Impact of Sound Upon a Films Thematic Premise

Topics: Film score, Sound film, Sound Pages: 9 (2964 words) Published: September 24, 2006
When exploring the significance of sound upon a film's thematic concept, one must identify the fundamental components of the individual film score and its relationship to the development of the plot. Sound has been a dominant feature of the audience's cinematic experience from early in the art form's history. Initially existing as a simple piano score that was used to assist in the realisation of certain on-screen emotions, the use of sound has been greatly developed and is now considered as "one of the richest sources of meaning in film art." (Giannetti, 2002) This is evident through the incorporation and combination of sound elements such as music, dialogue, sound effects and silence that relate directly to the emotions presented visually. This paper will attempt to analyse the above elements, focusing on two key films, Fincher's Se7en and Hitchcock's Psycho. Both a general sound description and an in-depth of analysis of selected sequences will be included whilst considering their significance and impact upon the films thematic development. However, in order to appreciate how sound can influence the development of a film's theme, a clear understanding of what film sound ‘is' needs to be established.

When one begins to analyse film sound, two terms must be understood; digetic sound and non-digetic sound. These terms relate to the source of the sound. For example, digetic sound refers to the sound that exists within the world of the film (if a character knocks over a glass of water, the sound the glass makes as it smashes on the floor exists in the world of the film and is therefore, digetic). Alternatively, sounds such as the musical score, which are played over the top of the action to highlight a particular sequence are non-digetic (the descending musical motif that accompanies the glass falling through the air does not exist in the world of the film and is therefore, non-digetic.) (Choin, 1994)Furthermore, all sound present on the sound track, whether it is digetic or non-digetic can be broken in to four basic elements. As previously mentioned these elements consist of dialogue, music, sound effects and silence (Phillips, 2002).

"Dialog is invaluable for revealing a characters ideas, goals and dreams, though often it does so more concisely, obliquely and revealingly than conversation in life." (Phillips, 2002, pg.166) Through the use and manipulation of dialog and its combination with expression, an actor has the ability to convey a vast array of emotion with minimal use of words. Furthermore, by adjusting the vocal pitch, tone, timbre and volume, emotions such as irony, amusement, indifference and sadness can all be conveyed while addressing a single phrase. Similarly, the voice can be deliberately distorted to accentuate behaviours of a character, providing the audience with an indication as to where a character may be located (eg. voice distorted to sound like it is coming through a radio helps viewer to believe a car chase may be in progress) (Phillips, 2002). In addition to variation in vocal delivery and technique, the use of various musical themes can assist in intensifying the emotional impact upon an audience.

Often music throughout film is used to support the imagery in a ‘Mickey-mouse' fashion with the sound directly following, or even mimicking the action. For example, if a character were falling down the stairs, the music would reflect this action with a descending chromatic run (Giannetti, 2002). However, with the development and experimentation of sound in a cinematic context, directors began to use music in sometimes contrasting and unexpected manners. Today music is occasionally permitted to dominate the image, which previously would have been deemed almost sacrilegious. Commonly directors use a particular musical theme to prepare an audience for an event that is yet to occur, using sound to pre-establish an emotive concept, which in turn allows the visual imagery to be further developed in...

References: Bruce, G. (1985) Bernard Herrmann- Film Music and Narrative. UMI Research Press, Michigan.
Choin, M. (1994) Audio-Vision- Sound on Screen. Columbia University Press, New York.
Cook, P. (1997) The Cinema Book. British Film Institute, London.
Richard Dyer, ‘Sound ' in BFI Modern Classics: Seven (London: BFI, 1999, pp. 50-57)
Giannetti, L. (2002) Understanding Movies. Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
Phillips, W. (2002) Film- An Introduction. Belford/St. Martins. USA
Vandelist, (2000) More than just a ‘Thriller", USA. (
Film Resources
David Fincher, Se7en.
Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho.
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