jazz singerWe tend to think of film as a visual art form, and it is! But the great thing about film is that it isn’t just one thing: it’s certainly visual like painting or photography; it's kinetic like dance; narrative like books and oral storytelling; aural like music and real life. The sound for a film gives us things like the human voice, diegetic sound (sound within the context of the story), incidental sound (to suggest mood), the musical score. There has pretty much always been sound in films, as even during the age of silent films music would have been played nearby in the theater. But synchronized sound had a difficult and uphill journey, as it required fairly sophisticated technology to synchronize both a film camera and an audio recording device.

The first commercial, feature-length film to feature sync sound was Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson, and back then it was pretty earth-shattering (and totally racist). Today we take sound for granted, though sound has had a complicated role in the history of film, and was largely bemoaned at first as a gimmick that cheapened the artform.

The Reading

Read Chapter 8 (pgs. 220 – 224) in The Art of Watching Films to learn about sound in film.\

The Watching

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) by Brett Morgen

imagesFor this module, you are going to watch a film possessing a fairly rich tapestry of sound, combining tape-recorded interviews, live music recordings, and sound effects to complement an equally complex (and impressive) visual presentation. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) by German filmmaker Brett Morgen, draws for Cobain’s own personal archive of recordings, journals, video tapes, and drawings to examine the tragic life of this famous alternative rock musician from the 1990s.

Note: as always, the media for this can be found in the LEH 353 - Visual Storytelling library on Plex.


The Questions