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.  

 

I've never actually seen this film in its entirety before, so I don't truly know why Alice is so engrossed in the idea of this murder. Maybe she was involved in some way. Maybe she's having a "Golden Curls" moment, worrying that she could become the next victim (or that someone she knows might). Whatever the case, we see how focused she is on it by the way she starts tuning out every sound in the room except for every instance where the speaking woman in the room says "knife". 

 

Alice has gone from listening to this woman contemplate the use of a knife as a murder weapon -- ("I'd never use a knife", "at least a brick to the head is British", et cetera). It's honestly some pretty callous talk considering the fact that someone somewhere is dead. The woman is clearly just gossiping and couldn't really care less about what's happened. We see that Alice feels differently by how bothered and mesmerized she is by not only the word knife, but by everything it represents in this context. As the woman continues talking, Alice reaches a place where she is listening, but not listening at the same time because she is ruminating so hard on what's happened and how it happened. We know this because all that jumps out sound-wise is the word KNIFE... KNIFE... KNIFE while the rest of the conversation is nothing but dull background noise.

 

However, while we're looking into Alice's mind and getting a glimpse of what's going on there -- especially when she eventually becomes agitated enough to throw/toss/drop the knife -- we're not entirely occupying the same headspace she is (or at least not yet). When the doorbell rings and signals there's a customer/things to be done, it was loud enough to startle me and bring me straight back to reality, but Alice is still off in her own knife-centric world somewhere to the point where I was mentally thinking: "Girl, you better go get that customer." Then others in the room echo my thought by prompting her to see to her job.

 

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 definitely jumped when Alice threw (?) the knife. I think it's because I just expected her to cut the bread for everyone as she was asked to do. Visually, I'm looking at the bread and seeing it as if I'm sitting across from Alice, almost as if I'm waiting my own turn for her to hook me up with a slice. My visual focus is there, so I'm just assuming that Alice's is also there to at least some extent. I'm definitely hearing the KNIFE... KNIFE... KNIFE over and over as well which shows Alice is thinking about something other than simply cutting some bread and eating lunch.

 

The emphasis on KNIFE grows louder and louder though. The longer it takes Alice to cut that bread, the deeper the suspense grows. At one point, I sort of felt hypnotized by the repetition of KNIFE myself and the fact that nothing else in the shot is changing or moving much. Then suddenly... there goes the knife. It definitely startled me. Reminded me almost of a jump scare in a horror movie, although much more artfully done.

 

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

 

I think modern viewers and filmmakers in general have gotten so familiar with sound, color, effects, and the like to have fallen out of love with those things a bit. In that process, we've forgotten how powerful they can really be -- especially sound. I suppose these days, filmmakers feel they have better ways to show viewers what's going on in a character's head if that's what they're looking to do -- visual flashbacks, CGI, etc.

 

There are exceptions of course (like some works by the likes of David Lynch, David Fincher, and Lars Von Trier to name just a few examples), but they are exactly that. Just exceptions. I'd personally like to see subjective sound used more. I like the way it gave me a look inside Alice's head, but didn't necessarily spell it right out for me the way a visual might have. 

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1. Hitchcock used interesting sound techniques to put the audience into the mind of Alice (Anny Ondra), including the customer of the store and her emphasis on the word “knife” when Alice was picking up the knife to cut a slice of bread, until the customer yelled “knife!!” loudly (causing Alice to drop the knife on the floor).  In addition to the sound of the knife being dropped on the floor, another interesting sound effects cue that Hitchcock used was the odd “service bell” ring sound effect, which also sent Alice in a semi state of shock. My guess is that Hitchcock wanted the audience to be glued in their seats during “Blackmail” with the sound techniques and cues that he used.

 

2. You can hear the conversation between the store owner and the customer (who yells “knife!” later in the scene) when Alice is there and when Alice shuts the door to the phone booth to look up the number for the police courts, you do not hear the conversation between the customer and Alice’s boss, just silence (when Alice is in the phone booth, it looks like it was filmed at a different speed instead of 24 frames per second, this might have been originally done for the silent edition of “Blackmail,” except for the part when Alice opens the door at the end of the portion and you can hear the customer talking).  Another element would include a “cut-on-action” portion when the customer yelled “knife” when Alice was trying to cut a slice of bread, then cutting the wide camera shot with Alice throwing the knife to the floor when she is having dinner with the store manager. 

 3. Not sure about this, but subjective sound might be enhanced in today’s cinema with the use of various foley sound effects and orchestral (or prerecorded) “source music” cues (depending on the director’s overall artistic/auteur vision for their desired production).

Happy Fourth to all fellow students of the TCM/Ball State "Hitchcock 50" course!

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Hitchcock uses both the visuals and sound to filter the scene through Alice's perspective. We're more used to this type of filtering in literature than in film. For example, a novel might be written in the third person (He, She, It) but with the narrative perspective and awareness attached and limited to one person. We call this type of narration third person attached, as the unnamed narrator is not the main character (which would be first person) but is limited to that character's experience. Sometimes we explain this type of narration as though the "camera" of the narrator was placed on one character's shoulder.

 

In the actual medium of film, however, camera work needs to be more dynamic. We might see things at an angle of a character's perspective for a time, but eventually we need to cut away to take in reactions and establishing shots. So what is the film equivalent, then, to third person attached narration? It has to be more than just following one character around. Literature allows us to climb inside of a character's head and find out what they are thinking and feeling. Simply placing the camera in the same room as a character isn't enough to convey this in a film. But Hitchcock figured it out.

 

He keeps the camera, for the most part, closed in on Alice. We are crammed into the phone booth with her, or in her face at the breakfast table because she is closed into herself, only occasionally aware of others, as we occasionally pan out to see them too. Likewise, we hear the sound as she hears and processes it, not as it would realistically sound in the setting. The conversation from the other room is only a warble until Alice opens the door because she is lost in her own thoughts. When she is in the phone booth and fixated on the phone book, the sound is eliminated completely because she is not paying attention to it. At the breakfast table, we don't follow all of what the customer is saying because Alice isn't paying attention either, except for the word "knife," which drives her into her own inner turmoil. The customer is not repeating the word with more and more volume, and she certainly doesn't scream it in the end. But because Alice's inner anxiety is building, we hear the word spoken louder and louder, until the sound of it screamed causes her to throw the bread knife.

 

Hitchcock masterfully achieves in film a technique usually thought exclusive to literature. He provides us the scene narrated by visuals and sound. But they are attached to Alice, filtered through her understanding and awareness. 

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"He keeps the camera, for the most part, closed in on Alice. We are crammed into the phone booth with her, or in her face at the breakfast table because she is closed into herself, only occasionally aware of others, as we occasionally pan out to see them too. Likewise, we hear the sound as she hears and processes it, not as it would realistically sound in the setting. The conversation from the other room is only a warble until Alice opens the door because she is lost in her own thoughts. When she is in the phone booth and fixated on the phone book, the sound is eliminated completely because she is not paying attention to it. At the breakfast table, we don't follow all of what the customer is saying because Alice isn't paying attention either, except for the word "knife," which drives her into her own inner turmoil. The customer is not repeating the word with more and more volume, and she certainly doesn't scream it in the end. But because Alice's inner anxiety is building, we hear the word spoken louder and louder, until the sound of it screamed causes her to throw the bread knife."

 

I noticed this too -- Alice is focused solely on her situation and as such only the things she thinks about -- police courts, the knife, the actual murder -- are actually "real" to her. The word knife takes on a particularly hypnotic feel, almost sending Alice into a trance (as an aside I wonder if Jordan Peele was inspired by this scene for Get Out) to the point where she can't function. Likewise her fixation with the police, make things like the ringing of a door chime take a more ominous tone. 

 

 

 

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1. By carefully using specific sounds within the scene, Hitchcock invites the audience into Alice's mind. Take for example the focus on the word knife by tuning out the rest of the conversation, and by over emphasising the word, the audience is in the same state as Alice: trance like, fixated on the murder and a potential conflict with the law.

 

2. By focusing as much as possible on Alice rather than the action around her, Hitchcock baits and switches the audience: we're so focussed on Alice that we don't notice the knife until she drops it and we hear knife crash to the floor. Add to this that again, the word knife lulls us into a trance like inducement again we like Alice forget about everything going on around us.

 

3. I believe a lot of it has to do with economy. In one of the interview clips we watched last week Hitchcock was particularly vocal about the visual and the sound being at odds with each other but because of a need to emphasize the story that doesn't happen. 

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1) When Alice is sitting at the breakfast table, the only word she seems to hear from the customer is "knife". You can see the tension in the actor's face as the word is used over and over and the tension builds until the word screams at her. I also like the tension in Alice when she enters the phone booth and the sound from outside is muted and you only have Alice's expressions to provide the impetus of the tension.

 

2) In the sequence, the word "knife" is amplified gently and and in different rhythms until suddenly, the word is shouted at the audience in a surprising way and this in turn is the cue for the knife to fly from Alice's hand. The suddenness and the amplification of the word provides a shock for the audience.

 

3) I found this very unique as a way to play the audience. I also note that there is no musical soundtrack at this point. As movies "modernized", many of these type of shock sequences were provided by the musical texture through ebbs and flows in the score.

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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.

 

Alice is preoccupied with the murder that was committed by knife, so she is overly focused on the word knife, it's all she really hears as the woman is speaking. Hitchcock's sound design is to lower the volume as the woman is speaking but he turns the volume up every time she says the word knife - in that way, knife is the only word the viewer hears and we can now feel what Alice feels.

 

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.

 

My answer would be the same as my answer to question #1. Other than that, the woman pretty much screamed "knife" at the time Alice threw the knife and her shriek was jarring or shocking.

 

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

 

Nowadays, films use music in the soundtrack to evoke emotion, even when an actor or actress is saying something emotionally, there would still be music underneath the words, so this kind of subjective sound isn't used that often.

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When I watched the daily dose, I didn't find the scene funny. However watching the whole film and when it got to that scene. I found the whole scene funny, with the lady chattering on about a knife. Then she says knife and the guy says be careful with that knife you might cut someone! I believe hitch meant it to be funny, hence dark comedy.

 

Other observations this film to me is when hitch finds his film style and decides to keep working in this way. He found a winning formula.

 

Alice I found naive. Her Spidey senses didn't go off as a woman. I found that artist guy incredibly lechrous and creepy. I could sense what he was after. Plus he was making sure no one knew Alice was there. He told her to start up the stairs, thus making the landlady think he was alone.

Then Alice trying on the dress, I kept saying don't do it Alice, that guy could be the strap killer or a rapist.

 

I also found the film very similar to Dial M for Murder. Where a woman killed in self defense, but in Grace Kelly's case she wasn't telling because she was involved in adultrey and in Alice's case she wasn't telling because I'm sure her parents would have said why were you up there?. The hanging arm looks just like dead man's hanging arm in Dial M for Murder and so does the struggle and the way he was knifed. And the chase scenes with the column echo Strangers on a Train.

This film is like the wrong man films except Alice did kill the man in self defense

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Alice's subjective mind is shown by allowing us to hear what Alice does. As she is focused on the talk of the murder, that is the main conversation we are allowed to hear. When she steps into the phone booth and ceases to pay attention to the conversation taking place outside, we hear nothing, but instead are  shown the police number and her anxious reaction.

 

While Alice is reaching for the knife to cut the bread, the focus is solely on the word 'knife'. Her hand shakily reaching for the knife shows you Alice's fear. The knife turns and glints while the word pierces the conversation. There is a momentary lull before the shriek of "knife!" It is aurally jarring while we are surprised by the knife flying from her hand.

 

I think the use of subjective sound leads you to  think of the disturbed emotional state of the character. Music is often used to create emotion in the viewer today. The tension and fear in "Psycho" was felt through the string music. It played like a repetitive scream.

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Based on the scene alone I can see how Blackmail is labelled as a dark comedy. The sound elements helped me see how emotionally distraught she was. From when she went in the phone booth (and not hearing anything so she could focus on her next move) to when she was sitting at the table only hearing the word knife. 

I don't quite know why it's not frequently used in cinema but I appreciate Hitchock's use of sound to get in the mind of the character. I imagine that audiences tend to understand it better when the sound is just normal as opposed to an artistic approach. Or mainly that it's easier and a safe bet for audiences.

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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 most obvious use of sound design in this case is hearing the word "knife" repeated in the dialog. It has been established that Alice is deeply disturbed by this particular murder and given her own experience, she's frightened to the core - all of which is expressed visually. In Alice's mind, though, it's as if the murder is all anyone can talk about, including the sometimes darkly humorous prattle of the female shopper/neighbor. All of her dialog, and of others -- plus the bread knife on the breakfast table -- serve to further unnerve Alice, to the point of dropping the bread knife (and being admonished by her father to be careful because she could "cut" someone!).


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 attention of the audience is focused on the dialog about the knife, which is interspersed throughout the scene and draws us into the terror that is rooted in Alice's mind. The word is repeated continuously and louder each time it is heard in this sequence, which adds to Alice's growing anxiety --  and climaxing when she reaches for the knife and it flies out of her hand (and as stated in my response to question 1, prompting the remark of her father), which I found jolting. Sound was used to punctuate Alice's state of mind, as well as to advance the plot.


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


The technique requires the audience's attention and investment of time that is often traded for a faster moving pace, flashier visuals and special effects that are popular with today's filmgoers.


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1. The expression on Alice's face and the closeup shot of the knife gives the illusion that she is obsessing on the knife, even though it's the gossipy woman saying it. This scene could have been shot in total silence with just the three at the table and it would have had the same effect. As Hitchcock stated it is the expression should be able to get the point across without words. That it's an art to get the two to happen at the same time. This is an early example of where he is playing in getting the two to work together.

 

2. Alice focuses on the woman telling the story and repeating the word knife. And as she repeats the word she says it louder and Alice get more nervous trying to use the knife building tension of the audience. The audience is focused on the knife as it flies out of her had as if to relieve the tension.

 

3. Today it's almost a lost art in using this technique. The audiences today expect almost everything spoon fed to them with constant sound. As I stated above the scene could have been shot in total silence and still get the point across.

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The sound was used in particular to divide the scene into two separate worlds - that of the shop and that of Alice's mind.  I particularly felt this when the sound was muffled while the shop door and phone booth door were shut.  You could see Alice was deep in thought, hands grasping her sweater, eyes downcast, and as the chatterbox customer asked her had she heard about the murder, she leans into Alice, basically piercing her space.  I felt that the striped top the customer wore was jarring as well.  The gibberish accented by the word "knife" was very effective, making the word itself a blade stabbing Alice's mind.  She remains basically silent, and at the request to cut the bread at breakfast, her hand shakes, and is tentative as she holds the blade, rendering her unable to complete the task. I haven't seen the film yet, but apparently she has used this weapon to slice more than bread.  It weighs heavy on her mind, and the action of using the knife again seems repulsive, causing Alice to hurl the knife from her hand at the shrill sound of "knife' in the customer's mouth.  Alice wants to retreat from any interaction with her family and customers, but the bell which peals in an increasing and painful ringing leads Alice back to the shop counter where she is one more assaulted by the talk of the murder.

 

The counterpoint of sound and visual centers on the talk of the murder and Alice withdrawing into her interior turmoil.  The simple task of having breakfast turns into a stark reminder of an overwhelming anxiety, not understood by the other characters in the scene.  Alice is jarred out of her silent agony by questions, objects, and the customer bell.  She is desperately trying to navigate through her usual day, while wrestling with the preceding turmoil in her, and being constantly reminded of it.  When she throws the knife, she if trying to separate herself from what had happened regarding this usual daily implement.

 

I don't think this technique works well today, particularly in younger audiences.  Most need constant  snippets of ever-changing data, sounds, and scenery to get through the day.  A film like this, for the most part, would not hold their attention.

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Hitch composes his scene like a symphony conductor, the cashier rings ~ the fish wife chattering all converge with crescendoes and stops. The chattering begins, then fads when Alice is in long shot and the close-up of telephone type in the booth, her focused eyes say it all. She returns to 'reality' as the chattering resumes as she renters the shop. We are in Alice's churning mind's eye. The cashier ding snaps her back, Hitch uses sound to emphasize the visual effectively here.

Hitch described an interesting quality of visual and auditory counterpoint in his Truffautut interview, "...why not use an expression in opposition to the sound, that way you double the story telling impact." I dub this, HITCHCOCK IRONY.

Alice startles as we, the audience jump with shared guilt.

The door chime signals our synchronization. Hitch's work is done. We feel her pain.

Basically DPs (Directors of Photography) and sound engineers still use this stuff all the time, it has become part of our cinematography DNA!

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OK - I'm having a had time with these three questions, but I'll take a stab at it.   Sorry for the pun!

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

Three moments where sound design placed us in Alice's state of mind here:

a. closing the door on the phone booth, cutting off the sound, forces the audience to pay attention to Alice and what she may be thinking.

b. the customer ringing the counter bell that sounded more like an alarm. In moments of anxiety our reactions to sight and sound are intensified.

c. Obviously, she only hears the word 'knife'.  Everything else said is reduced to a mumble.  The reaction to the word 'knife' is like being stabbed every time you hear it.

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 sound we hear during the knife/table scene has no direct relationship to what we actually see on the screen.  We know she's thinking about the knife, she see the knife, but all we hear is the word knife coming from an external source.

Also, I think he is blending suspense and dark comedy here.   The gossipy, nosy neighbor/friend comes up a lot in Hitchcock films, and provide a light and laughable touch.  At the same time we really get the sense of Alice's anxiety increasing. 

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

I think it comes from an over-stimulation in today's films. Words are used now to convey subjectivity, not sound. Everything is sound and light.  I'm not sure modern audiences are all that comfortable with silence.   But I believe there are still directors who are still willing to use and play with sound to get into a character's mind.

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I have to say that this is my first time seeing Blackmail with sound. I'm not sure I like it. I've seen it three times before as a silent picture, so it's a bit unnerving to hear the voices so high pitched. Anny Ondra actually had a deeper, huskier voice. Anyhow, on to the daily dose...

 

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

In this scene, we have two different "worlds". That of the public world (the shop and customer) and the private world (Alice's home and mind). The public world is noisy and the private is silent. When the two worlds merge, the public world is muffled as though Alice is trying to silence the reality of her justifiable crime. However, the shop customer imposes on the private moment as she stands at the entry watching the family eat breakfast (how rude!). She continues to speak as Alice is essentially trying to block out the moment, but the the word "knife" continues to impose itself on her world reminding her of what she had done.

 

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 sounds are amplified which garners a reaction from Alice. "Knife" is shouted out when the knife flies out of the hand. The shop's entry bell is also amplified, which causes a stir from Alice (in her eyebrows). In reality, the sounds would be at normal level, but in Alice's mind, the sounds jump at her. This demonstrates the anxiety she feels.

 

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

Everything is about eyecandy and explosions in today's cinema. Their plots also lack depth. Today's audience, particularly American audiences, want to be entertained. They don't want to walk away from a theatre with questions. This is why you see many theatres dominated by the action packed blockbusters. There are films that can match the quality of Hitchcock films but they are not as widely marketed.

 

 

I'm just glad that I live in a community (San Francisco Bay Area) where there remains an appreciation for the art of classic cinema. We have quite a few theatres that play classic films (pre 1965) or silent films exclusively. And of course there is the annual Noir City, Silent Film and Hitchcock festivals. So there is an audience out there; it's just not that big. I always enjoy going to the silent film theatre and seeing a much younger audience in attendance. It keeps the tradition alive.

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I am not going to reply to the specific questions because I think they have been covered quite well and said better than I can.  One person talked about the gossip which is what the lady was doing there.  That is so much of a normal habit of people and the fact that Alice is blanking out the gossip accept for the word knife makes a normal conversation that  much more revealing of Alice's inner thoughts.  Two observations that occurred to me.  The fishwife or what ever she was said that using a knife was not very British.  Hitting someone on the head with a brick was more what a normal person would do.  I found this to be an example of Hitch's humor.  The other thought was that I could think of two examples of using the talk as background do not come from the cinema, but from TV.  When an adult is talking to one of the characters in a Peanuts show, It is just sound, but not words.  The other example that I thought of was in the Jerry Seinfeld show I think it was Elaine that would say blah, blah, blah.  Not exactly innovative in sound, but in some ways had it's roots in Hitch's playing with sound.  In this clip it makes me think that he has a kid with a new toy and unlimited play time to play with the sound and he was taking full advantage of it.

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Sound matters, but silence is golden ...

 

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

·       ​What is brilliant is the non-stop talking customer who is a big gossip, negative, ugly in her mannerisms and lacks sensitivity to Alice and her state currently.  The aspects of her chatting non-stop with the word "knife" only be highlighted in time while Alice and her parents try and eat breakfast is amazing. When someone is having a high case of anxiety, they only hear parts of sentences and basically what they want that fosters their anxiety.  The psychological aspects of that scene were just perfect!

 

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 sound in the breakfast scene is rising as time goes on to the climax of Alice dropping the knife that makes you want to jump off your seat.  I commented above the role of the gossiping customer plays to heighten this.  Also, her parents play a role as they are too focused eating and cutting their food to even notice their daughter.  They visual are purely on their eating and the father, purely on listening for the little bell to ring on the door so he can direct Alice to attend to the next customer.  What a stress filled way to have breakfast.  

 

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

·       We tend to want things too fast in film and not enjoy the 'foreplay' of the scene more to have maximum film pleasure.  I wanted to know more about the actual definition of 'subjective sound.'  The definition of subjective vs. objective sound:  subjective sound is that the character hears inside their minds and is personal, and; objective sound is that the physical world inside the film generated and is literal, (Smith, C.T., May, 2012).   The psychoacoustics of subjective sound must have sound generated and objective worlds that act on it according to Smith (May 2012).  These include both hearing and perception.  Our backgrounds and experiences do impact this, e.g., we had been attacked or even cut by a knife in an aggressive way.   To experience the sensual and emotional stimuli of sound, dialogue and musical sounds impact us, in addition to the physical sounds.  Bottom line is Alfred Hitchcock did not want lazy audiences. 

 

References:

 

Smith, C.T. (May, 2012).  Objective vs. Subjective Sound.  The University of Texas at Austin.  Retrieved from:  https://wikis.utexas.edu/display/rtf318/Objective+vs.+Subjective+Sound

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I'm afraid I'm going to have to differ with Dr. Edwards here. I'm not at all convinced that there is any dubbing in the scene featured in the Daily Dose, at least in the sense we use the word now.

 

First of all, I think it would be possible to create the "KNIFE" effect without the use of post-production dubbing.

 

Secondly, it should be noted that the leading lady, Anny Ondra, had a Czech accent which was considered inappropriate for her character. Therefore, all of her lines were voiced off-screen, live, by British actress Joan Barry. (If you look closely, you can see how her lip movements don't match terribly well with her dialogue at times.) Surely it would have been easier to dub Ondra in post, but I don't think they knew how to do it yet.

 

Finally, a year later, Hitchcock made Murder! This film contains an often remarked upon scene where we get to hear the lead's interior monologue while he is listening to some Wagner on the radio. To achieve this effect, the actor acted while listening to playback of his previously recorded monologue, while at the same time a live orchestra played the music off-screen. This had to have been a lot of trouble and leaves me rather convinced that they still hadn't sussed dubbing.

 

Note: I've used the word dubbing repeatedly above, but it would probably be more accurate to say that they couldn't do sound mixing yet, and this greatly limited their ability to dub. The early parts of this film certainly do seem to be silent footage which has been refitted with a post-dubbed soundtrack. Creating a completely new soundtrack was relatively easy to do. The difficult bit was adding new elements to a previously existing soundtrack. You need a mixer for that, and Hollywood didn't start using those until the 30s. I imagine Britain followed shortly thereafter.

 

 

As a reward for sitting through all this pedantry, here's Ms. Ondra's real voice, and Hitch being cheeky:

 

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People have done a great job of responding to the first questions, with good observations about how sound is used in this scene. I find myself drawn to the issue of why subjective sound is not found more frequently in (modern) films. Great question!  I think most films are committed to creating a realistic world, whether reflecting our everyday experience or describing a plausible alternate reality in science fiction, and sound is used there as corroborative detail about what we would experience in an objective way.  When films are going toward an artistic effect, the ideal is Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, where all the art forms combine to overwhelm the senses and bring the viewer to a unified emotional experience. In this way, the sound might not be "realistic," but it is consistent with other messages you're getting from the visual scene. As others mentioned, this approach encourages heavy reliance on sound track and music effects.

 

But Hitchcock! I am still working with his idea that words and visuals (and sound) should do something different - what somebody else called point / counterpoint theory of sensual experience. When i first heard him say this in that interview, I didn't even understand how you could do such a thing, because it would tend to undermine the integrity of a character. But now I'm starting to get it. It's not that what the sound and visuals are doing is contradictory (although it could be), but that they emphasize different things. The subjective sound in Blackmail is a great way of showing how a sane person can be shown as unbalanced -- she's not hearing voices in her head in a psychotic fashion, but is filtering. Similarly, the camera can literally filter certain kinds of images. Pretty brilliant. I'm thinking of other experimental and not always appreciated approaches to showing interior effects, i.e. psychology in this period. Eugene O'Neill's 1929 Strange Interlude on stage has character doubles speaking their inner thoughts. Not surprising, it was adapted into a sound film in 1932 -- with overdubbing an ideal way of bringing forth those thoughts more naturalistically. 

 

Why is subjective sound not used more? It does ask a lot of the viewer, and I confess that when I watch a movie I don't always want to work too hard. But it asks a lot of the director, conceptually, to be able to divide his attentions and craft the scene. Perhaps with bigger-scale productions, it's much more difficult to coordinate the different channels in such diverse ways. 

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Well I don't know about the technicalities of the dubbing. But I found hitch awfully cute in that clip. His youthfulness and playfulness was adorable. Did any one else think he looked and liked like Charles Laughton there. Thank you for sharing that footage!

 

 

 

 

I'm afraid I'm going to have to differ with Dr. Edwards here. I'm not at all convinced that there is any dubbing in the scene featured in the Daily Dose, at least in the sense we use the word now.

 

First of all, I think it would be possible to create the "KNIFE" effect without the use of post-production dubbing.

 

Secondly, it should be noted that the leading lady, Anny Ondra, had a Czech accent which was considered inappropriate for her character. Therefore, all of her lines were voiced off-screen, live, by British actress Joan Barry. (If you look closely, you can see how her lip movements don't match terribly well with her dialogue at times.) Surely it would have been easier to dub Ondra in post, but I don't think they knew how to do it yet.

 

Finally, a year later, Hitchcock made Murder! This film contains an often remarked upon scene where we get to hear the lead's interior monologue while he is listening to some Wagner on the radio. To achieve this effect, the actor acted while listening to playback of his previously recorded monologue, while at the same time a live orchestra played the music off-screen. This had to have been a lot of trouble and leaves me rather convinced that they still hadn't sussed dubbing.

 

Note: I've used the word dubbing repeatedly above, but it would probably be more accurate to say that they couldn't do sound mixing yet, and this greatly limited their ability to dub. The early parts of this film certainly do seem to be silent footage which has been refitted with a post-dubbed soundtrack. Creating a completely new soundtrack was relatively easy to do. The difficult bit was adding new elements to a previously existing soundtrack. You need a mixer for that, and Hollywood didn't start using those until the 30s. I imagine Britain followed shortly thereafter.

 

 

As a reward for sitting through all this pedantry, here's Ms. Ondra's real voice, and Hitch being cheeky:

 

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I like the way I put Hitchcock used sound to tap into a fundamental human trait. When we are upset about something we tend to think of that thing and focus on it the exclusion of all else. Here Alice was preoccupied with the knife, therefore that was the word in the conversation that stood out to her.It is the word that sticks in her mind and repeats in her head We can relate as we start hearing the conversation from her POV and can empathize with tcharacter.

 

As a side note I loved the woman that stood there and just paddled on. You can see Hitchcock's humor emerging as she says - and I'm paraphrasing here- that a knife isn't acceptable but good solid blow over the head is and that is very british way to do it. I love British humor. :)

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I think Hitchcock understood that sound could complete the cinematic experience, specially in a Thriller genre film. The way sound is utilized in Blackmail is experimental and beyond its regular purpose of dialogue and entertainment; sound is a mechanism of character psychology and development, it enters the subconscious. Hitchcock makes the sound of this scene of Blackmail a link to the fear, or emotion, of a character. Hitchcock makes the word "Knife" echo through Alice's head, the word and the image of the knife are connected, and it gives a sense of subjectivity as we look at the knife and hear it as Alice attempts to cuts bread. I don't think the sound technique is for sympathetic purposes, I think it's serves as a disclose of a character's psychology and point of view, something Hitchcock was fascinated by and adopted from German Expressionism.

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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.  

 

Alice going into the phone booth and closing the door which silences the outside noises. This puts the focus on Alice and what's she's doing.  The word knife is used multiple times by the female neighbor in conversation.  When knife is spoken, the volume is amplified more than other words, letting the viewer know Alice is hearing and putting importance only on that word.  Alice's facial expressions become exaggerated each time the word knife is heard (wide eyes, eyebrows raised).

 

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 scene sets up the contrast between the neighbor woman's matter-of-fact detailing of the recent events, and Alice's hyper attention to one detail - knife.  As the neighbor rambles on, the camera shows a wide view of the room.  As she mentions knives, the camera moves to the neighbor's face and then cuts to Alice.  The camera stays on Alice while the neighbor keeps talking.  Each time the neighbor says knife, we see Alice's eyes react.  Her thoughts are only about the knife.  Alice's gaze quickly shifts right and left, while she twiddles her thumbs, exhibiting her building anxiety.  The neighbor continues speaking and the camera slowly closes in on Alice's face.

 

"Nope, knives is not right.  I must say that's what I think and that's what I feel."

 

--Camera moves from the neighbor to Alice.  Alice's gaze shifts right, left, and down.  Alice is agitated by the words the neighbor is saying.

 

"Whatever the provocation I could never use a knife."

 

-- Camera stays on Alice, while her reaction becomes more anxious.  Her eyes are moving, she fiddles with her fingers.  She still hears certain full sentences the woman speaks.

 

"Now mind you a knife is a difficult thing to handle."

 

 -- Cut to a close-up of Alice's face.  Her gaze is wide, tense, frightened.

 

Neighbor continues speaking and her talking fades into the background, except the word knife.  Knife is emphasized and amplified in volume because Alice only hears this word.  Camera remains to show a close-up shot of Alice's face.  Her eyebrows rise up each time the word knife is spoken.

 

The father asks Alice to cut some bread and her gaze resets towards him as she hears his request.

 

Alice's hand moves to the bread knife.  The neighbor is still talking and only the word knife is heard clearly.  The camera cuts to a close-up shot of Alice's hand reaching very slowly to pick up the knife.  The action slows as tension is building while Alice's hand picks up the knife and turns it.  This suddenly culminates in the word KNIFE being shouted and Alice's hand tosses the knife in reaction to the amplified volume.

 

By the way, love the touches of humor in this scene (the neighbor saying a whack over the head with a brick is more a British thing, the father telling Alice she ought to be more careful or she'll cut someone).  Hitchcock!

 

Finally, we hear the ringing door sound amplified when the last customer comes in at the end of the scene = Alice is still on edge.

 

 

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

 

These days, most commercial movies are about visuals driving the story, and sound is a literal component to the development of the plot.  People's attention spans are a lot shorter, so sound is used for instant gratification rather than a slow build up.  

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The use of sound in this clip puts you into the mind of Alice because of the exaggeration of sounds, such as the customer saying "knife" and the bell meaning a customer has arrived. I specifically like when she starts hearing "knife" over and over, while everything else is just mumbling. Watching it myself (especially with headphones) makes me feel Alice's edginess about the murder, which goes into the second question. The shot of her hand reaching slowly for the knife creates a sort of suspense, while all you hear is "knife" until it's suddenly shouted, startling Alice and you (that's where the headphones come in). It definitely shocked me the first time, but as I watch it again, I find myself laughing about the scene. It's almost humorous in a way, but cleverly done. Now whenever I use a knife (for cooking, of course!) I always think of this scene.

 

I wish the use of sound in this way would be used more often, because it shows a different perspective of the story. Instead of just showing events and the character's involvement or outward reactions, it gets into their mind and shows the increasing effect of whatever is bothering them. I have seen this used in a few other murder films, such as the murderer slowly going insane from their act. This reminds me of Hitchcock talking about a suspense versus a whodunit. Instead of trying to figure out who committed the murder, you already have that information and now you get to watch the character's decline--as dark as that sounds.

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