Friday, March 6, 2009

Screen Sound and Theater Sound

I first saw The Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) in a multiplex theater. Most of this historical costume drama was shot on a somewhat claustrophobic set depicting neighborhoods in a Dutch city during the lifetime of the painter Vermeer, but a very few scenes were done in landscape settings. During one of these, I was impressed by a sound track detail -- faint, distant thunder heard against a clear sky, an effect that subtly hinted at the emotional turmoil in which Griet (Scarlet Johannson) would shortly find herself. Only later, when the thunder reappeared nonsensically during an interior scene, did I realize that the sound was the bass bleeding through the walls from the action film next door. (We discuss multiplex theaters in HtM, chs 13 & 14.)

Woody Allen plays on this confusion of real-world and diegetic sound near the end of Bullets Over Broadway (1994), an inspired farce in which backstage comedy and 1930s gangster films collide. An actress's bodyguard is pursued by two members of his own gang and killed offstage while a play is being performed. The next day the producer reads aloud from glowing reviews. A particularly enthusiastic critic writes that "One of the greatest moments in this reviewer's experience is in act 3, when the lieutenant returns and confronts his mistress. We hear distant gunshots, which get louder and louder, bringing the lieutenant's twisted military past and violent tendencies into bold bas relief." The urge to interpret is strong, but the result may just be fodder for ironic humor.

No comments:

Post a Comment