Film Theory: Sound–Theory, Practice, Specific Movies

Research in Progress, November 3, 2022

Film Theory: Sound

In 1927, The Jazz Singer ushered the talking era. Critics felt that sound would deal a deathblow to the art of film.

There was resistance, disbelief in the sound and the potential of sound, just like the resistance to other technological innovations.

Hostility came from major directors, like Eisenstein.

In fact, sound went on to become a rich source of meaning and innovation.

Sound brought realism: It forced acting styles to become more natural.

Actors had to talk in normal speed.

Films to consider (alphabetically): (Bogg)

Apocalypse, Now

Bonnie and Clyde

Citizen Kane

Das Boot

360 degree sound environment (visible and invisible sound)


A Man and a Woman:

tight close-ups for memory voice-over or visual flashback


McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Mr. Smith Ges to Washington


Ordinary People


Wild Strawberries (symbolic use of sound)


Films to consider (chronologically):


The child murderer is identified by a tune he whistles offscreen

Early on in the film, we never see him; we recognize him only by his sinister tone. (Giannetti)

Citizen Kane

Magnificent Ambersons

The dialogue of one character overlaps with that of another.

The leave-taking scene at the final Ambersons ball

Overlapping dialogue of 3 groups; each person/couple has a particular sound texture. The midle-age couple whispers intimately and slowly (Giannetti)

The Third Man

Singin’ in the Rain

Black Orpheus


The Birds

Hard Day’s Night

Juliet of the Spirits

Blow Up

Death in Venice

Clockwork Orange


The Conversation

Apocalypse Now

Blue Velvet

Trouble in Mind

Much Ado about Nothing

Sweet and Lowdown


Blow Up

The film is filled with striking Antonioni images about murder in mod London

The simple sound of leaves whipped by the wind over shot of a tree-lined park creates tension.

Blue Velvet

A moody score by Angelo Bedalameni. Sound designer Alan Splet and mixer Mark Berger created levels of sound effects that added depth of emotion.