Dr. Rich Edwards

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

251 posts in this topic

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the phone booth, Alice is blocking out the surrounding sounds, while she decides whether or not to call the police.  While conversation swirls around her, she appears to be in a trance at the table.  Her eyes flicker at every mention of "knife" by the gossipy visitor.  It's as if knife is the only word Alice is comprehending, with viewers hearing faint dialogue in between. 

 

The viewers can hear "knife" many times over, as we see Alice tipping over the edge. The final, sudden shrill of the woman yelling "knife" causes it to fly from Alice's hand, and gives the audience the feeling that something bad has just occurred.  That is not the case, however, as we see the man placing it back on the table with a casual "be more careful" warning given to a dazed Alice.   

 

I'm not sure why this type of subjective sound isn't used more frequently today, other than technology always changes how things are done and sets new standards.  I found the use of sound brilliant in this clip, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie in its entirety - I am new to early Hitchcock!

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

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.

LOL! Clearly I don't know how to use the multi quote.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

 

Someone mentioned the last moments of Gone With the Wind and Scarlet hearing all those voices.  That's very cool.  Here are some others that I can come up with that I thought I'd share for folks who are interested (there are some spoilers that I warn about):

 

1)  The Varsouviana Polka in A Streetcar Named Desire.  This really functions a lot like the word “knife” in Blackmail since (SPOILER ahead!) it was music that accompanied Blanche’s husband’s death which she believes she caused.  And so Blanche hears this music (and a gunshot) when she is reminded of her late husband.

 

2) Many moments in Amadeus where both Mozart and Salieri hear music in their heads.  Salieri often hears the music he sees in scores.  Mozart hears it as he composes.  And there are moments for both when the music suddenly stops when someone comes in the room, or gets their attention, or snatches the score away.

 

3) My guess is there are several moments in The Lost Weekend.  (SPOILER again) Certainly Ray Milland hears the bat and the mouse that are only hallucinations, but there are accompanying visuals.  But I bet there are other moments when he hears things in his head that he doesn’t hallucinate.  Come to think of it, that would be a perfect technique to use in The Man With The Golden Arm, though I can’t recall any since I haven’t seen that film in a while.

 

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!

 

5) On the Waterfront.  SPOILER:  the sound design at the moment that Terry tells Edie about Joey’s death is really incredible.  It too distorts sound – the ship noises drown out everything that Terry is saying.  In some way this is very real.  All that noise would, very realistically, drown him out.  But it also doubles as a way to get into Edie’s head and how she’s so upset that she really can’t even hear or take in what Terry is saying.  The distortion and mutedness of his voice is as much in her head as in the real world of the waterfront.

 

6) Finally, a very recent film, Carol.  The soundtrack there seems to have a moment of subjective sound.  (SPOILER) Carol and Therese are in the car together for the first time.  We hear the car radio playing music (diegetic), but then a wash of other sound overtakes that as if the two women no longer hear the radio but are caught up in their moment.  It really does feel like we are in their shared head space.

 

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've also been thinking that the whole subjective sound technique is used more than we realize. It's fun learning some of these technical aspects of film making...even though I've spent my whole life watching classic film, I've never really considered some of these things.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

 

The first effective scene that this occurred to me was when she stepped into the phone booth. Of course outside sounds would be lower or muted a bit but I think Hitch purposefully muted the outside sound of people chatting completely  in order to drive home how focused we are on Alice and how focused her mind is on what she’s thinking.

 

Next we get to hear the words “Knife, Knife, Knife” which seem to be in her head (even though the gossiper keeps saying the word knife too, and with the ladies voices sounding similar it could add to some confusion as to whether or not the lady kept saying knife or if we were hearing it in Alice’s head. Hence one of the importance's of her throwing the knife when she thinks KNIFE! really loud).

 

Another good use of sound to drive home a point was the loud DING of the bell when a customer came in. As loud as it was, even for us as viewers, Alice was so deep in thought she didn’t hear it and had to be told on two occasions that there were customers.

 

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 the throwing of the knife wasn’t intended to shock the viewer all though it probably gets a lot of jumps in the audience. I think he used that scene to put an exclamation on Alice’s internal thoughts about the knife. We again see how the sound of the bell dinging when a customer comes into the store and yet we see that Alice is oblivious to the sound because she is deep in thought.

 

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

 

Unfortunately a lot of flms today seem to use a form of subjective sound more for jump scares. Often music or loud sound f/x are utilized to act as the subjective sound. We might hear a loud d “THUMP” affect instead of a character thinking "I didn't think anyone was home." which often tells you it might not be a human up there and maybe the character is just imagining things. (It's probably a ghost)

 

There are some instances of excellent use of subjective sounds in films today and one of the best example's that comes to mind is the use of it by another master director, David Fincher in Fight Club -- more recently, Gone Girl. I think subjective sound should be used more because it can be a powerful way to communicate to the audience.

 

In the end, I think that directors and studios get caught up too much in verbal dialogue or fine tuning scripts the robotic way. The directors that stand out are always being creative and trying new things as well as making things that work, work better. I'd personally find it refreshing if a character is walking through the dark woods is subjectively thinking "I know better than to be walking out here alone!" than verbally shouting "Hello? Is somebody there?" 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It furthers the suspense in having the humdrum sounds of everyday (the water sound, the jabbering gossip) play in the background while the heroine is processing what has happened.  We see that she has intimate knowledge of the affair, but we don't know how.  Counterpoint of sound and psychology.

The knife scene is set up by the rhythmic build in the repetition of the word "knife", getting ever more frequent and louder.  I think modern directors use the actors' facial expressions much more, not needing so much sound to build tension.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In this scene, sound allows two things to happen at once: we see the outer reality of the customers who have encountered the knifing through media and the torture inner reality of Alice. Hitchcock achieves this in several ways: he uses enhanced volume to show how the word "knife" has a magnified importance for Alice. He also reduces the customer's commentary on the attack to a garbled stream of words that we only sometimes hear clearly. The words that matter most to Alice are the ones we also hear most clearly, so our consciousness is bounded to a great extent to what is important to her. As Bill Clinton might say, we feel her pain on account of Hitchcock's manipulation of sound. Just as the customer finishes her riff on how knives are not British, he turns our focus to a gleaming bread knife that looks much more like an assault weapon than a kitchen utensil with its thick, curving blade. We have every reason to think Alice may be spiraling into insanity as the word "knife" becomes a lurid "KNIFE." We brace ourselves as she starts to cut the bread as requested. Is she going to attack someone? Is she going to harm herself? But, no, the knife falls to the floor. It almost seems as if we are going to have a chance to relax, but then the metallic and menacing store bell sounds. In ordinary life, it would be a mundane announcement of a new customer, but for Alice and for us, it is an assault on our nerves. How does the sound of the bell connect to the distorted and frightening soundscape of the word "knife?" Honestly, I am not sure how to explain it on a rational level, but it works. The course materials brought up the idea that there is a comic element in these early Hitchcock films. If so, who is he laughing at in Blackmail. I think it's us. He knows that the sound effects have frayed our nerves. When that knife drops, we have to feel a little silly for being so scared. When the customer says that knifing is inappropriate, we have to enjoy the sardonic humor but, essentially, Hitchcock is asking us to laugh in the context of Alice's breakdown, a situation that really shouldn't be funny. In response to the final question about why current films don't use Hitchcock's sound techniques, I think that the point is not so much about sound as about being experimental. Sound recording was the latest thing at the time he made these films. This is not the case today, but we do see directors creating levels of reality through computer techniques. I recently watched a program about the making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. One of the major themes was that the cutting edge, almost impossible effects that the sound engineers working with George Martin innovated could no be repeated with the technology available on a cell phone. Hitchcock's heirs would be today's innovators not the people who use his techniques (though so many filmmakers clearly are inspired by his work).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems as Alice walks through the door of the shop, she is aware of sounds, but they are not registering. She seems to have a preoccupation with a problem that is giving her some anxiety.

The phone booth is giving her solace from the mundane gossip. As she enters the room for breakfast,

she is going through the motions of a daily routine, except for the gossipy woman's repetition of the word knife. It's that stabbing word of knife, that registers in her facial expressions. Each time the word is repeated louder and louder, her eyebrows are raised higher and higher like the rhythm of a stabbing knife. (Maybe it's a fore shadowing of the knife scene in Pyscho.) There is a clanging bell that has a vibration of metal sound waves,very eerie. I guess this type of subjective sound is too subtle for the average movie goer. I don't think it would would be appreciated. It is more of an art form.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't know if anyone else has mentioned this, but with the last repetition of the word knife, the volume is turned up so that final 'KNIFE' is a bit louder than the previous ones.  Also, when  that final 'KNIFE' is uttered a bell rings almost simultaneously.  This makes the audience ( and Alice) just a bit more startled.

 

The bell rings when the shop door opens and a customer enters to purchase a newspaper.  You can see him in the background when the shot switches to a wide angle and you see Alice's family and the shop in the background.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What fun Hitchcock must've had at the beginning of sound cinema. He was very innovative with his ideas. The young lady Alice certainly had a lot on her mind . I have never seen the movie and I'm looking forward to seeing it. When she goes into the phone booth we hear no sound just the screaming silence of her frightened thoughts. And then she opens the door to the sound of the rambling woman talking about the murder with the knife. And as young Alice sits down to her breakfast the sound emphasis of each time the rambling woman says "knife.. knife… Knife". All other words are muffled except that word: KNIFE . And then comes the jarring sound of the bell ringing when a customer enters. Don't know why today's movies don't use that kind of sound manipulation. It is very effective. Again, Hitchcock must've had great fun. And to our Delight.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. All of the sounds seem to "assault" Alice, who is obviously very nervous and frightened.  Most especially, the sound of the woman's voice and the word "knife."  Whatever the reality of what's being said might be, Alice hears only the words "knife" and "murder."  Because of her fears, in Alice's mind, the word "knife" is shouted when she is asked to slice the bread (use the knife) causing her to drop it. The contrast of silence when she enters the phone booth is marked.

 

It reminded me of the visual effects and montages used in The Ring showing the main character's imaginings of events due to fear of losing his wife to The Champ.

 

2.  A mundane breakfast scene is the setting, but while Alice's parents (?) are perfectly calm, Alice is obviously tense and wringing her hands while the woman is chattering about the murder.   We see Alice's eyebrows rising and falling when she hears the word "knife," with tension building (wringing hands) and her hands shaking as she tries to cut the bread, until she "hears" it shouted, causing the knife to fly out of her hand.

 

3. Maybe because it is annoying?  Or was it just that woman's voice?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great use of a sound effect that isn't the sound you're expecting (as in The 39 Steps, where the woman's scream is replaced by a train whistle).

At first, when Alice tosses the knife away, I thought the sound was the pinging of the knife blade hitting some sort of surface, but it was the store doorbell! And not 30 seconds later, another iteration of the doorbell, louder this time (an echo of the "knife blade" sound), gives Alice another start.

Looking forward to seeing this one; will also be looking for the subjective camera, and the use of landmarks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Question 1:

 

Considering that this is Hitchcock's first talky and the fact that the field of sound film is brand new and completely unexplored, I think that his first foray into this area is imaginative and effective in bringing us subjectively into the mind of Alice. She is obviously shaken and disturbed by her experience the night before.  The boorish woman droning on about the murder becomes a torture device to Alice, who eventually can only hear her continual use of the word "knife".  Her frazzled nerves finally interpret the word as a kind of a scream, causing the butter knife she is trying to cut cheese with to fly from her hands in a reaction of shock.  Through Hitchcock's already effective use of sound, we can hear how her brain is interpreting these assaults and sympathize with her reaction.   A moment later, we can hear her brain's interpretation of the bell on her shop's door as a vibrating knife. We know about the terror she's experiencing because we've been given these insights by Hitchcock's clever use of sound design. In so many films of that time, sound is thrown in as a gimmick to garner a larger audience.  Hitchcock is already employing sound to add more punch to the scene and to allow us to gain a further insight into the character's psyche.   We can certainly SEE that she is shaken and terrified.  Sound adds a further dimension to our insight into her terror.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I watched Blackmail several years ago, and while I've forgotten most of the film and look forward to seeing it again, I definitely remembered the "knife" scene, seen in the Daily Dose clip.  I'm a big fan of silent film and am especially interested in early talkies, because so many of them got worse as directors and writers and creative team members focused almost exclusively on the sound (like putting microphones in vases conveniently placed in the middle of tables where actors just "happened" to be), and forgot about the rest of the story.  Since Hitchcock at this (and even later stages) was primarily a silent director (with a focus on the visuals), he used sound in a completely different way.  Sound didn't take over his films -- it punctuated the story, and that's exactly what happens in this bread knife scene.  As others have said, the obvious ways sound design puts you into Alice's state of mind is that you hear what she hears -- a low-level conversation from the chattering customer, complete silence when she goes into the phone booth, and then the rhythmic (and escalating) sound of the word "knife" as the gossipy woman continues nattering on.  No wonder the knife flew out of Alice's hand!  Even the louder sound of the bell jingling as a second customer walks in comes soon on the heels of the escalated sound of the word "knife," and appropriately jangles our nerves as viewers.  We are right there with Alice, feeling what she's feeling.

 

I wish subjective sound WERE used more today.  We seem to use sound to enhance explosions and over-the-top visuals to please the young movie-going popcorn crowd.  Hitchcock (while not always subtle) used subjective sound in a completely creative way.  Every time I see a clip of an interview with Hitchcock, I'm always amazed at how he has an answer for every detailed question -- he thought about everything, and there was never a wasted moment.  I just don't think films are created with that in mind anymore, and certainly, most directors don't think in the same terms Hitchcock did.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Alice seems timid and nervous, not looking people in the eye as she clerks for her customers. When Alice goes into the phone booth we can no longer hear the customer gossiping. Alice is alone with her thoughts and is in a silent space, once she walks out of the booth we hear the customer and other ambient noises. Hitchock uses harsh sounds, the bell, the customer's annoying voice and then "knife" all loud, short staccato sounds. Jarring to the audience and Alice.

 

 

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 definitely preoccupied and her thoughts and is trying to ignore the customer, Alice seems timid in a way, or is she keeping a secret? Is she involved in the murder? The customer is an annoying woman who is there to gossip with the owners of the store. She even tries to invite herself to breakfast. The customer keeps referencing the murder with the knife, something that is not "British" a brick would be better according to her. As the customer speaks the word "knife" Alice gets jumpy. As the word "knife" is repeated and gets louder is Alice the only one who hears this? Alice wrings her hands like someone hiding a secret, then at it's loudest Alice throws the knife accidentally across the room.

 

 

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

I am not sure I agree with this statement. A lot of dramas and horror movies use loud staccato noises to grab the viewers attentions and to add anxiety and angst as they are viewing the film. We clearly see Alice flustered, In Psycho the wielding knife sound in the shower scene, the "Here's Johnny" axe hammering through the door in the Shining for example.

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately the quote option is not functioning for me, at this time but I wanted to acknowledge some wonderful examples posted by my classmates.  Quoting classmate dweigum on "Sound technique...the scene in Saving Private Ryan when the protagonist becomes temporarily deaf...making the horror of the battle images even more horrific...".  What a great scene with sound for a point-of-view.

 

Quoting classmate Earthshine "Even though Blackmail predates it by more than 30 years, I was reminded of Robert Enrico's 1962 version of the Ambrose Bierce story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", which uses minimal sound as well."  An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge can be found on YouTube and is highly recommended.  

 

Two excellent examples on the importance of sound fused with the cinema image.      

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. You can tell that he is using the woman who is talking about the murder to be one of the things that Alice is thinking about because of how the shot shows Alice, not speaking, somewhat lost in thought, but we still hear the woman rambling about the murder before the camera slowly moves to show the woman speaking.

 

Also there is the strong use of sound later in the scene when the camera is on Alice but the word that Alice hears most from the rambling woman is "knife" and she looks more and more uncomfortable.

 

2. Alice keeps focusing on the customer saying the word knife, which is starting to build tension with the audience. The customer begins to get louder and louder then yells the word knife right as Alice throws the knife in her hand.  Tension is building with both Alice and the customer which makes the audience equally anxious...

 

3.  I think that today's directors think that the more effective way of instilling fear into an audience is to use very loud sounds (door slams, bangs, etc.) as tension with a character builds...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hitch used sound design as a "point / coounterpoint". The gossip woman droning on about the murder mad eAlice distressed, and could not concentrate on anything ("point"). When she entered the phone booth, the sounds were toatlly muted, not partially like they would be in real life. This allowed her to concentrate on a task ("counterpoint").

 

The scene at the table was great! Alice was clearly nervous about handling the knife, and the constant repeating of the word "knife" among the unintelligible talking was itself a form of "stabbing". Hitch wonderfully used this scene to show his penchant for humor in dire circumstances. The audience must have chuckled when she threw it in the air after the final loud word "KNIFE" was spoken. It startled me! And, of course, the humor contnued when the father stated "you should be careful....you could hurt someone!"

 

Sound design isn't used much now because it is too easy for film-makers to use music to set up the shot. Increasing tempo, music gets louder, then WHAM! Bad guy startles the audience (and the unsuspecting woman walking through the spooky house in the film)! Hitch got it right, but it takes a lot of intelligent sound design to do right these days, and thats not happening.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The characters in the scene hear the jangle of the bell over the shop door; they engage in conversations that a murder generates; they exchange pleasantries and gossip.  However, Alice’s reality is far different, and the audience is privy to her world through her reactions to the way she perceives what we hear.  Hitchcock then gives us what she hears.

Alice is destroyed, and the judgmental, strident-voiced busy body will not shut up.   Alice reacts to that onslaught by escaping briefly into the silence of the phone booth while looking for Frank’s number.  The police listing offers no solace; it heightens her distress.  She cannot get help from Frank.  Alice’s reaction to the customers’ comments about the murder and the murder weapon is silence.   She cannot escape into silence, though.  Doors opening and closing bring her back to her desperate reality.  The annoying customer intrudes on Alice and her parents even as they gather for breakfast.  Alice’s reaction to each repetition of “knife” is a subtle lift of her eyebrows.  This and her trembling hand are the only indications that she is barely hanging on.  The audience becomes accustomed to the counterpoint of that woman’s voice and is further lulled by the ordinariness of the breakfast table.  The viewer is so infuriated by the sound of that woman’s voice that he is completely startled when Alice loses control and flings the knife.  Alice reacts to the shop bell as if it were the bell that ends a bout in a boxing ring.  Or, the sound of a knife on fine crystal.

 

It would seem that today’s technology would make this technique easier to do; so I don’t know why it isn’t used more frequently in cinema.  Unless it boils down to being about the almighty dollar and movies having to appeal to fourteen-year old boys.  Subjective sound might be too cerebral.  My abject apologies to cerebral fourteen-year old boys.  And, I mean that with all sincerity, because I have known some.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Alice's mind is focused on nothing but the murder. She is mostly oblivious to any sound save that which is related to the murder. Her entry into the phone booth where she heard nothing the last was saying would end me to believe at that point the last had moved off the murder and was talking about something else, but we don't really know. Back outside the booth, the lady contines talking but Alice not hears words which relate th where her mind is fixated, namely the knife and 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.

 

The lady talking about the murder and the weapon involved. At that point Alice is asked to cut bread. She nervously picks up the knife and as she try's to cut she only hears the word knife used over and over again. The word becomes repeated more rapidly, and gets louder each time. the volume of it peaks as the knife flys out of Alice's hand. She then returns to the moment and her mind is taken away briefly from the knife and the murder...as customers come and go.

 

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

 

Most times today, if we wanted to know what Alice was thinking about, we would hear her thoughts and there would be no doubt what was in her mind. The use of subjective sound, such as getting into the characters mind by hearing what they hear puts the impetus on the viewer to construct the thoughts of the character at that point. It's not used frequently because viewers are too lazy... :).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

 

Alice as the scene begins it is in pure silence; but as she approaches the door we hear the rising voice of a customer talking about the murder the night before. Alice already preoccupied and dazed as in a dream go about her daily task as nothing is happening. It is conveyed through the silence beginning and the hearing of the customer is like what Alice's mind is saying out loud.

 

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. 

 

When she sit downs for breakfast, the intensity of the jabbering customer becomes more pronounced. The word "Knife" become a key to her mind as it is being repeated more intense the previous. As Alice prepares to cut the bread, the "knife" was louder in her mind that she jumped and the knife fell out of her hand.

 

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

Many films are now have this subjective sound effect since Blackmail. Many directors have used it to the fullest none like Hitch.
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

 

The sounds such as the store's bell; the annoying customer's voice, and the specific word 'knife' is used to convey the point that maybe murder scares Alice, or there's something much deeper is going on. Maybe Alice knows something about the murder, but she isn't telling anyone about it. The sounds, especially the knife can also symbolize how slowing she is losing her mind. She is only concerned about the news, nothing else. It's like she's hypnotized in some way.

 

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 this case, the sound has a sharp effect, especially when Alice is concerned. Whether something about murder comes to mind, she immediately becomes undone. I don't know if it was deliberate on his part, but maybe he wanted the audience to figure out what's really going on, or if he wanted us to react like the knife was going to hit something or someone, because of Alice's anxiety. The word 'knife' is repeatedly over and over, until it gets screamed out, which causes Alice to lose her nerve and lose the knife. Like I said in the first question, maybe she knows something, or that murder just really freaks her out.

 

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

 

I think it's because of either technology has changed, or that maybe directors, especially those who also admire Hitchcock feel that maybe they just can't achieve the same technique that Hitchcock successfully used in his films. Also, some directors now, they let CGI take place of actual emotional or mental impact. They think that they are too above or sophisticated to go back to the basics of why sound is important in film in the first place.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Hitchcock uses sound in the sequence we see from the perspective of Alice. In other words, it is the sounds not just that are going on around her, but that she is focusing on.

 

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. 

Hitchcock often has a conversation going on in the background while he simultaneously moves the camera around either to capture something that someone is doing, or to reveal something else that he wants the audience to pay attention to.

 

In the scene we are shown, Alice is obsessing over the murder, and the conversation goes on without her. You can see visually that she is consumed by inner thoughts. Hitchcock cleverly uses the audio to reveal some insight to her state of mind by emphasizing the word 'knife' to the point of absurdity. The drumbeat of repetition of the word ramps Alice up to a frenzy as it resonates with her interior monologue.

 

In other instances, he uses the audio as a counter point to what the visual story being told is.

 

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

 

I don't know that the current state of cinema support the work of auteurs like Hitchcock. This being said, other films such as Rosemary's Baby and Repulsion use subjective sound very well to create a sense of the surreal to those stories.

 

Out of fashion?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

 

Hitchcock begins the scene on an objective wide shot as Alice enters her father’s store.  Everything seems peaceful up to the moment she opens the door to find her family and a rather annoying neighbor discussing a murder in the news that, unknown to everyone in the room, involves Alice.  This wall of noise, especially from the neighbor, seems burdensome to Alice.  When Alice escapes to make a call in a phone booth, things are suddenly peaceful again.  Hitchcock uses the absence of her family and neighbor’s voices to represent the temporarily calm in Alice’s mind.  However, as soon as Alice returns, she is bombarded with the neighbor’s continued discussion of the murder.  The constant barrage of words becomes unsettling to Alice and the audience as a kind of weaponized speech that seems accusatory.  As the neighbor’s tirade expands, Hitchcock intercuts close-ups of Alice’s guilt-ridden face until the final moment when Alice throws up the knife.  At that moment, the shot immediately returns to an objective point of view.   

  

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.

 

Hitchcock designs the sound to show Alice’s subjective frame of mind in much the same way that one might visually show a person’s subjective POV by going in and out of focus with the camera lens.  As the annoying neighbor rattles on about the previous night’s murder in the news, her speech becomes indistinct for everything she says except for the word “knife”.  In this way, the word “knife” becomes the audible equivalent of a slashing motion of an actual knife with its constant repetition.  The effect of moving between the inaudible portion of the dialogue to the single distinct word “knife” is akin to going in and out of focus with the camera lens, except with sound.  This blurring of sound seems to indicate that Alice is trying hard to ignore the neighbor’s rant.  The final piercing utterance of the word “knife” is like the final deathly slash of the knife in which Alice remembers delivering and she therefore reacts.

 

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

 

I think that there are many examples in film that uses the blurring and focus of sound as a method to indicate a subjective state of mind.  I think that the major reason that Hitchcock’s technique to show Alice’s state of mind is not used is because it’s not completely successful.  The blurring of the annoying neighbor’s dialogue except for the word “knife” is a little distracting in presentation.  I think that the sequence would work better had the audience been able to hear all of the dialogue with an emphasis on the word “knife” instead.  But, this was an experiment in sound by the newly initiated Hitchcock.  

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us