Way back in yesteryear, you know when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and your grandparents were in kindergarten, movies were still silent.
I know, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the first ‘talkie’ ever, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927. Since then, movies have continued to surpass the mark in sound mixing and editing to the point where now, movies like Interstellar and First Man sound and make us feel like we’re literally in a rocket to the moon.
Now that you’re excited about those incredible achievements in sound mixing, let me be clear: the presence of sound isn’t the point of this blog (insert confused Despicable Me minion here).
In fact, the premise of this blog is the absence of sound.
In an era of film where sound mixing and editing are so insanely profound, I think it’s fitting to take a closer look at what happens when sound is removed. Completely. What happens when the sound goes away? When the entire theater is silent.
Let’s find out.
Silence is Deafening
Most of the time, when you’re cuddled up watching a movie the sound is an important, critical characteristic of the film. I don’t think one of the top 48 film franchises, The Terminator, would be nearly as exciting without the booms and crashes of explosions. Could you imagine not hearing Arnold’s iconic “I’ll be back”? I sure couldn’t.
But when silence is intended, when the absence of sound is chosen with artistic insight, that’s when silence can be deafening.
Take for instance, the most recent (and perhaps most controversial) Star Wars episode, The Last Jedi. There is a moment in that film that gave me goosebumps, had me wide-eyed, jaw-dropped, and during which I gasped…out loud…in a crowded theater.
Some of you might be clued in to the scene I’m talking about, but for those who aren’t, take a peek at the video below. Make sure your speakers are on and really listen to the most profound scene in the movie: Holdo’s heartbreaking sacrifice.
This scene, the direction of Rian Johnson, and the composition by John Williams, is what makes movie magic. The decision to cut all sound right as Holdo crashes into Snokes’ flagship is perhaps the one truly perfect decision that was made in the entire movie.
The Depth of Silence
When you consider the bravery it takes to make a film that is (almost) completely silent, like one of the top horror movies of the last decade: A Quiet Place, then you understand what makes those movies great. The fact of the matter is the silence adds depth.
Childbirth is emotional enough, but when it has to be done in complete silence–for fear of your life–the emotional depth is practically insurmountable. This movie takes “sound” to a whole other level.
A Quiet Place capitalizes on the absence of sound to emphasize the anxiety, the terror this family feels. Because of the silence, it chills you to your core while you watch the story unfold.
Sound connects. Silence bonds.
In the same way music gives us the “cinefeels,” silence bonds us to the film.
Mostly because it’s so against what we expect when we watch a movie. Silence isn’t normal in film, it’s not ordinary. When you look at why a filmmaker chooses silence over noise, it is always to make an impact. Some of the most iconic scenes in movie history are actually silent.
Silence is memorable, it’s moving, it’s profound.
So next time you’re in the theater, or even on your couch watching the latest Netflix original, take note. Enjoy the quiet. Listen to the sound of silence.