Melinda Szaloky makes it clear, along with others, that there has never been a truly silent film. This theory is based on the fact that viewer’s previous experience with everyday situations will have created a “sound effect” database from which to draw sounds. The phenomenon is not as abstract as some might argue. Dominique Nasta’s claim is that many sounds and images recreate one another in people’s minds. Simply put, hearing a sound can conjure an image tucked away in someone brain. The same is true with seeing images. The Last Laugh is a tremendous example of a film in which the viewer begins to forget the fact that there is no sound coming through the speakers, and that it is all produced in their own minds.
Szaloky includes a quote early in her article from Norman King. King described a phenomenon that no longer exists in modern-day cinema. Theaters in the early days of film had in house orchestras that would provide a score that suited the film. They were nearly identical to modern scores except that they were played live. It is interesting to think of this practice as negating the term “silent film” altogether, as King states. It is hard to write off the whole genre as never having existed, but it is a new perspective that I had never previously considered.
There are a number of different ways in which visual acoustics can be brought to life. There are obvious connections between a sequence on screen that naturally creates sounds. Examples of this could be a stack of metal pots falling over or someone blowing a whistle. Nearly all of the audience members of a film would have experience a situation like one of the two I mentioned and would be able to interpret the noise that accompanied such an experience appropriately. Known as visible sounds, these sounds typically go unnoticed by characters because they are routine experience that would not generate much of a reaction in the real world. There are dozens of examples of visible sounds in The Last Laugh, namely the rain, the doorman’s whistle, women trouncing up and down stairs, clapping, and the cheers of the wedding.
There was also a conscious effort not to over-do sounds so as to insult the intelligence of the audience. A quote included from Emmett Campbell Hall suggested that audience members did not need a series of “bow-wows” to recognize that the animal onscreen was a dog. Most people that view films would have at least been able to identify with a majority of the images on screen.
There are also a number of instances in which sounds are implied more than explicitly shown onscreen. These sounds are often signaled by character’s reactions and editing. The audience is clued into a large sound in the distance by a character turning to try and figure out what it is, or trying to determine what is causing the puzzled look on one of the character’s faces.
It is my contention that visible sounds are a testament to the believability of a (silent) film because it adds another dimension. For many early film viewers, there was a clear fascination with silent film. Lynne Kirby likened silent films to the locomotive. Much in the way that trains were reaching from one end of the country to the other, silent films were beginning to spread throughout the nation (Kirby 2). Not only were people still amazed by moving images on a large screen, they were subconsciously being affected by the sounds created by those images. It was this implementation of sound that made most people able to accept that films were a real phenomenon that was nothing futuristic, and was here to stay.
I believe that most people were still trying to accept the fact that they were seeing moving photographs and did not care that they perceived a film to be silent. It is hard to say whether or not people were even aware that sound from film was possible, but I think that the newness of the industry as well as the idea of visual acoustics made them believe that they really did not need much else to be entertained. Even in today’s “spoiled” day and age or special effects and CGI, I found that after a few minutes of The Last Laugh, that I did not miss a sound track all that much.
Balázs offers what I consider to be the most revolutionary idea in the whole article when he suggests that sound films should do more than simply add a recorded track. Instead, they should “approach the reality of life from a totally different angle and open up a new treasure-house of human experience”. He mentions that the sound inherently built into any film is enough for the viewer; it would simply be repetitive to add the sounds that are already in the game again. It is a completely new idea for me to think about sound in this way. I had never really thought about how influential sound should be, and that it truly can change a movie going experience.
For a film as simple The Last Laugh, I do not think that there could have been anything added that would have opened a new treasure-house of human experience. However, take a film like Requiem for a Dream and remove the score, and the film would have not had nearly the same effect. There is something deeply disturbing about the film’s score and unique sound effects that contribute to the film’s effectiveness. I think that the advancement in speakers over the years has added to a film’s sound to truly create something new. The loud bass in today’s theaters can create the feeling that audience members are actually on set, living out the moments along with the characters onscreen.
For the most part, one could make the case that The Last Laugh is anything but a silent film. I like the idea that sound should create a whole new dimension to a film, and that is essentially superfluous if it does not do so. I am interested to watch a film and see if I am now more aware of sounds that are not clearly expressed, and analyze whether or not the sound really adds all that people make it out to be.
Kirby, Lynne. Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema. Duke University Press. 1996.
“Sounding Images in Silent Film: Visual Acoustics in Murnau’s Sunrise”. Cinema Journal,
41(2), Winter, 2002, 109-131.
Jeff Snider has been a special individual since birth. He was never even scheduled to be born. Faith and James Snider brought two beautiful children into the world and planned on calling it quits. Tragically, James, Faith, and Harmony lost a son and brother. Mark’s death marked a new chapter in the Snider family.
Jeff was born nearly three years after Mark’s death, and has since been viewed as a miracle; a gift from God. As keepers of this gift, Faith and James took great care and awarded Jeff with every opportunity. He attended a private, Christian school that offered the best education possible. He quickly rose to the top of his class and competed in every sport you can think of.
Jeff was an early baseball standout and began competing with the best players in town. He was accepted as the youngest player ever on the Redding Rattlers, a traveling baseball team aimed at producing quality athletes that stand a chance at the next levels. However, with this great honor came increased independence.
Jeff spent more and more time with older kids and took on a few traits beyond his years. He started drinking in 8th grade and only picked up momentum. As Jeff entered high school, he made quick work of determining the big partiers on campus, and made it a point to prove his worth. A few Friday and Saturday nights turned into Tuesday and Wednesday nights and eventually into Monday mornings. Football practice was never a sober event and only baseball games were reserved for 100% effort.
Not only did Jeff attack partying with a fervor, he began to experiment in his own sexuality. Girls came and went, and Jeff wracked up notches on his belt. I found myself hesitantly looking forward to the weekly locker room-wrap up to see just which one of my friends had fallen victim. Jeff admits to this day that he had turned away from God citing that “I just didn’t see the need”.
This kind of behavior continued for a solid year until Jeff finally hit rock bottom. His parents had caught onto his new-found rebellion and took away EVERYTHING. He was allowed to go to school and practice and nowhere else. His month-long house arrest led to extreme boredom. Boredom led to acting out. Acting out led to more rebellion. Rebellion led to drinking alcohol; rubbing alcohol.
Jeff was home alone and looked for the only thing he had yet to try. He chugged half a bottle of rubbing alcohol and became violently ill. He spent the rest of the night hugging the toilet; vomiting. In what is described as the longest night of his life, Jeff admitted that he needed help. He cried out to God. Cried out to the only thing he had not tried.
That Tuesday night changed Jeff’s life. He broke down. He confessed to his parents. He decided to go back to church. He looked through his Bible for the first time in three years. He received a vision
The Jesus Party was his alternative to youth group. He developed an idea that would reach kids outside of church. The first night consisted of the 8 friends that had not turned their back. Jeff’s garage looked like a reunion. People that only had Jeff in common saw each other for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Jeff poured out his heart and apologized. Apologized for forsaking his faith. Apologized for forsaking his friends. Apologized for trying to lead others astray.
The next two weeks were exciting. The group grew from 8 to 25 and Jeff began looking for a bigger building to house his movement. He pumped his dad for information on friends with property and stumbled on the warehouse. The warehouse became the home of the Jesus Party. 25 turned into 55. 55 turned into 75. 75 turned into 100. 100 eventually turned into 144; the largest youth service in Redding, Ca.
Satan realized just how powerful the movement was becoming and intervened. The warehouse was snatched away. Church’s closed their doors. Jeff became discouraged. The Jesus Party took a hit.
Four months went by before the Jesus Party found a new home. New Life Church of God. Jeff conducted business as usual, preaching God’s word to hundreds of young people. Over the Jesus Party’s lifetime, over 300 teenagers came to know Christ. The city of Redding literally took on a whole new persona. High schools around the city changed for the better. Sister groups sprung up in 4 different high schools. Unfortunately the movement fizzled when Jeff left for college. He passed the reigns to his predecessors but the movement lost momentum.
Within 6 months the movement had stopped. The Jesus Party was finished. The results however may extend into eternity.