Commonplace: Sight & Sound

“How can you depict life without sound?”

–Albert Maysles, in Sharon Zuber’s “The Force of Reality in Direct Cinema: An Interview with Albert Maysles,” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities (Summer 2007)


“My inspiration for scenes always comes from music. [While making Dead or Alive,] I listened to the soundtrack of the film Spawn, which inspired the fast pacing. It gave something to me, an aggressive attitude. My musical preferences are very different day by day.”

–Takashi Miike, in K.J. Doughton’s “Takashi Miike on Pins and Needles,” Film Threat (20 January 2003)


“Some visual purists still think film is pictures at an exhibition. They seem to forget that we’ve been making sound films ever since the Twenties. Talk is incredibly important. . . . Of course you have to be very careful with it, and I understand why all the screenwriting gurus warn against too much dialogue, but I think they’re making a mistake. Even action films often have very good dialogue, though there isn’t necessarily a lot of it. What’s the charm of a buddy comedy? Just to see two guys shooting bullets? It’s what the two guys say to each other that matters.”

–Whit Stillman, quoted in Terry Teachout’s “Class Clown: Considering Whit Stillman,” National Review (February 2002)


“Sound is very important because it really is half the film. With film, the whole can be greater than the parts if you have the sound, the image, and sequence of scenes right. When I work on the sound, I want it to support the film and the emotions, but also, if possible, to reach something at a higher level. Until the sound is done right, you haven’t really seen your film. But when that happens, some magical things start to take place.”

–David Lynch, in interview with Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret, Positif (October 1990)


“[Robert] Altman’s desire to achieve reality has led him less to technical innovations than to the rejection of technical devices considered standard by other directors. Instead of ordinary, clear sound, he uses overlapping sound–characters’ voices, even scenes, blend into and interrupt each other. ‘That’s to give the audience the sense of the dialogue, the emotional feeling, rather than the literal word. That’s the way sound is in real life.’”

–Aljean Harmetz, “The 15th Man Who Was Asked to Direct M*A*S*H (and Did) Makes a Peculiar Western,” The New York Times Magazine (20 June 1971)


“We must draw a distinction here between those sound effects which are amusing only by virtue of their novelty (which soon wears off), and those that help one to understand the action, and which excite emotions which could not have been roused by the sight of the pictures alone. The visual world at the birth of the cinema seemed to hold immeasurably richer promise. . . . However, if imitation of real noises seems limited and disappointing, it is possible that an interpretation of noises may have more of a future in it. Sound cartoons, using ‘real’ noises, seem to point to interesting possibilities.”

–René Clair, “The Art of Sound” (May 1929)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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