made in 1998 which is a year that the technique was already relatively mature, the sound in this film is actually quite simple. However, because of this very feature, the sound in Ringu enhanced the scary feeling. One thing that divides Ringu from other horror films is its unique way of creating the sensation of fear – it barely uses any jump scare, but creates the sensation of fear through rather a day-to-day method such as the video tape and the telephone. In the case of sound, the most important sound effect in the film is the underwater sound. Audiences can often hear some dull and blurry sound like they are from underwater.The producer chose to use this kind of sound effect is because the character Sadako was died in a well, and until the end of the film where the main character finds out the truth, her dead body was still in the bottom of the well. The underwater sound effect not only creates a mysterious atmosphere, but also implies the plot. Even though we do not know Sadako's body was in the well until the solution stage of the narrative, when we find out the truth with the main character, in a way the sound already gave us a psychological hint.
The other important sound effect in the film is the telephone ring, aforementioned it is also a sound from rather simple and day-to-day items. Unlike nowadays people usually contact each other through mobile phones and the internet, during the time when Ringu was made, telephones were the major communication tool. In the film telephones are mainly used to build the sensation of fear, every time when the telephone rings, it comes with the deadly spirit and death. Furthermore, to audiences at that time, the telephone is something they encounter everyday, which makes them feel related to the film plot thus experience even more horror. Additionally, the phone call from another world or the haunted past in a way fits the theme of Ringu. As Stenven Jay Schneider said in Fear Without Frontiers: Horror Cinema Across the Globe:" The notion of horror constructed in the Ring and Eko Eko Azarak film series is a horror of the past intruding into the present, a remnant of some distant chaos that emerges to disrupt the stability of the here-and-now not only through its actions, but by its very presence." In the film every time when we hear the phone rings, it provides the 'past intruding present' feeling immediately.
Apart from the use of sound, the use of silence is also essential to the horror film mood constructing. Take Sadako's tape as an example, the producer uses mostly silence with very dark and depressing footage which helps to build the gloomy and frightful ambient, more importantly it also catches audiences' attention, make them put their mind on the frame and enhance the ambiguity.
Singin' in the Rain has a completely different style to Ringu, it is a musical film with delightful atmosphere, but more importantly, it shows the situation of the transition from silent cinema to sound films. To audiences like us who are far from that era, Singin' in the Rain gives us a sight of the birth of sound films and the difficulties that producers encountered during making these films.
"One of the first pictures scored in Hollywood was 'Old San Francisco', a silent film already completed, featuring Dolores Costello. An excellent orchestra had been assembled, composed of musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and under the improved conditions of the new studio, an exceptionally perfect recording had been made of the score." Through this paragraph from The Film Finds Its Tongue, we can know that Old San Francisco (AlanCrosland, 1927) is the first scored picture, therefore it can be seen as the origin of dubbing. Another milestone-style work in sound film history is The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), it is the origin of sound recording. Both sound recording and dubbing have appeared in Singin' in the Rain, the film presents dubbing in the scene where Kathy speaks behind Lina. We can also see the difficulties of sound recording in early time through the scene where Lina and Don acting together in a scene, the director put the microphone in a bush, but Lina cannot change her acting habit thus she keeps talking to the wrong angle and fail to record her voice in microphone.
A similar scene can be seen in the The Jazz Singer, but different to Singin' in the Rain where they made the scene intentionally. The Jazz Singer has this flaw due to the limitation of the sound technique.
When films first appeared, they were merely a visual art. Although it can capture all the movements, it is still incomplete because the lack of sound. In the silent cinema era, when word description is necessary, producers will use a frame with words to express it (dialogues, background). However, it is inevitable that this kind of expression will disrupt audiences' viewing. In the scene where Don and Kathy meet each other, the film reveals the deficiency of the silent cinema:" If you've seen one, you've seen them all."and "Movies are entertaining for the masses, but the personalities on the screen just don't impress me." How so? Because "they don't talk, they don't act, they just make a lot of dumb show."
In fact, the term 'silent film' is not that accurate, because in a silent film there is a band playing background music on the scene. The standard of an actual sound film is that there is synchronous sound that match with film playing along. Therefore on the sixth of October in 1927 when The Jazz Singer came out, the box office was quite successful. When the sound film first appeared, as a completely new thing, people held a wait-and-see attitude. Like one scene in Singin' in the Rain shows, audiences think there is someone talking behind the screen. Not only audiences, some actors did not realise the difference between silent films and sound films, they think making sound films is just acting in old ways and add some dialogues into the film. This leads to one of the most humorous scene in the film where Lina Lamont cannot get her voice recorded.
There is one scene in Singin' in the Rain is the filming set of Simpson Production, it shows the filming process of a silent film to audiences – the director walking through the crew, ordering people around loudly. In this case, the filming process of a silent film is actually quite convenient. In one studio, different crews can film at the same time without affecting each other. It does not matter even the camera is working with noise. So comparing to silent films, sound films work with a lot more limitations. For example there is a sign in the film writing "QUIET WHILE RECORDING", it does not look eye-catching, but it is an important milestone in the film history. With this requirement, directors cannot ordering actors during filming, several crews cannot work in one studio at the same time and actors cannot say whatever they want to say during filming.
Sound is also cleverly used in Singin' in the Rain to express the personalities of the characters, for example when we hear Don's voice, we can sense that he is a charming character with a bit flighty characteristic. "The film's opening sequence provides a good illustration of the way it sets up an opposition between illusion and reality by creating contradiction between what we are told on the audio track and what we are shown on the visual track." Jane Feuer said so in her analysis of this film, because as Don Lockwood says his glorious career, the actual scene we see is completely different, which in a way reinforces the flighty feature of him.
Through Kathy's voice, audiences can sense that she is a young, delightful girl. In the case of Cosmo, his voice shows that he is relatively more active and dynamic than Don, and aforementioned Lina Lamont's voice is quite uncomfortable to hear which influences her character is accordingly unlikeable.
As the film's title shows, singing takes a great part in the narrative, it also sets the basic style of the film into a quite relaxed and light-hearted mood. Obviously even just a slight change of the music style, it would change the atmosphere of whole film. All in all, the sound in Singin' in the Rain not only helps setting the mood, showing characters' dialogues, but more importantly, it shows an essential part of the film history to the audiences, also with all the singing and dancing, sound considerably fasten the pace of a film.
In conclusion, in Ringu, sound successfully contributes to set up the mood and the horror atmosphere. In Singin' in the Rain, although the style of sound is vastly different, the purposes of using sound is rather similar. Although due to the different theme, the sound in this film manages to reveal something more.
Steven Jay Schneider, ed. Fear Without Frontiers: Horror Cinema Across the Globe (Godalming: FAB Press, 2003)
F. Green The Film Finds Its Tongue (New York: Putnams, 1929) Chapter 14
Geiger, Jeffrey and R. L Rutsky. Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. (New York, W. W. Norton) Page486-487
Singin' In The Rain. 1952. Film. USA: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly.
Ringu. 1998. Film. Japan: Hideo Nakata.