Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Novelty of Offscreen Sound

From The Talkies by Arthur Edwin Krows (1930), 112-114:  

A man to watch is Josef Von Sternberg; . . . . There is no one more intelligent in grasping the new factor of sound. . . . Only an artist could have staged those scenes [in Thunderbolt (Paramount 1929)] in which the audience hears with the ears of the imprisoned bad man, the gossip of his unseen neighbors. When those convict comrades have characterized themselves in sound, then the audience, unlike Thunderbolt, is permitted to see them. There are in this picture a dozen other proofs of Von Sternberg's artistic insight in the new realm of audibility. In the light of more recent talkie accomplishments, why don't the critics have another look at "Thunderbolt"? 

Probably for the same reason that hardly a man or woman among them saw the force of another pioneer example in "Behind That Curtain" [Fox 1929]. There an unhappy wife, gathering her belongings in her boudoir to leave a faithless husband, is forced to hear from off the scene, the penetrating voice and repetitive, maddening song of the Indian girl who has supplanted her in the husband's favor. 

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