Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window: Sound

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Sound is everywhere. It is part of our everyday lives and our interactions and definitely a part of film. Sound, especially dialogue, makes it easier to understand what is happening. But it also provides texture and emotion to each scene. Though most moviegoers might think of film as an essentially visual experience, we cannot underestimate the importance of sound and music in film. Most movies would not be interesting at all if you were to take away the sound and music. Sound enables the director to create certain moods and emotions, express continuity throughout the film, tell a story, and even enhance meanings. Not only can sound be an aural sense but a visual sense as well and director Alfred Hitchcock knew this and applied it in his movie Rear Window. When Alfred Hitchcock fans refer to his style, they are usually referring to Hitchcock's camera magic and editing. When I think about Hitchcock the first thing that comes to mind is his use of sound effects, language, and music to create suspense or a sense of understanding. In the film Rear Window, there are many occasions where Hitchcock uses sound in order to convey a feeling of terror. In author Robert Bresson's book Notes on the Cinematographer, he claims that when sounds replace images, the hearing sense goes within and the seeing sense moves outward (Bresson 51). Hitchcock knew that the human imagination is far more sinister than anything he could ever produce on screen. For example, the memorable moment when Mrs. Thorwald is murdered, only the sound of a scream can be heard somewhere in the background. It leaves the audience to ponder along with the main character, Jeff, not only what the sound was but where it came from. This strategy Hitchcock used left our imagination to create a visual of what only could have happened to the lady screaming in the distance.

Another instance in which Hitchcock used a scream to create terror is when the woman discovered that someone had killed her lovable dog. Immediately, one's thoughts lead to someone discovering the murdered body of Mrs. Thorwald or even another character's ill-fate. We also find sound used in this manner when Mr. Thorwald finds out that Jeff is the one that has been spying on him. Mr. Thorwald can only be heard exiting the elevator and making his way towards Jeff's apartment. Lars Thorwald has only been seen from a safe distance through Jeff's window. Now the murderer can only be heard approaching with each footstep, louder than the next. Hearing only footsteps as they draw closer creates the feeling of suspense and fear, where one feels like they are in Jeff's apartment with him. Hitchcock not only creates suspense or terror with sounds, he also creates balance and ambiance using carefully selected sounds.

In John Fawell's book, Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Well-made Film, he notes that "Hitchcock gave careful consideration to the smallest sounds in his films" (Fawell 28). Hitchcock made sure to limit the sounds to ones that could only be heard from Jeff's point of view, since the majority of the film was through his eyes. Conversations being held throughout the apartments can vaguely be heard as if the audience is inside Jeff's apartment with him. For example when Mr and Mrs. Thorwald engage in a verbal battle, the audience is only able to hear muffled words, but the tone of those words can clearly be identified. Hitchcock did not add irrelevant noises that were outside of the apartment complex to create the sense that the characters were stuck in a small world. Sounds that are heard throughout the movie are typical sounds that one might hear in an urban environment such as the one found in Rear Window. Most of Hitchcock's carefully placed sounds had a feeling of unity and relation. For instance, when Jeff struggles to itch his cast-bound leg, an opera singer can be heard in the background reaching a high pitched note creating a sense...
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