Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound
"The direction is workmanlike but well edited." | Photo: WS Murch

Sound editor Midge Costin - who has films including The Rock, Con Air and Armageddon on her CV - steps into the director's chair for this pacy primer on the history and construction of soundscape at the movies.

At around an hour an a half long, the film, which premiered at Tribeca this week before it heads to Cannes at the end of the month, certainly doesn't waste any time and presents a whistlestop tour of how sound came to movies and its evolution over time, specifically spotlighting the work of Walter Murch (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now), Ben Burtt (Star Wars, ET - The Extra-Terrestrial) and Gary Rydstrom (Jurassic Park, Toy Story).

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The direction is workmanlike but well edited by David J Turner, mixing clips from movies, with archive footage of the likes of King Kong's Murray Spivack and talking heads interviews with many of the great and the good of filmmaking from the past 30 years. This line-up is impressive, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sofia Coppola and Ang Lee, while the illustrative clips also come thick and fast, stretching right back to the cusp of sound, with The Jazz Singer and Singin' In The Rain, taking in benchmarks such as A Star Is Born (1979) and Star Wars (1977) moving through Jurassic Park and Top Gun and into the modern era to films including Inception and Black Panther.

By attempting to cover her trio of specific innovators at the same time as digging into the mechanics of the profession, there's not a lot of time to develop any resonance beneath the surface, or to travel much further than big films in Hollywood, beyond a brief mention of France's Musique concrète.

That said, what's here is enjoyable and mapped out in easily understandable laymen's terms, as each element of sound design - foley, voice, ambient noise etc - is likened to a different section of an orchestra, which we then go on to tour. Some of the information here is likely to be familiar to certain groups of fans - Star Wars aficionados, for example, are likely to have heard much of this before - but for a casual cinemagoer it's generally informative. The "nuts and bolts" moments - such as foley artists adding work to Inception or a the various parts of the sound design of Roma being highlighted work the best - and it's a shame that there aren't more of them. Costin also deserves kudos for striking a decent balance between male and female interviewees, although the discussion of equality and perceptions of it in the industry is, like much here, frustratingly brief.

As an introduction to the world of sound in the cinema, this film ticks the boxes but it doesn't quite make the waves it promises.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2019
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Explores the impact of movie sound through insight from cinema’s biggest directors and their go-to sonic collaborators.


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