Cinema as an Ear

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) has a signature soundtrack, created by John Williams, featuring only two notes, mimicking the sound of a heartbeat could create tension when paired with the visuals of unknowing. Though the James Bond franchise have featured many different songs and artists, but it is recognizable by its sense of danger and adventure, by Monty Norman in 1962. Ultimately, cinema is an experience for almost all of the senses, not just the visuals as sound can completely change the tone of a scene.

In the classic Singing in the Rain (Stanley Donan, 1952) explores the transition from silent movies into talking pictures for comedic effect. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) believes his career is over when he comes to terms that acting in silent movies is “just a lot of dumb show” with its over the top theatrics. Lina Lamont’s (Jean Heagen) career is also in danger, as her voice does not match her beautiful image, so Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) dubs her voice to save the film from becoming a disaster.  This separation between Lamont and her character is evident to the viewer, as we see her nature off screen as a simple minded and yet devious woman, set on getting Selden to play her voice forever. To prevent this, Lockwood sets a stage for the audience with Selden hidden behind a curtain, with Lamont in front lip syncing to Selden’s singing voice. The curtain is dropped for the big reveal and the technical separation between Seldon and her own voice is restored.

This detachment of body and voice is also explored in Her (Spike Jones, 2013). We watch the lonely writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) form an unlikely relationship between an operating system that is designed to meet his every need – an upgraded Siri in the form of Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johanson. She is insightful, witty, caring and a symbol for the risky nature of intimacy in a technology driven world. Though she is just a voice Samantha is likeable, however, I personally found a disconnect between myself and Theodore emotionally. Though he is physically present through out the film, Theodore represents the futuristic everyday man, a result of technology replacing human interaction. A prime example of this is at the beginning of the film, we see Theodore spending a significant amount of time thinking about his ex wife Catherine. When he can’t sleep he engages  ( or at least tries to)  have a futuristic version of phone sex, physicality without actual intimacy. What promises to give him a connection and a source of communication is provides the opposite, a false sense of a relationship. Of course, this is why he can form a ‘connection’ with Samantha, she is designed to cater to his every need. In other words, my emotional detachment from Theodore is because of his emotional distance from not only other human beings but also himself. Ironically, Samantha evolves by taking human form by accelerating her own metamorphosis, Theodore however does not.


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