Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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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.  

 

In one instance we enter Alice’s mind by way of the pointed use of the word “knife,” particularly as the women’s sideline conversation escalates its use in both intensity and frequency:  blah, blah, blah, blah, KNIFE!

 

 

In another instance, we pull inward toward our/Alice’s thoughts when the phone booth door closes and all goes quiet as we see the stark words, "Metropolitan Police."

 

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. 

 

I think Hitchcock again evokes that heightened emotional feeling with the escalating shrillness of the word “knife” in the conversation.  As the rest of the words begin to obscure as though she’s pulling away from the women, Alice draws closer and closer to the knife on the table. Then, when she’s supposed to “cut” a slice of bread, her revulsion at the act of cutting takes over and she jettisons the utensil as though she could jettison the reality that she’s lived.

 

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

 

Not sure about this; I’m probably misunderstanding.  But it seems that subjective sound often is used to great effect, for example in the film The New World?

 

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As a good filmmaker, Hitchcock experimented constantly and used all possible resources to achieve the greatest effect in his films. In this case, the use of sound, even at the initial stage, allowed him to delve into the drama of the scene.  The voice of women as background is no coincidence, there, the mind of the protagonist takes the word knife, whose repetition, in crescendo, coincides with the camera that focuses the knife that she has in her hand, until the moment in which the word is transformed into a cry and she, in nervous shock, pulls the knife, creating a climax , with high impact on the Viewer. Image and sound are combined to generate an effect, and show what goes through the mind of the protagonist. Over time, the use of the sound became naturalized, increased dialogues and the incidental music as a natural part of a movie, so, to my mind, a little lost the mastery with which the filmmakers used it as a dramatic resource.

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The sound swirls around Alice; she is separate from it. This emphasizes how emotionally isolated she is from everyone around her, especially her parents. They're oblivious to the inner turmoil she's experiencing. To me, the silence of the phone booth becomes a physical representation of the emotional isolation she's experiencing.

 

When she asks her father if he has Frank's phone number he says no but that she an find it in the phone book. I was wondering if Frank's phone number just happened to be on the same page as that of the police but it's her tremendous feeling of guilt that causes her to focus on the police phone number.

 

When sitting at the table, her overwhelming feelings of revulsion and guilt about the previous evening's events cause her to only hear the word "knife" as the customer drones on and on and on! It's Alice's own emotional state that makes her hear the word knife shouted that last time, and she "loses it," tossing the knife away in a panic. Even then her clueless father reprimands her, with the comment, "you could have cut somebody." How ironic. But he and his wife never once wonder what is wrong with her. They're just as insensitive as the talkative customer! And that bell sounds like a death knell!

 

I'm assuming that this particular use of subjective sound doesn't happen frequently because directors felt they found better ways to make a point in their films.

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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.  In this scene he uses the repetition of the lady saying knife over and over to show you how she can't get her mind off of the murder.


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. Well visually you see Alice "calm" as she slowly reaches for the knife to cut the bread. She's uneasy, but she's not physically jumpy or twitching to indicate shes really startled. When you listen to the audio though, it gives you a look at her inner turmoil and the sound isn't steadily increasing either to give you a heads up that she's about to flinch. It just happens which gives the audience a jumpscare.


3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? I think it's because in today's cinema everything really relies on sound already, so using this exact style has to be used very wisely and carefully to make it really have an impact otherwise it won't work.


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Right away, you notice the silence while she is in the phone booth looking up a phone number. So we too are in that phone booth with Alice. She utters three words in this whole scene sequence, "No, not yet". One  tends to watch her movements and wonder what is going on in her head.

 

We hear the busybody that won't leave, talking about the murder while breakfast is being served. She talks about a knife and Alice is asked to cut the bread with a knife and handles the knife just as the other woman keeps speaking and every time she says the word "knife" Alice is shown touching the knife. The woman's speech aurally coincides with the actions of Alice as she mishandles the knife and it slips / jumps out of her hands onto the floor. Or we are led to believe this. It could be that Alice is hearing the word "knife" repeatedly.

 

I'm not sure why subjective sound is not used commonly in cinema. I rather find it interesting. It is a shame its not used more. It has great effect. Pity! I can only guess its because no one is as clever as Hitchcock to do so. Perhaps its hard to do.

 

 

 

 

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

 

First of all, we hear the woman talking about the murder as Alice comes out of the living quarters. When she goes into the phone booth it is completely silent, but she sees the listing for the police court. The moment she opens the door we hear the woman, mid-sentence, talking again, and she never shuts up. The camera follows Alice, however. When the family sits down to eat, the only person talking is the woman customer, and she's talking about the murder. She must say the word knife about fifteen times. This unnerves Alice when her father asks her to cut some bread. By then the woman's voice is muffled, except for the word "knife". I'll have to see the entire film, but the second bell indicating another customer has arrived seems to affect Alice too, though I don't know the significance of that.

 

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.

 

By the time Alice and her family sit down to breakfast, the woman customer is repeating knife almost every other word. Soon the only word we hear clearly is "knife". When Alice's father asks her to cut the bread, she hesitates to pick up the knife, and when she holds it, she is shaking. So when the word "knife" is spoken again, only this time very loudly, Alice jerks and the one she's holding flies over her father's head. During this entire sequence, we see only Alice, never the woman customer until after the bread knife ends up on the floor.

 

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

 

I saw a movie just this weekend that used a similar technique, though I must be getting old, because I can't remember which movie it was at the moment. In that movie, the main character is contemplating something and certain phrases come back to help her or him make a decision. It is a good way for the audience to get inside the character's thoughts and feelings. Maybe most modern movies don't use this technique because the use of music under most scenes does a similar thing. Music is emotive, so even though we might not really hear the music under the scene, we know how the character or characters are feeling.

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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.  

 

​Everything Alice hears as she begins her morning in the store triggers a very personal response from her. We know she's somehow more involved in the murder than just having heard about it when she looks up and commits to memory the phone number for the police. Frank? Mystery to me.

 

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 gossipy old gal begins to opine on how fundamentally un-British is the use of a knife in a murder. Killing someone with a brick somehow seems less foreign to her. As she drones on, her repetition of the word "knife" reverberates louder and louder in Alice's mind until all other words almost disappear. The sequence crescendoes when Alice picks up the bread knife to help serve breakfast and it leaps from her hand just as we hear one last loud screech, "knife!"

 

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

 

I think it's been supplanted by a strictly constructed inner monologue. Rather than speculating what someone is thinking by watching their reactions to what they hear (or think they hear) around them, we're treated to a stream of their inner thoughts expressed in a voice-over. I really like Hitchcock's approach here. I think it requires more effort and involvement from everyone, audience and actor.

 

 

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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 goes into the phone booth to look up the telephone number you stop hearing the babbling lady. Alice is focused on finding that number when she comes across the number for the Police. She throws the book down and walks out of the booth only to hear the constant babbling of the customer. She is now focused on the previous night.

  

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

 

After Alice sits down for breakfast, her father asks her to cut the bread. In the background the customer continues to run off at the mouth non stop and is taking about the knifing. Alice picks up the knife and zeros in on the word Knife. She is consumed by the knife and throws it to the floor in her mental anguish. She gets up to wait on a customer and he mentions the murder and how no suspects have been named and she barely speaks to him.

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

 

So much of todays cinema is visual with montage and flashbacks.

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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 walks into the phone booth, we no longer hear the sounds of the conversation happening outside. This lack of sound causes us to instead hear what Alice is thinking, as shown in her expression after seeing the number for the police. The gossipy customer with her talk of how a knife is not an English way to murder...this repeating of the word knife starts to upset Alice. The word becomes a screech by the time she throws the knife to the floor.

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 talking, and Alice is silent, focused inwardly. The repetition of the word knife is all she hears, until it seems a screech. The second bell of the customer also means something, but it's hard to know what without seeing the film.

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? It's too much work for modern audiences. Most times voice-overs or other visual methods are used to explain internal thoughts.

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  Mr. Hitchcock uses dysynchrony or counterpoint in these scenes involving Alice at the family's store with the use of scenery and sound. True to his word, Mr. Hitchcock did not match the sound to match the visuals. Alice feeling very cut off from the goings on in the family store is shown in a quiet phone booth removed from the others and startled by the words, "Police"  in the phone book. This is highlighted by Mr. Hitchcock and captures her immediate focus. This further alienates and stuns Alice from the group.

  The day to day chatter involving a local murder takes over the shoptalk and Alice seems in her own world as she is shown in pre-occupied close-ups amidst the disarticulated gossip. The shop sounds are far removed from Alice's distracted mind and she looks ill at ease through-out these commonplace scenes. While in close-up, Alice is moved only by the words, "knife" in the group's conversation. Her eyebrows match the intonations and are raised with each escalating and emphasizing recitation of the word. Finally, the counterpoint of these cozy kitchen scenes mesh with a loud utterance of the word, "knife," and Alice's subsequent clumsy and noisy toss of the knife. This jolts the scene as the sound and visuals match, finally. It breaks wide open the previous discordant scenes and the incongruous non-chalance of the group.  Flimsy comments ensue and Alice retreats once again into her state of removal or discord with the shop folks and day to day activities of the shop.  Yet the shop bell then clangs and Alice answers it, jolted as well. A "For Whom the Bell Tolls" moment. It tolls for Alice.

 Counterpoint then resumes.

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In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective "mind of Alice"? Be specific
I think Hitchcock was very creative using the gossipy woman's use of the word "knife", having it repeated louder and louder, with the other words sort of a visual blur. Sound had just begun and Hitch already knew some tricks! He was showing us how she heard the gossip's words in her head. Alice's eyebrows would rise very slightly every time the woman said "knife". So the viewer knew what nervous strain Alice was under, just by the use of the dialog of the gossip, who also had an unpleasant voice and appearance. Not a sympathetic role to play.

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 camera keeps showing Alice's hand reaching for the knife, and then showing her face. She is hesitant to pick up the knife. In her head, the gossip says the word "knife" louder and louder and it all builds the tension. Finally the knife flies out of Alice's hand, from being anxious and hearing the word "knife" over and over. It happens so suddenly, it shocks the viewer.

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

It's a subtle use of sound. People are so used to sound and dialog in films now. Also as Ben says on TCM, "we didn't know how to blow up things then". I don't know for sure. But it did remind me of the talkative woman in "Brief Encounter", where the main character had to listen to her shallow friend talk on and on as she was going through a crisis.
Also reminded me of the movie "Shine", when the protagonist was having a nervous breakdown while he was playing a difficult piece, and the there was no sound as his hands moved across the piano keys. That was showing how he was so overwrought in his mind.

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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.

That nosy woman just wouldn't shut up, and I think that by emphasizing the tone of her voice and then just the word "knife" in the conversation (and the bear inaudibility of the rest ) it played up Alice's nervousness.

 

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.

You have low conversation and the only part audible is "knife" which gradually gets louder, playing up the fact Alice gets more and more nervous the more the woman talks, until the loudest "knife" where Alice hits the edge of her nervousness and jumps, flinging the knife out of her hand, perhaps foreshadowing her involvement with the murder?

 

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

It grates on your nerves after a few minutes.

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1. At first we hear all the sounds available to Alice and then we begin to hear the ways in which Alice's mind manipulates and warps those sounds. At first she blocks them out by going into the phone booth. Then her mind tries to block them out and is able to muffle and repress all the woman's chatter except the word "knife" which repeatedly and painfully pierces through the muffled sounds. The final utterance of "knife" sounds like a near scream to us/Alice but we can tell that the others didn't hear it that way because they react not to the woman but to Alice dropping the knife. Finally, we hear a sort of agonized gonglike death knell that we only realize is a simple doorbell after Alice's father tells her about it.

 

2. One moment of counterpoint is when the woman is actually complaining about how it's not "British" enough to kill someone with a knife and she would prefer if they hit them over the head with a brick. This humor is completely opposite to Alice's existential horror at the thought of murder. Another counterpoint is that we keep hearing this invasive vicious repetition of the word "knife" and Alice is terrified while reaching for a....harmless butterknife. The butterknife itself flashes ominously but is actually quite blunt and doesn't even hurt anyone even though Alice pretty much hurls it. 

 

3. Because filmmakers aren't grounded in silent or visual storytelling they rely more on dialogue to move the story along, thus limiting the ways they can innovate with sound? 

 

 

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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 goes to the phonebook and shuts the door to the phone booth, she and viewers no longer hear the female customer talking. Alice is the only character hearing the distorted sound, for example, the emphasis on the word knife, during the conversation with the female customer. She is the only character experiencing these shifts in the sound, but viewers hear the shifts, too. It puts viewers in her perspective.

 

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 fumbling with the knife. She seems unable to use it at all, and the shot focuses only on the loaf of bread, her hand, and the knife. When Alice reacts to the repeated use of the word knife (in dialogue that is distorted and mostly spoken off screen), the knife flies out of the shot altogether. It speeds up the action suddenly because Alice reacts so suddenly. Viewers are already identifying with Alice, and the shot is already focusing only on Alice’s hand and the knife when the knife flies out of Alice’s hand and out of the shot.

 

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

One reason that subjective sound is not used frequently is precisely because viewers are in the mind of a single character. Everything that happens on screen is from that character’s perspective, and all other perspectives are almost completely blocked out. This technique has the effect of making the single character, who could be called “the narrator” of the scene, unreliable. Viewers know from the technique in Blackmail, for example, that Alice is upset and preoccupied. It makes it hard for her to interact with the other characters and thus limits the overall action in the scene for viewers, too.

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Hi everyone!  I've been thinking more about "subjective sound" as the day has gone on and I've read more and more comments.  I think that it's a technique that may be used more than we think.  It doesn't have to be like what Hitchcock did here (with distortion and one word coming through).  There are lots of other possibilities, at least if I understand correctly what it really means.  I’m assuming "subjective sound" means sound that is comparable to a POV shot: sound that the viewer hears “as if” they were the person in the film, from that person’s POV. . . .

 

4) In The Best Years of Our Lives, we hear Fred’s nightmares the way he experiences them even though we don’t see them.  (SPOILERS)  The first time, when he’s in bed, is vivid for sure, and we hear what he hears.  Then things switch and we also get Peggy’s POV because we hear Fred at first more muffled like she does from the living room.  But the sound is even more incredible in the final scene when he’s in the shell of the airplane.  We simply see him and the plane.  But we know exactly what is going on in his head because of the sound and score.  The sound does 90% of the emotional work.  His face does the rest.  Next time you watch that film, notice how the orchestra provides the sound effects for the plane starting (in his mind) and how the camera angle and movement is an optical illusion that makes it seem like the plane is moving and taking off.  All of this is subjective – we’re in Fred’s mind.  If you haven’t seen it – finish this course and then check it out!  So good! . . .

 

 

 

Well, those are some examples.  I hope these make sense in the context of subjective sound.  Thanks for the chance to think about this topic more. :) 

 

I saw The Best Years of Our Lives for the first time many years ago, and that scene in the airplane has always stayed with me. I have wanted to see the film again, to see if it still has that impact on me, so I thank you for the reminder (but, yes, I will have to wait until I've seen a lot of the Hitchcock films for this course!).

 

But I do think that such subjective sound is hard to pull off. It does put viewers inside the mind of only one character, which I think limits the overall action of the film and tends to pull viewers away from the narrative. To be used to great effect, it has to be used judiciously and sparingly. That's my guess, anyway.

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I have seen "Blackmail" in the silent version only, so this is completely new and I can truthfully say I saw this with fresh eyes.

 

We hear the gossipy customer talking non-stop about the murder until Alice shuts the door of the phone booth and is alone with her thoughts.

 

The gossip won't shut up about the murder and it takes its toll on poor Alice. Indeed the multiple use of the word "knife" is perfectly blended into Alice's inner thoughts culminating with "KNIFE!" which made me jump as well as other viewers.

 

In the silent version, dramatic music is used in the knife scene instead. This works just as well, and is one of the reasons we don't see it as much in cinema today. That, along with voice-overs of the person's inner thoughts is another reason.

 

I have seen the silent version twice, with the Alloy Orchestra for one, and Chicago pianist David Drazin for the other. Both had very moody and dramatic music for this film. (and Detroit Film Theatre curator Elliott Wilhelm prefers the silent version)

 

 

Another Hitchcock touch is zooming in on certain words on printed material to further stress what is going on with the protagonist. When Alice sees the area in the phonebook marked "POLICE" it causes her to freak out.

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The director uses sound to show that Alice is totally disengaged from her immediate surroundings. As the other characters continue discuss mundane manners, Alice remains essentially aloof from the dialogue. It is not until her inner thoughts and preoccupations intersects with the others conversation that the sound became forefront in the scene...to jarring effect. It seems clear that her obsession with a knife is in a very different context than the breakfast table, thus creating a powerful counterpoint. This type of technique is not often used because its subtlety may be misconstrued by audiences and there other sound techniques: inner monologue and voice-over that can be employed to more direct effect.

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1. Alice hears the sound of the scene differently from the other characters, and it shows in the way that she reacts to the repetition of the words, such as that of "knife." As an audience, we are fully delved into Alice's mind because we are hearing what she is hearing -- and thus, somewhat thinking what she is thinking. 

 

2. The visual focuses within the clip complement the aural ones. As we hear the word "knife" repeated, we see Alice's worry and fear at the repeat of the word. We also see the knife being dropped, which happens when "knife" hits the loudest volume in Alice's head. Alice's character, through facial expressions and dialogue, reacts to the sound that she hears, tying the two pieces together to create an interesting story.

 

3. I don't think that subjective sound is typically used in today's cinema because other techniques, such as inner dialogue and voice over, are popularized. 

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

 

 

As many other people before me have stated, Alice seeks refuge from that woman’s yak (but who wouldn't) in the phone box she thinks about reaching out to her copper boyfriend, but she can’t. We see Alice grow more agitated as the shrew babbles on and on about the murder. When at the breakfast table, where the woman comments SHE could never eat, and how could someone use a knife instead of a brick, her father finally asks her for a slice of bread (which both bread and knife look identical to the night before), Hitch plays with sound until the rest of her gabbing is muffled and we are placed subjectively into Alice again. Now the only word Alice hears is knife, Knife, KNIFE over and over. It would drive anyone mad.

 

 

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.

 

 

I believe I may have covered part of this in the first answer. E.G., the complete absence of sound when Alice enters the phone box, which is transformed into a soundproofed quiz show box. Alice must keep her composure when she is asked about news on the murder and disconnects from the everyday sounds going on about her. The sound of the doorbell startles her

 

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

 

I think it has to do with today’s style. Filmmakers are not as subtle as they were when they had to depend on their creativity and originality. Today the subjective “voice” is either spoken out loud (Rosemary’s Baby) or we actually hear their thoughts as they think them (to many to mention!). This is the era of expensive block busters , in which I suppose, correct me if I'm wrong, there is not much need for subjectivity and Pixar cartoons - which may have better odds

 

 

One shortcoming in this film is the murder scene. a. There is not a drop of blood anywhere and b. The knife is perfectly clean and shiny…something Hitch corrected in later films.

 

Oh and our director/extra is easy to spot here in this film.

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Hitchcock places us in the "mind of Alice," by having the sound follow where she goes in the scene. When she walks into the store, the voice of the gossip at the register goes from barely audible/ understandable to loud and clear, and as she steps into the phone booth, all sound stops. We don't even hear the pages of the phone book turn, or the click of the receiver. This also speaks to how the sound design operates at a counter point to the visual track because even though there is silence in the booth, we know from the visual cue of the Alice looking at the phone book entry for the Metropolitan Police, that her mind is wild with activity. The absence of sound is just as loud as Ms. Gossip's chattering. The use of sound is used to an even more pointed extent as Alice sits down to breakfast. Ms. Gossip's words have become a murmur and Alice sits at the table, lost in thought, with the word "knife" cutting through the air at even intervals. Alice is unnerved by the knife at the table, the audience is unnerved with the gossip's squeak. The visual and sound are at a counterpoint here b/c we see Alice struggle to reach for the knife. The audience is anticipating that she will be able to pick the knife up, and mangle the bread. Instead, we get one more punctuating, "KNIFE!" and Alice accidently throws it across the room. At that moment, sound and action meet and startle Alice and the audience.

 

I suspect this subjective sound method is not used much in cinema because while ingenious, I could see many audience members and studio people being confused by it. What is the gossips saying? Is it important? Why can't I hear it? Is the sound system broken? Wait, why can't I hear the pages turn? It creates more practical problems in terms of audience understanding than it is worth. It is a great tool for avant garde films, but more commercial films have to appeal to a broader audience. 

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(1) The use of gibberish puts the viewer in Alice’s mind.  The customer who’s rambling on about the murder repeatedly uses the word “knife” (the murder weapon on which Alice is fixated).  The customer says “knife” so frequently, “knife” becomes the only distinguishable word Alice hears.  The words in between each utterance of “knife” sound like gibberish to both her and the viewer.

 

(2) The whole time the customer rambles on about the murder, we keep hearing the word “knife,” so we, as viewers, are visualizing a knife before we see the bread knife on the table.  We see Alice’s face, which indicates her mind is racing.  Based on the setup of the scene, I was expecting some kind of injury to result when Alice picked up the knife and was therefore surprised that no injury occurred. 

 

I am not sure if the customer actually raised her voice (intonation and volume) on her final utterance of “knife,” which coincided with the knife flying out of Alice’s hand.  Perhaps it was simply that to Alice, it sounded like she had raised her voice.  In which case, it was a creative choice in order to punctuate the climax of the scene.

 

The ringing of the bell on the door (indicating the entrance of a new customer) sounded to me like the ringing sound which results from striking a knife on a glass partially filled with water.  This is yet another example of sound reinforcing the image of a knife.

 

(3) When I think of subjective sound in more recent movies, I think of POV audio when a character is drugged and/or about to pass out.  In this scenario, audio is sometimes slowed down, muffled, and/or distorted. 

 

Because sound in films has become quite sophisticated, both artistically and technologically (since its inception in the late 1920s), I think subjective sound would seem out of place in many present-day film scenarios.  I don’t think sound has “run its course,” as was predicted in the early days of talkies.  However, I think a new creative technique of some filmmakers is the strategic absence of sound at key points in their films.

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

 

By first following Alice from the room of the store, and then back to the table, the camera makes it clear that her guilt is the focus of the scene.  Then, by the words all being muddled except for the word "knife", we clearly understand her character motivations.  I found it interesting that when she went into the phone booth, we heard no sound at all.  This truly clarifies her character for us.

 

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 camera is focused completely on the business at the table.  Alice picking up the knife, and then trying to use the knife, and then, as the word "knife" is almost screamed by the gossipy woman, we see the knife leave the frame.  Somehow, perhaps Alfred Hitchcock is tapping into Alice's desire for the knife and all its implications to be gone, as it flies out of the scene.

 

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

 

I think it is too artificial for todays audiences.  It doesn't allow for the realism people expect today.  Perhaps they would buy some facial reaction whenever the gossip would say "knife" in todays motion pictures.  I have to stay, since sound was so new, I think it is an ingenious use of sound in a new developing form of moviemaking!

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Within this scene from Blackmail, Hitchcock exhibits Alice’s psychological state via aural hypersensitivity. He brings specific sounds to the forefront of the scene by amplifying their effects as personally experienced by Alice. Hitchcock is effectively​ placing the audience in Alice's point of view through the technology and craft of both dialogue and sound.

 

A woman, possibly a family friend, begins speaking about the murder and the weapon of choice, a knife. Her voice becomes muffled, nearly silenced, with the exception of the word “knife,” which appears more and more frequently within her dialogue. As the frequency of the word increases, so does the pacing. There is a sort of a rhythmic build up, nearly a melodic crescendo. And then reminiscent of a rimshot - bang! The inflection of her voice heightens, and the knife flies out of hand Alice's hand.

 

Alice is faced with both the visual and aural forms of a knife (the utensil itself and the word being spoken), and is then asked (albeit proper utilization) to make use of the murder weapon of choice. Hitchcock situates the shot of Alice picking up the knife and attempting to slice the bread in the center of the frame. Alice making physical contact with the knife, coupled with heightened, manipulated (almost witch-like) sounds of the word “knife” reach a psychological pinnacle for her as she reacts unintentionally, the outcome being the knife flying from her hand.

 

As I have yet to view this film, I'm unaware where this sequence occurs. I presume it takes place toward the beginning, possibly the middle, which is likely indicative of a starting point to Alice’s psychological deterioration. Hitchcock concludes this scene with the ringing of the entrance bell. This sound, too, indicates a psychological unease for Alice. Hitchcock manipulates the bell (as he does with the word “knife” to a frightening effect.) The manipulated ringing nearly sounds like a tuning fork in its musical form.

 

Subjective sound, while powerful, I feel is not as potent, for most people, as the subjective visual. A POV shot is likely easier to both capture and convey effectively on screen for moviegoers, as it appeals more to the masses (i.e. it's more suited for a wide audience.) Subjective sound could likely be considered more of an artsy/arthouse technique of filmmaking (i.e. it's more suited for certain types of filmgoers - cinephiles.) Mass audiences view movies as moving images. The visuals leave more of an everlasting impression, sound strengthens an image, but it typically isn't front and center. Personally, I prefer both POV shots and subjective sound, as I always find it interesting to explore the psychology that is the character.

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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.  


It is interesting how the sound mimics what we would be hearing if we were in the scene. The woman's voice is muffled until she opens the door. You can't hear the woman once Alice enters the phone booth which allows us to focus on the phonebook. The woman talking is unsettling since she never stops talking, adding to Alice's anxiety.


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 visual track is a seemingly normal morning for the family, but the woman's dialogue heightens Alice's anxiety and tension that seems to only be felt by Alice and the audience. As you start to only hear the word "knife" the tension mounts. The unexpected knife flying through the air is the culmination of the tension giving the audience a shock. 


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


Possibly because it is not what we are used to seeing in movies. I think it takes a lot of psychology to make scenes like this effective, if not done correctly people might walk away scratching their heads. 


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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. The combination of the melancholy of Alice and the rap fire gossip sets the tone that boils the nerves of Alice to the breaking point. The reduction of the gossip words to gibberish where only you here the word knife shows how Alice is feeling the guilt of the murder or her anticipation of being discovered. At this point we really don't know if she feels remorse at what she has done or if she is just afraid of getting caught. This is further unclear when her father mentions Frank and a bell goes off. Is this her way of finding a way out of her troubles or does she think about going to him to confess?

 

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 knife scene uses sounds to bill up the tension so that when she throws or drops the knife we jump. The bell ring gives us another sound effect by showing us with her eyes that she has come up with an idea after Frank's name is mentioned.

 

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? If you mean compared to today, than it is simply because a modern day picture with a drop in sound is considered unacceptable. If you don't have dialogue, than you must have music, with words, background noise such as industry or nature, or the extras speaking in throw-away dialogue.

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