Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The Daily Dose for #Hitchcock50 for Monday, July 3rd, 2017, is the celebrated "knife" scene from Hitchcock's first sound film, Blackmail (1929).

 

You can watch the clip in Canvas, and then reflect on the scene on the TCM message board.

 

As usual, here are some reflection questions to get the observations started.
 

Further Reflections: 

 

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

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. 

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

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1.     Hitchcock has almost exploited the fidelity issues with early microphones and placement in this scene from Blackmail. To get us into Alice’s head, he segues the relatively clear chattered conversation that was in the forefront of the scene into a background murmur that returns to the word “knife” with clarity. The camera isn’t on the chattering woman.


2.     Sound is so critical here in that to cut to Alice’s face while we hear the chatter of the woman would be an impossibility in silent film in that to know the woman was talking you would have to see her on screen. Now, we have the introduction of secondary action and off-screen happenings that reinforce what is on screen. Moreover, the sound levels and inflections can be used to create tension and excitement. We are just as startled as Alice is and could say that we threw our popcorn at the same time Alice threw her knife.


3.     I don’t totally agree with this statement. “This particular use of sound” is what the question asks. So I would say that today’s audiences are more sophisticated. Our visual vocabulary is more developed and we don’t need to be “spoon-fed”.  In a modern context, we take symbolic use of sound for granted. We have become accustomed to it and it is so integrated into the whole experience. It is for that reason we don’t recognize it as such, per se. I think subjective sound is used a great deal in films; especially those of a psychological nature. However, if this scene were to play out the same way in a modern film, it would come across as either humorous or sophomoric. 


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I truly enjoy the bit of humor in the title of this Daily Dose here, “Heard about the Murder” as we bridge the silent and the talkie era of Hitchcock’s work (especially the reference to the gossip). “They opened their big mouths and out came talk, talk talk” - SUNSET BLVD. 1950.


 


What a perfect way to enter the talk-talk-talk era of film with the theme of gossip. Hitchcock highlights this idea of gossip to unnerve us (like gossip usually does) and to stab right at the heart of personal annoyance while also honing in on one’s true fear for something; in this case--- murder by stabbing. Alice contemplates this horrible murder weapon which is also merely a household everyday object to simply cut bread for the family for dinner. When asked to perform this seemingly non-eventful task, she explodes. The sound of the garbling of the gossip is highlighted every time that talker says “knife”. Mostly to the effect of “I would/could never used a KNIFE” at the same time Alice is being asked to slice bread with a knife. The tension builds. This is the counterpoint that Hitchcock is so skilled at portraying; the conflict within us. 


 


This particular literal use of subjective sound is not widely used today because I feel that visually artistic-based directors such as Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and John Huston (and many others) through the years have educated us well and that most of this has now become the norm. We no longer need this counterpoint of sound-to-visual in order to make a scene effective because sound isn't a novelty anymore.


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1.  They have a conversation and suddenly the old lady starts talking about knife. The first time the lady says the word "knife". The camera cuts back to Alice, showing signs of fear and insecurity. Then, It slowly draws us and build our suspense to Alice's psychological mind when the whole conversation is heard distortedly and the word "knife" is emphasized clearly and repeatedly. This makes us feel scared and fear like Alice as we are now in Alice's psychological mind. In the end, Alice throw the knife away in shock and fear. She can't cut the bread with the knife , because she used it to kill a person before.

 

2. Hitchcock builds up the tone slowly, but shows how it effects Alice crucially. As the word "knife" was mentioned, it cuts to Alice immediately to show Alice's emotions of fear, as well as building up the tension, as well as getting the audiences to be in Alice's mind. When the word "knife" was repeatedly, it surely effects Alice in a disturbing and annoying manner, as it was directly related to her. As a result, it cause her fear and annoyance, because the word "knife" gets her attention, an unwanted attention. In the end, Alice's guilt and dismay was shown when she can't even cut the bread with a "knife", a simple job that does not harm anyone, but it effects her tremendously. She throws the knife away, showing how this trauma has gotten a hold of her in her daily life.

 

3. I think that subjective sound is not used widely because almost all movies in the present- day use sounds a lot in dialogues, music, score, and etc. I still think that subjective sound is still being used in films, but it's gonna be harder for the audiences to identify than it used to be during the silent films era and maybe it's kind of peculiar to use subjective sound, so that's why it is not widely used today. Sound in films nowadays is mandatory.

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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 women standing with the basket is yammering on...but all you hear is low yammering then "KNIFE"...yammering "KNIFE"....which is all Alice hears....by making the basket lady annoying...you do not want to hear her.....but by emphazing knife....it puts you in the mind of Alice and what is unnerving Alice ...the KNIFE


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.


As the basket lady is droning on and you hear "KNIFE" repeatedly ....you hear it but you do not see the lady saying it ....what you do see is Alice's face and her immense unnerving...without Sound you would not understand this....at the end the last emphatic word "KNIFE" totally unnerves Alice where she throws it...this intrigues me where I want to watch the whole film to understand what happen ....what brought her to this....Looking forward to viewing it


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


I am not sure why....I am a little surprised by this question....is this not used as much? now that I am taking this course it will make me more aware as I watch other movies....I will say this....I thought it was very effective I kind of jumped at the last sound bite "KNIFE" 

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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.  -- Sound is used as a highlight, both in the dialogue and effects. It enhances the melancholy mood of Alice by use of the non-emotional speech of the customers and her parents around her. The sound effects are used to show her fixation on 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 viewer does not expect the knife to fly out of her hand; her slow movements through the morning would indicate otherwise. She sits at the table, silently fixating on the murder until her father prompts her to cut the bread; she does so and realizes she holds a knife... the customer's voice accents the fixation and finally during one loud moment, the knife flies out of Alice's hand. Her father calmly retrieves it and warns her - again without emotion - that she could cut someone. Fortunately for Alice a customer comes into the shop and she is allowed to flee the breakfast table.

3. Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? -- It demands a deeper commitment to the film by the viewer and can be draining. Subjective sound is symbolic and as such, can be open to mis-interpretation and if that happens, you've confused and eventually lost the viewer. For instance, the ringing of the bell at the end of the scene (I assume it's the doorbell announcing another customer) has something to do with her earlier search for the police number... but I don't know. That symbolic sound has no meaning for me and therefore is lost. If it plays an important part of the film, I would have missed a clue.

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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. 

 

To me, the significant use of sound (or lack of sound) is when Alice enters the phone booth.  When the phone booth door shuts, there is complete silence.  It’s just Alice and her thoughts.  It appears that Alice has to make a decision that involves the police.  As Alice leaves the booth, the sound returns, focuses on the droning voice of the customer that ultimately represents Alice’s subconscious about the killing involving a knife.

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 customer’s voice basically becomes the soundtrack to Alice’s subconscious.  It’s as if Alice is considering using the knife as weapon for a crime.  Repeated use of the word “knife” reinforces her decision as she holds it in an aggressive manner.  As the customer’s voice shouts “KNIFE,” Alice is startled back to reality, throwing the potential weapon aside.

 

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

 

Many young filmmakers I work with are obsessed with the “visual.”  At this stage in their development they don’t understand how sound augments stories in a way visuals cannot.

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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.

 

Hitch uses sound design to place us in Alice's mind as all the words preceding "knife" are blurred, but only the word knife is heard clearly as the woman goes on and on about different types of knives. The camera is concentrating on Alice and the knife this whole scene, so viewers are put into her point of view as she looks at, touches, tries to use, and then drops the knife while hearing that word and clearly thinking about knives too. Great scene.

 

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 uses the camera to concentrate only on Alice's face and and the knife during this scene. We only hear the word "knife" the whole time, repeated over and over. Then the knife literally flies out of her hand toward the camera. I jumped !

 

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

 

With the current development of special effects and computer generated sounds, I think this technique would bore current audiences, as they are mostly dependent on these modern day advances in cinema. Keeping the time frame of this movie in mind, this technique would be relatively new and largely, experimental, which would have fit Hitchcock's style. Now, that we expect sound in movies, both real and computer generated, voice and musical, concentrating only on sound in a scene in modern day movies seems trite. Back in the day, this was huge, which is why I prefer old movies to the modern ones any day!!!!

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1. Sound design used in "Blackmail" lets the audience hear what Alice is hearing and helps us to understand how she is feeling. She hears a muffled voice until she opens the door to the store. Its is then that she discovers that her actions are out amongst the general public. This also makes the audience anxious because we know Alice can be found out. A few minutes later we hear how the voices outside of the telephone booth has been muted, but we see that Alice is having trouble deciding what to do next. Her tension can be felt by the audience.

2. Hitchcock sets up for the knife shock by using Alice's expressions as she fidgets and thinks about the murder while at the same time there is the dubbing and mixing her thoughts in with the women's voice repeating "knife." The audience might be expecting Alice to jump up, scream, and have a breakdown or put down the knife, but instead the knife goes flying. Then, the dark comedy line as her father says, "You could cut someone like that." This is also the case of a regular girl caught in unusual circumstances. Could the wholesome ma and pop have a daughter who is dating a police officer and be a killer?

3. I enjoy the use of dubbing in this example because I am vested in the character. Maybe audiences are more used to multiple sounds in media arts today so we don't need as much help with dubbing to understand a character's cognitive thinking. Regardless it is interesting to see and hear the technique as it was used here.

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At this early stage in cinema's use of sound, emphasis was placed on "synchronized sound;" audiences were interested in hearing the words and sound effects that matched the actions or what the characters were saying as they viewed them on screen. In this clip, Hitchcock is taking this effect a step further by focusing on the reaction of a silent Alice to what's being said by a character off-screen.

 

Although we know the female character off-screen is speaking in complete sentences (Hitchcock set this up a few moments before, with her emphasizing the word "knife"), the audience is provided a glimpse into the mind of Alice's selective listening, hearing only the word "knife" as she handles the bread knife. The final "knife" spoken by the off-screen character is louder and more pointed, which shocks Alice back into a reality. She throws the knife, which is accompanied by a quick cut to all the characters in the room.

 

I believe the use of this type of subjective sound is not commonly used in cinema (especially modern cinema) as modern audiences expect the literal. "Inner monologues" or thoughts of characters can just as easily be expressed through visuals as they can be through sound. If this clip were from a modern film, the audience would probably hear the entire conversation by the off-screen character as we see Alice's reaction, not only the word "knife."

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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's something of a miracle to have these films to study is my first impression. We can literally see the transformation of silence to talkies evolving through his early pictures. The first example of the subjective "mind of Alice" that I could see was the dialogue zoning in on the discussed murder weapon. The repetition of the word "knife" has a subjective effect on Alice and is emphasized during their breakfast break. The somewhat experimental handling of jibberish combined with the audience view of Alice at the dinner table (she seems to have more knowledge of the Murder than the scene allows the audience) the customers talk of the murder of Smith is affecting Alice's actions. The loud shout of the word knife makes Alice drop the knife suddenly adding more attention to the object. She is more in her head than in the moment at the store is how I interpret the subjective handling visually and audibly.

 

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.

 

We see more shots of Alice in closeups so her facial expression and the environment she is in is our window but it's the opinionated female patron in the store that gives us an aural indication of the word knife and earlier context of murder where sound seems effective most notably when it is loudest. The track is old and the film is jumpy but sound plays a large part of interpreting emphasis on the potential object of murder. Visually he grabs a tight shot of the knife around the bread at the dinner table. I've heard over the years that Hitch liked to include the theme of eating in his movies too so this is probably the earliest example of juxtaposing such themes as food, weapons, murder, and subjectivity.

 

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

 

That particular jibberish experiment was in its infancy and probably was as much a revelation to Hitch upon the use as the audience's reaction. Hard to say for certain but the holes in logic and/or technical objectivity could be why it's not frequently used (it's combining objectivity and subjectivity concepts in an experimentitive audio/visual way). Mind you everything has been experimented with since then so the usage is relative to its popularity. The successes of commercial films were based on the audiences approval/appreciation.

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Hitchcock is known for his audacious experimentation in his films, but, in my opinion, nothing tops Blackmail. The most important invention in film history, sound, appears for the very first time in the whole Europe in his hands, in a film that was made to be silent, yet still he manages to innovate and use it to achieve his targets.

 

Hitchcock knew that, when people have something in their minds, everything they see and hear appears to be somehow connected with this, and reason starts to fail. With this in mind, we can understand Anny Ondra's reaction when she repeatedly hears the word "knife", and, generally, anything that has to do with the murder she's thinking about. It's amazing that Hitchcock managed to use sound to give a POV of the main character to the viewer in his very first sound film.

 

Typical for Hitchcock, the scene becomes increasingly disturbing until the climax (Alice throwing the knife away). At the beginning, she just happens to hear a woman talking about the murder, then starts to only listen to what she has to say about the murder weapon -a knife- ignoring everything else she says. Finally, her hearing of the word "knife" becomes distorted and, combined with the fact she had to use a knife to cut the bread, she panics and throws it away.

 

I believe that images and shots are much more simple to use subjectively than sound and dialogue, because there's much more room for editing and it's easier for the audience to identify with what they're watching rather with what they're hearing.

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Alice White is the daughter of a shopkeeper in 1920's London. Her boyfriend, Frank Webber is a Scotland Yard detective who seems more interested in police work than in her. Frank takes Alice out one night, but she has secretly arranged to meet another man. Later that night Alice agrees to go back to his flat to see his studio. The man has other ideas and as he tries to rape Alice, she defends herself and kills him with a bread knife. When the body is discovered, Frank is assigned to the case, he quickly determines that Alice is the killer, but so has someone else and blackmail is threatened.

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1. Hitchcock uses sound design to put us into the "mind of Alice" by making all the sound in the sequence as if it is heard by Alice's ears. The volume fades and increases based on where Alice is located. An example is at the beginning of the clip, when Alice is entering the shop. Before she opens the door the voices are quiet and muffled. When she opens the door she/we can hear the speaking clearly. Then when she enters the phone booth, she/we can't hear the gossip at all, but when she opens it she/we hear the gossip loud and clear. The gossip's talk is also reduced to mumbling (except for the word knife) when Alice's attention is turned inside herself, just as happens when someone is speaking and we are not really listening to them.

2. Hitchcock creates a counterpoint between the aural and the visual by having the audience hear the sound from Alice's point of view. We only hear what Alice hears. In the shot with the knife the gossip's yammering fades into the background, except for the word "knife". We see a close up shot of Alice's face and her hands when her father breaks into her world and asks her to slice the bread. We continue to hear to muted yammering of the gossip, except for the oft repeated "knife". As Alice thoughtfully handles the knife her expressions shows her torment. Then suddenly the world "knife" is screeched and Alice flings the knife away. The audience jumps at this moment; propelled by the visually soft face and hands of Alice and the glaring harshness of the screeched "knife!"

3. One of the reasons I feel that this type of subjective sound design is not used frequently in cinema is that most movies are not made from the 1st person point of view. Most films are made from a 3rd person omniscient point of view. The audience is let in on what all or most of the characters are doing and saying, if not always thinking. That is why Hitchcock's movies have an extra layer of suspense. There are many Hitchcock movies with a 1st person point of view. Rear Window comes to mind. Having the sound be heard by the audience as the character would be hearing it really puts them into that person's private world. It is more like real life, so as the suspense builds for the character, it builds for the audience, as well.

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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 customer gossiping about the murder, and the vocal emphasis on the word knife, being repeated excessively reflects the building tension in Alice over the murder.  The knife flying out of her hand is the climax of the subjective sound design.  I also noticed the bell for service had an eerie elongated surreal tone which reflects Alice's inability to work and function because she is obsessed with trepidation of possible future murders. 

 

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 love how the gossip chatter of the Cockney girl turns into the internal mind dialogue of Alice. The Cockney accent in general is harsh and ugly compared to high English.  I think Hitchcock thought of this in characterization giving the word knife and ugly biting sound timbre.  It is indeed grating and annoying and unexpected.  I myself have never seen use of subjective dialogue.  I felt it was indeed startling and annoying.  It built suspense.. I wondered if Alice would go mad and stab a member at the table the knife flying out of her hand was indeed a bit startling.  Amazingly thought out by Hitch for early sound.  The bell of the shop sounded surreal and odd.  Not like a regular bell at the time.  It creates this surreal nightmare world and reflects Alice's inner torment.  I find it interesting too the close up shops of the Cockney gossiper and Alice.   The Gossiper has a rather emotionless demeanor. the sensationalism of the murder is just something to gossip about.  Her face is actually kind of cruel..  as to say the world is an unsafe cruel place.  Alice seems to represents innocence..... her face registers "how can this happen?" she seems in total shock... like from now on the world is not safe.  Hitch often uses the theme of the innocent being pulled into a darker unsafe world.  Naivitee is used to invoke tension.  

 

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

 

 

Ok, I'm going to be very opinionated here... I feel most modern movies today are just crap.  I rarely find anything innovative in terms of tone, timbre, plot and acting.  It is all just I MAX big budget hype.  You rarely see anything that can even compare to classic cinema. I'll stick with Pre-Code, Film Noir and of course Hitchcock.   I love movies but rarely go see new movies unless they are Foreign independent or a period piece (and even most of those don't compare to the classics).  So tragic the state of our modern film industry... but I love that TCM and others are bringing awareness back to the classics.  I'm very grateful for this class!. 

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

 

Hitchcock has designed the sound to allow us to understand and focus on what sounds are affecting Alice. I suppose that to a certain extent, we all hear what we want to hear, and by revealing what Alice "wants" to hear, Hitchcock gives us a look into her mind.

 

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

 

​This is a great scene! By focusing on the knife as Alice hears someone else repeatedly saying "knife" in a conversation, Hitchcock allows tension and suspense to build. What will Alice do next? Will she jump up and stab someone with that knife? By having the final saying of "knife" be so loud, Hitchcock startles Alice (and the audience), showing the knife fly out of Alice's hand and clatter to the floor, thus effectively ending the subjective look into what was going on inside the mind of Alice.    

 

 

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

 

​I think subjective sound is still used frequently in cinema, although it may be that I am not clear on what "subjective sound" is. In another online film course, I learned about diegetic sounds versus non-diegetic sounds in movies. Diegetic sounds are actual sounds that emanate from characters or objects that can be seen in the film, whereas non-diagetic sounds come from sources outside the view of the film, such as an unseen narrator, or mood music played by an unseen orchestra. I suspect all contemporary sound movies include both diagetic and non-diagetic sounds. 

 

​It looks to me like "subjective sound" may be a type of diagetic sound that has been internally filtered by one of the characters, to show the impact external sounds are having on the character. Typically, one sees this in movies when a character is in a high emotional state or has been dazed from a blow on the head or temporarily deafened, and only key words or phrases are selectively being heard and understood. Perhaps "subjective sound" could also be flashback sounds that the character is remembering and hearing internally, such a warning comment that someone had made to them previously? Subjective sound seems to be the internal filtration and reaction that a character has to objective sound (but I am guessing here, maybe some of my classmates can clarify this).

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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's something of a miracle to have these films to study is my first impression. We can literally see the transformation of silence to talkies evolving through his early pictures. The first example of the subjective "mind of Alice" that I could see was the dialogue zoning in on the discussed murder weapon. The repetition of the word "knife" has a subjective effect on Alice and is emphasized during their breakfast break. The somewhat experimental handling of jibberish combined with the audience view of Alice at the dinner table (she seems to have more knowledge of the Murder than the scene allows the audience) the customers talk of the murder of Smith is affecting Alice's actions. The loud shout of the word knife makes Alice drop the knife suddenly adding more attention to the object. She is more in her head than in the moment at the store is how I interpret the subjective handling visually and audibly.

 

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.

 

We see more shots of Alice in closeups so her facial expression and the environment she is in is our window but it's the opinionated female patron in the store that gives us an aural indication of the word knife and earlier context of murder where sound seems effective most notably when it is loudest. The track is old and the film is jumpy but sound plays a large part of interpreting emphasis on the potential object of murder. Visually he grabs a tight shot of the knife around the bread at the dinner table. I've heard over the years that Hitch liked to include the theme of eating in his movies too so this is probably the earliest example of juxtaposing such themes as food, weapons, murder, and subjectivity.

 

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

 

That particular jibberish experiment was in its infancy and probably was as much a revelation to Hitch upon the use as the audience's reaction. Hard to say for certain but the holes in logic and/or technical objectivity could be why it's not frequently used (it's combining objectivity and subjectivity concepts in an experimentitive audio/visual way). Mind you everything has been experimented with since then so the usage is relative to its popularity. The successes of commercial films were based on the audiences approval/appreciation.

 

Mandroid51 wrote: "It's something of a miracle to have these films to study is my first impression. We can literally see the transformation of silence to talkies evolving through his early pictures."

 

Very perceptive comment, Mandroid51! I liked all of your analysis.

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Hello everyone and happy Monday!

 

In this sequence, I can tell that Hitchcock was experimenting with the new medium of sound, and already using it to reveal the inner life of his characters. The constant chattering of the woman at the counter is contrasted by the virtual silence of Alice to emphasize her feelings of despair and isolation. The woman is engaging in a gossiping style of conversation that feels trivial and irritating when we consider the seriousness of Alice's plight. The continuation of her chatter remains in the background as we watch Alice's movements, which suggest uneasiness and anxiety. Hitchcock allows us only to hear the gossiping woman through Alice's ears... for example, when Alice closes a door, the woman's voice is gone, only to be heard again when the door is reopened. In this way, he places us in the subjective mind of Alice.

 

The topic of the woman's monologue is also significant. Ironically, she is discussing the very subject that Alice does not want to be reminded of. In doing so, the woman represents the outside world, with its outraged unforgiving view of the murder. To Alice, then, the woman's voice serves to escalate her fears and sense of dread. This reaches a climax when the woman's voice becomes muffled except for the word knife. The repeated use of this word, along with the close up of Alice's face, escalates our sense of her anxiety, until finally the knife flies out of Alice's hand with the final shout of the word. Here, Hitchcock very successfully makes us feel that Alice's nerves are reaching breaking point. The flying of the bread knife reminds us of the previous stabbing scene, while the woman's exaggerated final shout of the word knife is accusatory and damning. We feel that the woman probably did not actually shout the word; rather, this is how it is heard in Alice's imagination...

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I think subjective sound is still used frequently in cinema, although it may be that I am not clear on what "subjective sound" is. In another online film course, I learned about diegetic sounds versus non-diegetic sounds in movies. Diegetic sounds are actual sounds that emanate from characters or objects that can be seen in the film, whereas non-diagetic sounds come from sources outside the view of the film, such as an unseen narrator, or mood music played by an unseen orchestra. I suspect all contemporary sound movies include both diagetic and non-diagetic sounds. [/size]

 

​It looks to me like "subjective sound" may be a type of diagetic sound that has been internally filtered by one of the characters, to show the impact external sounds are having on the character. Typically, one sees this in movies when a character is in a high emotional state or has been dazed from a blow on the head or temporarily deafened, and only key words or phrases are selectively being heard and understood. Perhaps "subjective sound" could also be flashback sounds that the character is remembering and hearing internally, such a warning comment that someone had made to them previously? Subjective sound seems to be the internal filtration and reaction that a character has to objective sound (but I am guessing here, maybe some of my classmates can clarify this).

I really liked your answer here. Also your interpretation is more spot on of the subjective mind of Alice. One film that comes to mind as diagetic subjective sound in the film 'Saving Private Ryan' when Tom Hanks is on the beach and with the insertion of high pitched ringing in what would be his subjective mind becomes the audiences' ringing as well. When filmmakers do it to emphasize a character's emotional state etc. they usually do it more than once or even three times to make it a motif. In the case of Blackmail we can already deduct she knows more than we do and we have to keep watching to find out what's in her head...

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1.  We already have a sense of Alice's distress by the sights and sound we hear and see from her point of view after the murder as she makes her way home.  The audience will also have their own subjective feelings given the circumstances of the murder.  The subjective sound technique contrast with what we seeing visually.  Two things happening the protagonist is obviously distressed we see this in her mannerisms, facial expressions etc.  The other people in the scene are going about their ordinary usual business.  The female customer is introduced in the film to make the others in the room aware of the murder and to provide the dialogue that relates the details and the discussion related to the knife.  We see a family running a business greeting customers, having breakfast which is counter the anguish the protagonist is feeling. The audience is drawn to the protagonist as the customer discusses the knife used in the murder and builds to a crescendo as this is all the protagonist hears, knife, knife knife and finally a screech knife! We understand that Alice is "hearing" more than what is actually being said by the woman.  In reality she is reaching for the knife to cut a piece of bread but throws it in repsonse to her torment.  This surprises the audience. enhances the thrill factor and provides a deeper understanding of the protagonists distress.

 

Why is it not used more often, being a film lover and not a filmmaker I imagine the challenge of utilizing what is best visually with sound technique provides special challenges.  Choosing a technique that enhances the understanding of the character may take many forms including good acting, camera work, story, sound.  The use of sound in the early days was new and provided new avenues for creativity in film but with limited technology.  I am thinking of a more recent film to apply this to, may be the scene in Saving Private Ryan when the protagonist becomes temporarily deaf.  It made the horror of all the images of the battle even more horrific and also isolated this character, we are also deaf for the moment  so we can get a glimpse of his "experience".  Guns weapons blasting yet we experience silence to counter the visuals on the screen.

 

 

 

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Hearing the word KNIFE over and over puts you into Alice's subjective mind and what ultimately unnerves her to the point that she flings the KNIFE, when asked to cut some bread, at the breakfast table.

 

Also, the repetitive word MURDER and again shouting out the word KNIFE makes Alice fling the KNIFE out of her hand., adding great attention and shock value to the scene.

 

Concentrating only on sound in a scene in the current day, seems so very simple. Sound will bring out the story in a special and very particular way that just seeing a visual cannot.

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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.  


With a close-up on Alice's face, the mumbling dialogue and the repetition of the word "knife" leaves the viewer deep in the isolated and frantic mind of the character.  Alice is more agitated as the dialogue continues and she finally throws the knife off the table.


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 gibberish dialogue and the volume increases until the knife flies out of Alice's hand almost as if she's thrown it.  This reminds me of the signature scene in The Godfather described in week 1 where Michael has just come out of the bathroom in the Italian restaurant and the noise of the subway train grows louder and louder.


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


The use of subjective sound might seem confusing or out of the ordinary for some viewers as well as more complicated for directors/editors which is why it might not be used more frequently.


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1. Hitchcock uses sound design to put us into the "mind of Alice" by making all the sound in the sequence as if it is heard by Alice's ears. The volume fades and increases based on where Alice is located. An example is at the beginning of the clip, when Alice is entering the shop. Before she opens the door the voices are quiet and muffled. When she opens the door she/we can hear the speaking clearly. Then when she enters the phone booth, she/we can't hear the gossip at all, but when she opens it she/we hear the gossip loud and clear. The gossip's talk is also reduced to mumbling (except for the word knife) when Alice's attention is turned inside herself, just as happens when someone is speaking and we are not really listening to them.

2. Hitchcock creates a counterpoint between the aural and the visual by having the audience hear the sound from Alice's point of view. We only hear what Alice hears. In the shot with the knife the gossip's yammering fades into the background, except for the word "knife". We see a close up shot of Alice's face and her hands when her father breaks into her world and asks her to slice the bread. We continue to hear to muted yammering of the gossip, except for the oft repeated "knife". As Alice thoughtfully handles the knife her expressions shows her torment. Then suddenly the world "knife" is screeched and Alice flings the knife away. The audience jumps at this moment; propelled by the visually soft face and hands of Alice and the glaring harshness of the screeched "knife!"

3. One of the reasons I feel that this type of subjective sound design is not used frequently in cinema is that most movies are not made from the 1st person point of view. Most films are made from a 3rd person omniscient point of view. The audience is let in on what all or most of the characters are doing and saying, if not always thinking. That is why Hitchcock's movies have an extra layer of suspense. There are many Hitchcock movies with a 1st person point of view. Rear Window comes to mind. Having the sound be heard by the audience as the character would be hearing it really puts them into that person's private world. It is more like real life, so as the suspense builds for the character, it builds for the audience, as well.

 

It's hard to add anything to these comments which I think are excellent responses to the questions.  But a couple of other thoughts I had:

1) the use of subjective sound not only makes it clear that these are Alice's experiences (the 1st person perspective), but in a sense, the sound design puts the viewer in the 1st person position.  Much of the sound (the muted voices before the door opens, the silence in the phone booth) is like real life - the way the world sounds to us as we experience it.  So, the effect is that we are there WITH Alice, we're not just watching her react.  We join her in that 1st person perspective.

2) this film is an excellent intro in the way Hitchcock uses humor in the most gruesome of situations (as he does in many later films - Rear Window and Stella's wisecracking come to mind, but there are numerous others).  So the gossipy woman is not only an annoyance, but her presence is funny.  Like when she says: "After I heard about it [a murder], I didn't dare have a bath for a month" (visual aside, eye roll by guy behind counter).  And if that isn't funny enough, she goes on to say "And for weeks after that, I only used to have a rinse down."  (Preview of coming attractions with people refusing to shower after Psycho.)    Aren't we (and the guys at the counter) all thinking, whew, I bet she really smelled!   :lol:  Then she makes this moral pronouncement about the proper British way to kill someone:  "A good, clean, honest whack over the head with a brick is one thing <sniff>.  There's something British about that.  But knives..., no, knives is not right."   :D Then she makes her great exit line:  "Well I must be going.  I can't stand here gossiping all day like some people.  Chatter, chatter, chatter."

 

The reason I highlight the humor is because this is a layer of Hitchcock's storytelling that isn't really possible in a silent film.  Not that those films can't be funny.  But so much of their humor was about visual humor, slapstick, etc., like the great moments from Lloyd, Keaton, and Chaplin.  But this kind of ironic word play and conversation doesn't really come off on title cards.  

 

And juxtaposing this humor alongside of Alice's inner torment and horror, which we join her in, only heightens the anxiety.  We find the gossipy woman irritating (if we're in Alice's head), but as viewers, we find her hysterical.  So as an audience, we're really flipping back and forth, which I think is something Hitchcock wants to do to us.  It's unnerving to be worried about knives and to be laughing.  And Hitchcock does this throughout his films.  So Hitchcock is using the new technology of sound to add this layer of humor to his storytelling.  He's really not just filling in with idle talk - it all contributes to the very particular way he wants to tell the story.

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

 

Hitchcock uses the sound design to let us see just how disturbed Alice is over the murder. When she first comes into the room the discussion is about murder as she goes to look up a phone number she sees the police listing. It's silent in the phone booth, as she emerges the discussion is still about the murder and the knife. Though Alice wants to forget about the murder that's all there is to talk about that morning and she becomes increasingly nervous.

 

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 main counterpoint in this scene is during the gibberish dialogue with the word knife becoming louder with each instance as the visual focuses on Alice being asked to cut a piece of bread down to her shaking hand holding the knife until the word knife is seemingly shouted and the knife is flung across the room.

 

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

 

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

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1)   There are many ways that Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into Alice’s mind, but there are a few that I find most effective. The first is having the word ‘knife’ be isolated from everything else the other lady was saying. The other is having the sound that the bell on the door makes be drawn out, which shows how disconnected Alice was from the conversation at the table.

 

2)   Hitchcock sets up the knife flinging scene, where we start out immersed in Alice’s mind and her attention to the constant repetition of the word ‘knife’. While we are distracted with that, Hitch adds the shock value when ‘knife’ is yelled and Alice starts, flinging the knife.

 

3)   I think that this use of subjective sound is not common in cinemas because the films produced seem to have all the elements of a good scare incorporated in them, having that one climatic moment. There is no need for this technique, which is unfortunate because I think that it would make the films more enjoyable, since everything would be drawn out instead of giving it all in one scene. I feel that modern movies focus too much on confining the scare component to one moment, which makes the movie suffer because it is not spread out like a Hitchcock film.

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