Article

Film Sound

Paul Young

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0100
Film Sound

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Prior to the groundbreaking work by Rick Altman, John Belton, Michel Chion, Mary Ann Doane, Claudia Gorbman, Kaja Silverman, Elisabeth Weis, and Alan Williams beginning in the early 1980s, the richest moment of film sound criticism occurred during the Hollywood-led conversion to mechanized sync sound (1926–1933). At that time, critics worldwide, including filmmakers such as René Clair and Sergei Eisenstein, rushed to weigh in on what was gained, and lost, for the art of film with the introduction of “all-talking, all-singing” shorts and features. When Altman and his students began combing the Hollywood archives for historical documentation of the sound transition, the results of their research made clear that the development of synchronized sound filmmaking, far from being merely the result of a felt need for greater realism, was itself highly theorized; its practices, in other words, were neither obvious nor straightforward to anyone involved. Engineers from sound media industries (phonography, radio, telephony), hired by the major studios to make the pictures talk and sing, imagined sync sound variously as complement or supplement to, and even the referent for, the image track, and they imported theories of sonic realism from their own fields in ways that are both fascinating and extremely difficult to reconstruct. The emergence of multichannel film sound, first (briefly) in the 1950s as a complement to widescreen exhibition technologies, and again in the 1970s when rock music films (Tommy) and high-concept blockbusters (Star Wars) conjured up stunning feats of sound playback to match their spectacular images, helped bring sound studies into the consciousness of the field. Indeed, Hollywood’s permanent establishment of multichannel recording and exhibition by the early 1980s may be partly responsible for film studies’ new attention to sound, in general, and to world cinema’s conversion to sync sound, in particular. John Belton and Michel Chion, for example, regularly bridge the early sound era and the age of Dolby multichannel stereo in their discussions of sound space: how films develop diegetic space through sounds, dynamics, directionality, and reverberation, and how stereo processes expand diegetic space into spaces of exhibition—or better, to make exhibition space an extension of diegetic space. I am indebted to Claudia Gorbman’s excellent annotated bibliography in Weis and Belton 1984, pp. 427–445 (cited under Overviews and Anthologies), which provided both information and taxonomic inspiration for this bibliography, and to the anonymous readers of this bibliography for their incisive suggestions and recommendations.

Article.  10091 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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