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Laramie Movie Scope:
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

A movie about sounds in movies

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 5, 2019 – This documentary about movie soundtracks covers a lot of ground, from the history of sound in movies, to the various artists who specialize in creating the wide variety of sounds heard in movies. This would make a fine companion film to the great documentary series, “American Cinema, One Hundred years of Filmmaking.” It is so densely packed with information on how movies are made, it will take me multiple viewings to absorb it all.

Of course any film critic knows about the importance of the film “The Jazz Singer” (1927), the importance of ADR and Foley sounds, music, sound design and sound editing, but there is a lot more to it than those things. The movie details a “circle of sound” concept starting with production records (on site recording made during filming) followed by dialog editing and ADR (automatic dialog replacement). That part of the circle has to do with movie dialog. The next part of the circle includes added sound effects (SFX) which can be a variety of pre-recorded sounds mixed in creative ways, Foley sounds (sounds made on demand by artists for specific movie scenes) followed by ambient sounds.

What surprised me was the use of unusual sounds to augment production recordings that I thought were unaltered. For instance animal noises, including a lion's roar, were added to the sound of jet engines in the movie “Top Gun” to make the sound of the engines more dramatic.

There is a brief mention in the movie of the legendary Jack Foley, after whom the term “Foley artist” was coined. The story is Foley's magic with added sound saved the studio a lot of money in proposed reshoots because the sound of the armor in production recordings of huge battle scenes of the movie “Spartacus” (1960) was too tinny. Foley fixed the sound of the armor with a few simple props, and a lot of skill.

In addition to “The Jazz Singer,” a movie that popularized sound in movies, the documentary singles out such films as “Citizen Kane,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Star Wars,” “The Godfather,” “The Conversation,” and other films which marked advances in sound design and editing over the years. A frequent commenter in the film is Walter Murch, an Academy Award-winning film editor, director and sound designer. Murch worked on a number of important films and was instrumental in advancing the art of sound editing.

Barbara Streisand, actress, director and singer, also appears in the film, talking about her contributions to sound in movies, including her insistence in live singing performances, as opposed to songs recorded off screen and later synced into the film.

The documentary starts with early attempts to sync sound with film by inventor Thomas Edison, and the influence of radio dramas on movie sound, all the way up to modern digital sound added to digital video. The emphasis is on the large number of people involved in the process of creating the sound of movies. The importance of sound in movies is also emphasized by famous directors, including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

This documentary offers a rich, comprehensive treatment of sound in movies that gives the viewer some appreciation of the effort it takes to make a movie with a good sound design. It is no surprise it was directed by someone with a background in sound and dialog editing, Midge Costin. She shows that working in movie sound is detailed, demanding work, but very rewarding. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]