Cinema as Ear
Parsons School of Design – Cinema Theory & Practice, Silvia Vega-Llona, Spring 2016
The theoretical framework will be based on Thomas Elsaesser’s and Malte Hagener’s Film Theory Through the Senses, which focuses on the way the spectator experiences film through their senses, and traces this appropriation of cinema by its audiences from outer envelope, like window and door, through the inner senses, like touch and the ear, to the brain and mind.
Students will be creating their own video essays and/or short films as part of the class experience and exercise.
Stanley Kubrick is well-known for the way he uses music in his movies. It is not just a soundtrack, it is part of the film, of the experience. When you hear background music while watching a movie, it matches the action and it enhances the emotions you are feeling and Kubrick takes this concept to a whole new level. The music becomes alive, it is almost like a character in the film.
In The Shining, it seems like Kubrick built almost the entire movie on sound, to create the perfect horror movie. The theme of the movie is already intended to bring fear to the viewer: a family confined in a hotel, surrounded by miles of deep snow, starting to discover the dark secrets of the past, while the husband looses his mind. One could think that this is enough to create a horror movie. However, Kubrick uses sound to take a step further. There is enough dialogue for the viewer to understand the plot, and the rest is created by the actors and the sounds. The film starts with a dramatic music that sets the tone right away and then, through the whole movie, there is an almost continuous grinding sound. That sound makes the viewer uncomfortable, making it almost impossible to find anything cosy about the hotel. The sound makes you feel the grandeur, emptiness and loneliness of the hotel. As the film goes on, the sounds remain in the same register, but become more and more intense, accompanying the viewer and enhancing his emotions. He is taken on an acoustic journey, where his sight is no longer the main sense he needs to experience the movie. It has a silent movie aspect, in the way the orchestra was used to replace the voice and create emotions that the actors could not provide, as they could not be heard. The sound have a very dramatic role, pushing the viewer to the edge of his seat.
Overall, Kubrick is a master of sounds. He finds the perfect ones that are going to build a world on their own. The Shining is a brilliant film, thanks to the directing and the great actors, but mostly thanks to the sound game. One could almost watch the movie with their eyes closed, just listening to the soundtrack, and still feel a palette of emotions. Kubrick created a horror movie and with his mastering of sounds, he made it terrifying.