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DVD Review

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Making Waves
The Art of Cinematic Sound


Distributor: Dogwoof
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 25 November 2019

Before we were born, we were looking at darkness. Sound is the first sense that is plugged in, six to seven months in the mother’s womb, it is hearing the heartbeat, hearing her breathing, hearing dad in the garage. It’s making sense of the world. You emerge into a sense of consciousness using only sound… and then you’re born. Sound affects us in almost a deeper way than image does. It goes deeper…”

So begins headmaster in the school of cinematic sound, Walter Murch, stating this neurological fact of left brain lobe life as he guides us into the art of the sound film. It is true for all of us wherever we’re born, in pastoral peaceful surroundings or war ruptured environments with bombs shattering homes and automatic rifle fire through windows. It is true for the deaf who can still feel the tympanic vibrations of sound waves in their bodies.

In building our understanding of sound film aesthetics there have been multiple foundations and structural perspectives:
history of sound in film, along with many others;
music in film, history part 1;
music in film, history part 2;
music in film, history part 3.

Let’s not forget another classic on the melding of rhythmic image and sound: The Technique of Film Editing by Karel Reisz. Focal Press Ltd., London & New York, 2nd ed. 1954; see Chapter 8 ‘Imaginative Documentary’; The editing, SFX, Foley and ADR for the Standard Oil platform scene in Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story with Helen van Dongen at the editing bench for the film:

But for diligent lifetime students, fans and artists, Making Waves is the cap stone of this proud auditory edifice. It subsumes the whole subject in 94 minutes of sensual aural delight. If we are to be serious about the experience of film in its totality of impact, how it works for us, how it feeds us, we know George Lucas is right on when he states: "…conveying an emotion, everything is in service of that and sound is half of the experience". And he should know.

His innovative painting of sound and light on the Star Wars canvas makes all the more apparent the irony of the emotionally tone-deaf handling that erstwhile beloved franchise is suffering these days from Disney. A double irony is that the studio whose namesake repeatedly broke the sound barrier in historic cinema (Steamboat Willie [1928], Flowers and Trees [1932] and the 4-track stereo soundtrack for Fantasia [1940]) is now drubbing Luke Skywalker and his companions and adversaries for the sake of anti-art ideologues… to the utter disgust of a disappointed public. Like pulling out a light-sabre to fire up a cigarette.

Making Waves starts with a thumbnail history of the first circle of talent for sound films: voice, SFX, music. That history was born in 1877 and has evolved with Dogwoof’s stunningly remastered clarity all the way into the twentieth century when Al Jolson says: “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” and thus the expanded circle of talent is birthed.

First: Voice with its components of production recording (essential for cueing), dialogue editing (essential for performance) and ADR (additional dialogue recording, essential for obvious reasons).

Second: SFX (Bam!), Foley (from footfalls, all the way to the crackle of tobacco leaves in Frankie Pentangeli’s cigar, ignited by Tom Hagan) and ambience (the waves of sound waxing and waning as the protagonist walks along the street in Roma).

Third: Music, all the way from the mighty Wurlitzer in the old movie palaces, to synchronistic Mickey Mouse accompaniments, to the grand scores that became synonymous with their films (Wizard of Oz, High Noon, Psycho, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Chariots of Fire, Top Gun and, of course, Star Wars) and beyond to the influence of John Cage and Stockhausen, where everything is music and even chaos has rhythm. One can see in Scorsese’s The Irishman a culmination of all these aspects.

The professionals interviewed are clear spoken and cogent, including Murch, Ben Burtt, Skip Lievsay, Alan Splet, Pat Jackson, Kyrsten Mate and re-recording mixer, Anna Behlmer who shares: “When you feel those goose bumps, you’ve got it right.”

Dogwoof is a London based documentary company with a worldwide reach, 24 Oscar nominations and 4 wins plus the BAFTA winning Free Solo in its dossier. Dogwoof managed part of its financing for this project with a Kickstarter campaign. Making Waves is an essential volume for anyone’s film library.


John Huff

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