Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #5: Heard About the Murder? (Scene from Blackmail)

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I think this type of subjective sound is not used very frequently because if it were it would become the norm and we would watch for it in every film we see; therefore, those who use it use it sparingly.

Now if pop music used this logic today we might be headed in the right direction ;)

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The Blackmail sequence puts the audience into the subjective mind of Alice by using sound in the same way Hitchcock so effectively used his camera by “point of view”.   The soundtrack POV is recorded as if Alice is a walking microphone, and we are hearing what she hears.  As she approaches the other characters, their voices are louder and more distinct, fading as she walks away.  Likewise as she enters the phone booth all outside noises are eliminated.  Just as Hitchcock used his camera to guide the viewer visually and focus on exact elements and actions of his choosing, he is using sound as a similar tool. 

 

In the scene around the dinner table the sound counterpoints the visual track by garbling the store gossip’s dialog except for the key word “knife”, as the rest is unimportant to the scene.  That one word is used to grate the nerves of Alice and builds tension within the scene.  Hitchcock sets us up for a shock by starting with close-up view of an unsettled Alice and slowly pans down to the loaf of bread and knife while verbally being pestered with word “knife”, until the frame is filled with a close up of Alice’s hand gripping the knife and the final, high volume, yell of ”KNIFE!”

 

This particular use of sound is probably not used any more because theater owners didn’t want their patrons spilling their drinks and popcorn or wetting themselves during the screening.  I’m sure there are laws and conventions preventing such creative film adventures.  On a serious note I believe Orson Welles used similar tweaking of the sound track in Citizen Kane that made people fall out of their seats, a high pitched screech from a cockatoo and the starting of the film clip News On The March, the volume was just a little too high.  

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.  

 

I think this is rather brilliant. The endless prattle from the gossiper about how knives aren't British and how she couldn't use one. The silence in the phone booth where Alice is alone with her thoughts, looking at the phone number for the police. Being asked to cut the bread with the knife. The word "knife" being the only intelligible part of the conversation. The bell that rings and echoes in her mind. Conversations about the murder. Alice is questioned and reminded of the events that drive her.

 

2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific.

 

The gossiper is saying that using a knife requires skill that is not common. Alice fumbles with the knife while trying to cut the bread. The gossiper's voice distorts in a way that only the word "knife" is clear, and it ramps up in tempo and intensity.

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? 

 

This struck me as being almost like German Expressionism, but with sound. Sound is used to convey exposition and mood. Hitchcock ignores its use for exposition - one of the dialog is particularly useful for advancing the story. But, it clearly show's Alice's mood, particularly with the word "knife" being emphasized.

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When Alice is sitting at the table she appears to be in shock and not paying attention to the conversation that is being had about the murder that happened the night before. She is in a state of shock and the only words that she hears is knife because that is the instrument she used to kill her attacker. Its almost as if she is hypnotized and she can only respond when she hears the word knife. Hitch brings the word knife out more louder to emphasize that that is what Alice used. And when she uses it it brings her back to the moment of her attack..

 

 

To me you are transfixed on Alice because you know something has happened to her. Her whole attitude is something is not right with her and she's trying to be 'normal' but she can't. She is having an inner conflict with herself on what to do. She goes to the phone book and instead of looking up a number she looks up the Police. She then tries to sit down to eat but the lady customer (who is talking about the murder the night before) is constantly reminding her of what she went through the night before. Then as she goes to pick up the knife, she is so fixated on it that all she hears is the word knife (possibly flashing back to the previous nights events), then we hear the word becomes louder and louder to the point Alice flings the knife across the room. Was it knowing that she just killed someone that made her do that or was it her actually her acting out what she did?

 

 

I think why the use of sound wasn't used a lot back then could be many reasons. One people had no training on how to use sound equipment, Two were fearful of spending the money on the equipment and that sound would be a commercial flop, Three when sound was introduced a lot of theaters weren't equipped for it and theater owners just didn't want to take that risk, Four film companies just didn't have faith in the new technology and once again money is a factor. In the long run MONEY ruled and no one from the movie company, to directors, to theaters just didn't want to take a major risk by introducing sound into movies.

 

 

 

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I’m sure there are laws and conventions preventing such creative film adventures. On a serious note I believe Orson Welles used similar tweaking of the sound track in Citizen Kane that made people fall out of their seats, a high pitched screech from a cockatoo and the starting of the film clip News On The March, the volume was just a little too high. [/size]

Godbless the auteurs like Hitchcock to take the risks. Welles' technique was also to ensure folks were attentive and not snoozing ;)

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This doesn't at all look like a film made by someone tinkering with a brand new technology...As others have pointed out, sound is one way we understand Alice's experience.

I love the cleverness of the gossipy woman droning on and on, driving Alice (us) deeper into paranoia and aggitation while being blithely funny. The scene in the phone booth allows us to hear what Alice hears, but it also serves to punctuate the scene and build tension.

As to why subjective sound is seldom used....I remember Hitchcock saying he only made one "who dunnit", that he always wanted his audience to know what was happening and to be a part of the action. Subjective helps sound facilitates that notion. Perhaps this is a piece of directorial control other filmmakers can't relinquish and so don't practice.

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It's hard to add much to the marvelous observations by Wizona and LRH.

 

Alice is really very deep inside herself during this sequence.  Hitchcock leads us aurally as ell as visually to what is important which is Alice's inner turmoil.  We follow her through the scene in her nearly catatonic state.  Actions and conversations are happening around her but only a few things filter through.  And those things are really what Hitchcock wants the viewer to focus on.

 

I found that I had to watch it a few times in order to actively listen to what the gossiping customer was saying.  And I was worried for Alice on two levels.  I was, as she is, that the conversation would start to hit too close for comfort, but I was also concerned that her family were so oblivious to the depth of her disconnectedness.

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.

 

When the older woman in the hat (Hat Lady) is speaking, all Alice can hear her say is “knife” over and over again, as Alice has a mental preoccupation with the events that occurred involving a knife. It’s actually interesting to note that both the Hat Lady and Alice have a preoccupation with the subject of a knife – only one of them isn’t internalizing it. Hat Lady is, instead, speaking openly and freely about it from a position of strength. Meanwhile, Alice is silent and thoughtful and overcome by the idea of a knife, not saying a word about it but being just as affected by it.

 

When the Hat Lady is off-screen saying “knife”, Alice’s eyebrows raise each time, becoming more and more startled by it. It’s as if she’s being stabbed over and over again by the Hat Lady’s speech — even though the Hat Lady is saying, "I could never use a knife on anyone."

 

At the dining table, when Alice has returned from helping the first customer, the gentleman notices she's a little out of it and asks, “Another row with Frank?” Suddenly a dull metallic chime sounds (door bell) that affects Alice as though it’s reminding her of something (bad) that happened.

 

2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific. 

 

One of the things I like about the sound treatment in this film is that it gets louder (or begins) when a door is opened (we walk into the room with Alice)… which helps show that what is going on around Alice is not necessarily something she is a part of; participating in. The Hat Lady at the counter is prattling on about the murder, and Alice walks in with a head full of thoughts of her own about it.

 

Alice is now in the noisy scene but the conversation is not really registering with her. She steps into the phone booth and is silent again and we focus solely on her and what’s she’s going through. Then she steps out and sound pops on again… and we are still with silent Alice and her thoughts because we walk into the room (essentially) with her again.

 

At another point, the camera is focused on the action at the dining table, where we see Alice sitting quietly. In fact, everyone seems to be silent except the Hat Lady who is standing in the doorway chattering on and on about chattering on and on. So, in this moment, the scene is both silent and in sound. If it was a totally silent movie, we wouldn’t even hear the woman at the doorway talking. We would simply presume everyone is silent (until told otherwise by a card). But the Hat Lady’s constant off-camera chatter reminds us that: 1) life is going on around Alice, even if she's not fully participating in it; 2) people are oblivious to what Alice is thinking and feeling; 3) not everyone is as affected by events as Alice is (Hat Lady interprets the events from a strong POV vs. Alice who seems to be victimized by it)… etc.  

 

When Alice is asked by the gentleman at the table to pick up the knife to cut the bread, we watch through a close-up camera view as Alice awkwardly reaches out for the knife and takes it into her hand as though she is unsure how to hold it, or how she should hold it, to slice bread -- rather than use it as a weapon. The repetition of Hat Lady’s word “knife” (whether real or imagined by Alice) makes Alice freak out and toss the knife to the side. The screech of Hat Lady's voice is all Alice could take of it.

 

Then a customer arrives and asks Alice, “No news of the murder?” Alice softly says, “No, not yet,” even though that’s all anyone's been talking about the whole time (with or without actual details about it).

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? 

 

Hmm. I would say that most movies are created from an external POV. We are watchers only, not participators, of the scenes before us. And/or the subject matter of the film doesn’t rely on sharing someone’s internal thought process. We are not meant to feel what they feel, only to (sometimes) experience them feeling it and possibly relate to them from a less-invasive POV.

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.  

First, is the sequence when the word "knife" is used repeatedly and rattles Alice. She used a knife for the murder. Second, we hear a character discussing the murder stating that it would have been better to smash a victim's head in with a knife - as if there is a "right" way to murder someone - which further unnerves Alice. Third, AH used the sound of the shop bell (which resembles the sound of the vibration of a metal like the metal of a steel knife. Fourth, AH uses the absence of sound when Alice goes into the phone booth and it is quiet but she looks up the phone number of the police or accidentally turns to it (I am uncertain and should probably view the clip again). 

 

2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific.  Alice is asked to cut the loaf of bread and the word "knife" is used repeatedly and it seems the word gets louder and louder till Alice gets so unnerved she accidentally throws the knife. So AH used the sound as a way to juxtapose Alice's inner turmoil versus a very normal activity (having breakfast). You can see Alice's hand start to shake so the scene moved from a broad view of the room and everyone at the breakfast table to just Alice. Her hands starts to tremble and then the knife slips and is thrown into the air. The camera immediately cuts back to the broad view of everyone at the table. AH threw in some dark humor: (1) Alice's father admonishes her to be careful with the knife, and, (2) a customer comes in and as Alice is waiting on him he asks Alice if there was any more news about the murder.  In those two cases dialog (that is ordinary - to everyone but Alice) is also sound used to use create a "sound POV." 

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema?  While there are tremendous technological advances in sound - just as there are in the visual aspects of cinema and in using animation in cinema I think it is simply a case where sound often simply is seen as subordinate to the visual. I think the rise of musical scores in films has been a way to sets moods or enhance a scene but common ordinary sounds seems to be something just to be recorded. 

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This doesn't at all look like a film made by someone tinkering with a brand new technology...As others have pointed out, sound is one way we understand Alice's experience.

I love the cleverness of the gossipy woman droning on and on, driving Alice (us) deeper into paranoia and aggitation while being blithely funny. The scene in the phone booth allows us to hear what Alice hears, but it also serves to punctuate the scene and build tension.

As to why subjective sound is seldom used....I remember Hitchcock saying he only made one "who dunnit", that he always wanted his audience to know what was happening and to be a part of the action. Subjective helps sound facilitates that notion. Perhaps this is a piece of directorial control other filmmakers can't relinquish and so don't practice.

So Hitchcock was already smart enough to hold back to avoid redundancy of gimmicks. Because it was such a new concept he had to be exploring as well though despite its genius out of the gate... I truly feel he refined and built upon early practices such as subjective sound. Agree this is not just a one trick pony though, and there's more than meets the eye (yes that's a modern pop-culture reference)

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Hat Lady is, instead, speaking openly and freely about it from a position of strength. Meanwhile, Alice is silent and thoughtful and overcome by the idea of a knife, not saying a word about it but being just as affected by it.

Really good observations. Interesting you say hat lady is in a position of strength (comparatively) but I see it as judgement versus Alice's seeming defencelessness. The Hat Lady is quick to point out and comment where Alice seems reduced and escaping into her own thoughts. Pretty good case study of Introverted behaviour and extroverted behaviour between the two women...

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In Daily Dose #5 Blackmail....we see Hitchcock working for the first time with sound. Though the sound is a new technique his old techniques are visible here as well and serve to enhance the sound...or one might say vice verse!

 

1.  Hitchcock uses his usual techniques of isolating the character with close up shots and moving her to the phone booth where she is alone with her thoughts but heightens the subjectivity by fading voices in and out, turning the sound off when she's in the phone booth and using reverberation or heightened sound with the word knife and with the store doorbell later in the scene. 

 

2.  Hitchcock sets up a common everyday pleasant scene of morning breakfast in the back of the store and uses the fast talking woman as a counterpoint, then fading the voice in and out while increasing the sound whenever the word knife is used. The character is engaged in a simple harmless task, cutting the bread to share with her family when the work knife gets louder and sharper making her and the viewer feel like the word is stabbing them, leading her to drop the knife in shock. 

 

3.  I'm not sure why this technique isn't used frequently in cinema...perhaps because we don't often find filmmakers who are interested in subjective stories ...most other filmmakers engage the audience in figuring out who did it not in why they did it...or what led to it. 

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.  


Hitchcock very brilliantly uses sound design (emphasis on design, because it truly was) to put us in the mind of Alice by having Alice remain virtually silent throughout the clip, while having the gossipy patron prattle on and on in the background. We can tell that Alice is preoccupied with her own thoughts. 


2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific. 


In the moments immediately before the knife flies out of Alice's hand, you hear the woman in the background saying the word KNIFE over and over; it almost sounds like mumblemumble KNIFE mumblemumble KNIFE. You cannot see the woman, you can only hear her, and the person you can see is Alice. Every time the word "knife" is said, Alice's eyebrows go up. When the knife finally flies out of Alice's hand, it is shocking to the audience because both the audio and visual of the sequence hits their climax. 


3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? 


Subjective sound may, at times, be confusing to viewers. Also, it seems that most films now -- with some exceptions, I'm sure -- want audience members to remain audience members, and not feel as though we are part of the film. Subjective sound, I think, puts you in the mind of one character, thus making you feel more like you are part of the film. 


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In this sequenceHitchcock uses sound design to put th audience  into the subjective "mind of Alice" in number of ways. When Alice enters the telephone booth to call Frank and closes the door, the chatter of the characters at the counter is shut out --- we're hearing the silence that Alice hears; when she opens the door, Alice and the overhear the continuing conversation at the counter.  Later, at the table, Alice thoughts are churning about a knife evidently used in a homicide, and she  shuts out the conversation (except for the word knife).

2. At the table, Alice and her family quietly endure the rambling gossip as they try to eat breakfast.  The family space is a quiet safe place, yet today there is are intruders:  the non-stop gossip and Alice's thoughts.  Although shuts out the gossip for the most part, she hears the word 'knife', reverberating each time the gossip utters it.  The close up of hands about to slice bread is interrupted by the scream of the word "knife" that Alice subjectively hears, startling Alice and causing her to fling the bread knife.  

This subjective use of sound (like first person visual perspective) is generally used much as it limits the information available to the audience.

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This doesn't really answer any of the three questions but the thing that stuck out in my mind is when the chattering woman is recounting murders of the past and she recalls one that had a woman getting murdered in a bath tub. "That one gave me the shivers", she says "I didn't take a bath for a week". Which of course puts one in mind of a certain shower murder from thirty-odd years later, which gave so many people "the shivers" that they avoided showers for a long time! 

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.

 

When Alice's mind is off wandering she only discerns "knife" from all mumbling by the talkative woman.

 

2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific.

 

In that scene we see Alice preoccupied with other thoughts and not paying attention to the conversation. The word "knife" is the only word she hears. As Alice takes the knife to slice the bread the word "knife" gets louder and builds to the point where she breaks and startles the audience.

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema?

 

Perhaps some filmmakers rely more on the visual aspect to tell a story or use more straightforward techniques. Not everyone is a directing legend.

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1.       In this famous scene from Blackmail, Hitchcock uses sound in the same way he uses POV shots to make the viewer identify with the experience of a character. In this case, since Alice has very recent first-hand experience with a knife (I’m trying to help you dodge spoilers), she gradually only hears the word “knife” as the gossip blathers on about last night’s murder.

2.       At the beginning of this clip, sound and visual work together to show us how the gossip’s questions about the murder start to get to Alice. We see the characters together in the shop in a medium shot. A close up of Alice in the phone booth and a zoom shot to the police phone number help us connect with Alice’s anxiety. Cleverly (for early sound), Hitchcock pulls out the sound from the shop while Alice is in the closed phone booth and restores the sound of the gossip’s voice when Alice opens the door. When we travel into the back room for breakfast, the camera prepares us for the “knife” sound-visual dissociation with a shot of Alice which pans to the jabbering gossip, then pans back to Alice as the gossip theorizes about people who kill with knives. We cut to a close-up of a nervous Alice listening to this speech, with the words other than “knife” faded low. The shock of the flying knife is set up by the stoic reaction Alice tries to project. Suspense is set up as Alice’s father asks her to “cut us a bit of bread,” unknowingly tempting PTSD as Alice must hold and use a knife son soon after (spoiler alert) using one the night before.  The camera pans down to her hands, the knife, and the bread. Because the action has been so slow and deliberate, it is truly shocking when the gossip suddenly screams, “Knife!,” causing Alice to dangerously launch the knife into the air.

3.       The subjective sound here (isolating “knife” in the gossip’s monologue) works because we are in Alice’s head and Alice is mentally unhinged. It could work in another film as long as the story supports it – if a certain word, accent, phrase, etc. was crucial to the character’s involvement with the conflict in the story, this kind of isolation could work again. Without such a specific reason, it probably wouldn’t make sense.

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1. Hitchcock shuts off the background noise of the gossiping customer when Alice enter the phone booth. We can see her alone with her thoughts on whether she should phone the police. When she leave the booth the drone of the gossip continues giving the audience the impression it had never stopped.

2.Again you can hear the gossip droning on while continually harping on the brutality of murder with a knife. All the while he is focused on Alice sitting at the table. When her father asks her to cut some bread and she picks up the knife with a shaking hand the word knife becomes more pronounced while the rest of the words fade into the background. 

3. I feel that this type of subjective sound is not used more often because most film makers like to use more obvious methods to create suspense. More emphasis seems to be placed on the visual and most modern movies use sound to blast the viewer from the seat instead of creating suspense through inner fear.

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1) Close-up on Alice, prefaced by the local gossip about the murder and the use of a knife. Then the gossip dropping in clarity and volume except for the word "knife".

2) Alice is quavering, insecure under the droning about the murder with a knife, but is asked to cut a piece of bread. The droning goes on, and tension mounts as Alice slowly reaches for the breadknife, and picks it up. Given her apparent state of mind--see 1) above--her actions are somewhat unpredictable. Then the droning spikes in volume and tone on the word "knife", startling (the viewer and) Alice into jerking with the knife in hand. Although it flies to the floor, there is also a split-second of frisson, where the viewer may wonder whether the break with reality is complete and perhaps she will stab someone at the table.

 

3) Sound is no longer an innovation, but a standard feature in film. We have become used to it. Also, it has to be handled with care or it is just a gimmick. Few can pull it off, even with the right script and actors.

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  1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.

     

    1. As the visitor/customer natters away, all she can hear is the word “knife” punctuating the rambling monologue.

     

 

Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific.

 

  1. The juxtaposition of Alice’s quiet contemplation against the rambling of the customer reinforces the idea of her isolation.

 

While not contrapuntal, the high-pitched word “knife” precipitates Alice dropping the knife shows us Alice’s preoccupation with the news of the killing.

 

Each time Alice begins to answer a question about her state or the news, she is interrupted. The last interruption in this click is the sharp and resonant ringing of the “bell” that indicates another customer has entered. In a way, Alice is “Saved by the Bell” from answering the question.

 

 

Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema?

 

  1. It seems most sound (diegetic AND non-diegetic) in film is used to create a natural soundscape to bring audiences into a realistic or consistent world. The most notable exceptions to me are comedies where added sounds such as the sad trombone may be inserted to reinforce – or to provide counterpoint. And there was another example of sound being used to provide meaning – hmmm, now what was that show?

     

 

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At the beginning of this clip, the viewers can already discern Alice's agitated state, even before Hitchcock emphasizes it with his use of sound (or absence of sound).  Not having seen the entire film yet, I don't mean to inadvertently misspeak, however, Alice seems distracted when she enters the shop, possibly hearing but not really listening to the conversation about the murder.  Nonetheless, it seems she is very preoccupied with the murder.  It seems we also see her distracted state by her not remembering Frank's phone number.  Wouldn't she already know that if they are dating?  I like Hitchcock's complete absence of sound while Alice in inside the phone booth.  Granted, phone booths are supposed to be fairly soundproof, but would it be that quiet in there unless Alice is preoccupied with her thoughts, blocking out any other extraneous noise?  Who hasn't been so deep in thought before that they are unaware of other noises or people around them?  You can't even hear the pages turning as Alice riffles through the phone book.  Also, by 1929, images in silent films seemed to be much more fluid than earlier attempts.  However, Alice's hand and eye movements seem to be very jerky in this scene, possibly also suggesting her agitated state of mind.  Then when Alice emerges from the phone booth, the viewers immediately hear the gossiping neighbor once again, yet Alice does not really respond to her.  By the way, regarding the gossiping neighbor, she is a clear example of Hitchcock's trademark use of dark comedy in his films.  To some extent, in this scene anyway, she is reminiscent of the landlady in the Claude Rains film The Invisible Man, screaming melodramatically while Rains undresses and wreaks havoc on the house.  I love her ironic comments, especially about how she doesn't have time to stand around gossiping all day, like other people. 

Hitchcock also establishes Alice's state of mind with the repetition of the word knife. After her humorous mention of the more British way of killing someone with a brick, the gossiping neighbor repeats the word knife at least 5-6 times.  Because of the rest of her words being garbled, it is hard to tell if this is the same phrase replaying in Alice's head or if the neighbor herself is repeating it (perhaps both).  Either way, Hitchcock draws attention to that word because it is the only clear bit of dialogue, causing the audience to focus on it just as Alice herself is preoccupied with this word after what has happened.  And this portion of the clip culminates in the strident sound of the neighbor shouting the word knife, startling Alice and causing her to throw it to the ground.  This startles the audience as well because they might not have been expecting this sudden violent action.  Even though Blackmail predates it by more than 30 years, I was reminded of Robert Enrico's 1962 film version of the Ambrose Bierce story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which uses minimal sound as well.  More specifically, the knife scene reminds me of when Peyton Farquhar is standing on the bridge awaiting his hanging, and he takes note of the sights and sounds around him: the soldiers standing guard, the sounds of the water beneath him, the sounds of the bugles and the birds.  More importantly, he hears his watch ticking as he thinks about his wife.  Through his "eyes," in his mind we see him returning home, avoiding the hanging, and slowly walking towards his wife while repeating her name.  The viewers are then startled when the commander's voice intrudes on this reverie, as he tells the soldier to take the watch.  Both uses of image/sound counterpoint effectively shock the audience who are not expecting these sudden sounds.  Hitchcock used this technique in 1929, so perhaps other later film makers borrowed the idea from him?  Nonetheless, Hitchcock does a masterful job of manipulating sounds, especially the word knife, to convey Alice's agitated state of mind and her preoccupation with the weapon.

I don't mean to be judgmental or erroneous with the following comment, but I don't think film makers use this subjective sound in film, especially today, because many film viewers are now too literal, "lazy," and impatient.  They like for a director to tell them more directly what a character is thinking and feeling and what his motivations are.  Today, people want immediate feedback and gratification, without having to think or to work for it.  I love Hitchcock's lingering camera shots, especially in his silent films that I have watched so far.  He does a nice job of conveying emotion and even motivation by focusing on a character's face for more than 1-2 seconds as happens too often in films today.  We have to work at piecing together a character's next actions by the look on his face, not only what he will do but also why.  I also like Hitchcock's use of deep focus camera shots so we can see everything that is going on in the shot that he has artfully framed.  We see everyone's actions and reactions to the situation.  One good example of this is in Downhill when Roddy first comes home to tell his parents he has been expelled.  We see his father in the foreground and his mother on the stairs, both in clear focus son we can see both of their reactions. The incorporation of sound gives Hitchcock another medium to convey a character's inner turmoil most notably seen with Alice while holding the knife.  Today, I wonder if an audience would prefer a voice over of Alice ruminating on why she is reacting as she is to the knife and the gossiping neighbor's comments?  For me that would have been less effective.

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1. We see a close up of Alice, a clean single, allowing us to appreciate her every jolt to the mention of “knife”. Also, the old woman’s dialogue fades to an inaudible mumble except for the repetitive use of the word, “Knife”. Then in the end, the bell resonates, maybe even like a knife that hits something, but it's a bell of relief as she can leave the table. 

 

2. When the old lady comments on Alice’s appearance, "you look tired" etc.  we don’t actually see Alice’s face, as her back is to the screen.

As for the jump scare involving the knife, we actually hear the phrases following “knife” clearly, to distort the audience’s expectations. This is on a closeup of the knife. Then “knife” is screamed, alice flings the knife in the closeup, the film then immediately cuts to the wide shot, jolting us from the knife, as if we ourselves flinched back to avoid being hit by it. 
 

3. Even with sound films now being the norm, filmmakers still think in terms of the visuals. So creative use of sound has largely been neglected. It has been taken for granted in terms of its artistic potential. Most filmmakers now merely recreate or document the sound as expected in a given scenario. 

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1. In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific.  

Instead of using the double exposure to reshow the murder, Hitchcock uses the rambling woman. There is talk about the police and how using a knife to murder someone is wrong. 

  

2. Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice's hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific. 

 

This took me a bit to get what Hitchcock did in this scene. The clip for some reason was low in volume so I found it again on TCM website and it was a bit more clear. The rambling woman says she could never use a knife than the word knife is said a few times before Alice is asked to cut the bread. As Alice trembles with the knife in her hand, the rambling woman begins to say 'You mustn't use a knife' which is opposite of the visual.  This gets loud and Alice throws the knife as in response to the words.

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? 

 

I think studios, directors and producers are looking for sales/mainstream and creativity gets a back seat or no seat at all. Though I do have to say X-Men did have a version of this but I'm not sure it was done on purpose.  When the one guy who hears thoughts, Xavier, is trying to focus on one person, he tends to hear a thousand voices at once like you might hear a whole sentence until the one he wants is all that is heard, which is like the sentence turning into a phrase or single word. They could have taken it farther with this and used Hitchcock's technique, which may have given the audience a different way of hearing Xavier's thoughts. 

 

​Example of Hitchcock directing X-Men.  Opening scene is Wolverine facing a dilemma about killing this bad person to save the human race. Wolverine's claws are seconds from doing the deed. Xavier sends Wolverine a message in his head like 'this is the right thing, you are not a horrible killer. the human race will be saved' but after hearing this sentence a few times Wolverine only hears 'horrible killer'. Wolverine doesn't in the end kill the bad person and in true Hitchcock form this bad person ends up saving the human race so killing him/her would have destroyed everything.  

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1. Sound is used creatively to put us in the mind of Alice. When the woman is gossiping about the murder, the word "knife" can be heard loud and clear above anything else. In the phone booth, it is completely silent when she closes the door. Alice shuts out the world as she is singularly focused on calling the police. And lastly, the bell rings at the perfect time to break the tension when she is repeatedly asked what is wrong.

 

2. The woman gossiping keeps repeating "knife" louder and louder, and Alice is increasingly upset. Obviously something is going to happen. The action of throwing the knife is a strong visual gesture.

 

3. It is not frequently used anymore maybe because it's a little gimmicky? The use of sound in motion pictures now is not a novelty, but the standard. Sound design is so advanced now, and while it would be used to heighten emotion, I don't think simply punching the word "knife" over and over would satisfy today's audience.  Musical cues, camera moves, lighting, would all be interwoven to convey the point.

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