Thursday, November 17, 2011

The 39 Steps - Use of Sound


     Hitchcock's fim, The 39 Steps, is about a man, Richard Hanney, who accidentally gets himself involved in a mystery.  Falling into the role of new spy,  he continues the journey of the now-deceased previous spy. Problems arise for him when it becomes assumed that Richard is the murderer of a poor woman (who was actually the spy killed by agents.)  Through this adventure he meets a woman who he later falls in love with, and in the end he discovers the secret.  An important aspect to this film is it's use of sound to accentuate the emotions and tones of key moments.

     At the beginning of the film during the first scene there is music being played by a live band.  The music is slightly energetic and bouncy.  This helps to set up the ambiance of the performance.  Later on in that very same scene, only moments before the gunshot is fired, there is this gradual sense of disorganization and chaos.  This is produced by the sounds of the audience bickering and getting worked up.

     In many scenes of great tension or suspense, there will be a lack of sound (aside from dialogue.) For instance, in the scene where the spy woman comes to Mr. Hanney's house, there is no audio, aside from her words.  She speaks in a sort of secretive way of agents being outside of the house.  The lack of dialogue makes what she is saying sound both important and scary.

     Another example of lack of audio being used to create tension: when Mr. Hanney stays at the home of a man and his wife, the man becomes suspicious of his wife and Mr. Hanney secretly loving one another behind his back.  During the scene in which he decides to leave the room and spy on them from the outside of the house, there is no audio what so ever.

     As shown, this movie intertwines audio (and lack there-of) to create a certain tone/atmosphere, whether that be one of tension, chaos, or maybe even giddiness.

1 comment:

  1. You definitely have some solid points and examples in your post to help support the idea that sound and silence is used to help create the tone or emotion of the scene. I think you still could go further with those examples and explain how they are functioning specifically (you don't even always say what tone or emotion they are helping to evoke - and whether that emotion is coming from the character or whether it's trying to push the audience to feel a certain emotion).

    For example: the scene where the husband is spying on his wife and Hanney is a great one, and I'm so glad you noticed it and pointed it out. But you could go further to describe what the effect of the silence is, and the fact that it's not just that we can't hear sound, we can't hear the dialogue that is being said in doors. First off, this helps to give us the point of view of the husband - I assume he cannot hear is being said. This affects the plot because he assumes they are talking about having an affair or something like that, when the audience knows they are talking Hanney's situation. And I agree that the silence also helps build tension because of that - it's function on a plot level and on an emotional one. Again, I just think you could go even more in depth into describing each example and be even more specific about how they function.

    You might also want to be specific about "lack of sound" and what you mean by that. You mean no musical score mostly, right? I mean, honestly with the scene with him and the spy woman what other diegetic noises would there be? It would be different if they were at the theatre and all the other sound faded away and all there was was her dialogue (then he'd really be playing with sound). I think that the point that he uses non-diegetic music very sparingly is a good one, and goes hand and hand with your point. And it is true that he doesn't let any other sounds (like street noises, or what might be heard in their apartment) come into the scene.

    Really great content - you could push yourself to delve even deeper.