Audio in noir

The first thing I noticed in terms of audio when I watched the original version of the opening from “Touch of Evil”  was the use of diegetic music throughout the uninterrupted shot.  Despite the music’s origin at the building where the couple leave, it follows them down the street, filtered to sound like it is in the background of the environment, but constant.  It’s as though it is being played through speakers through the streets, following the car and people surrounding it.  The music contrasts the dire situation we as the audience know about; the couple in the car are sitting next to a time bomb.  But it reflects the mood of the characters we are watching; it’s cheerful, flowing, and care free, much like the car’s blissfully ignorant passengers.  This juxtaposition of music to its setting is a common trope in noir, and it reflects the cool-headed nature of these movies despite the danger in the story.  Characters, whether they know it or not, are often in extreme danger when the setting appears harmless or welcoming.  This use of music also reflects the deceitful nature of noir; people are always lying or hiding something in this genre, and put up a comforting facade until they decide to strike.  It can be seen in almost any film noir, when an investigative character is meeting with a villain at his office, or at a social event.  I appreciated how in the NO-restored version of “Touch of Evil”, the music was made to sound less diegetic and more to the viewer’s benefit.  We know the couple in the car are doomed; the film is letting us in on a macabre joke by playing the upbeat music as we watch them drive to their deaths.

I knew the sound design was an integral aspect of noir, especially in film noir, but through the Ambience of Film reading, I realized how important it was to sound as a whole in films.  Film noir sprouted up shortly after sound was introduced to film; while noir had already existed in other mediums, it was simply impossible to convey it well in film until sound could be added to the equation.  Sound design was such a crucial part of film noir, it showed all the interesting ways it can be used in other films.  It only makes sense that sound would be a requirement for film noir; it is a style that is inherently investigative since it surrounds crime and deception.  Because of this, we as the audience must be able to fully understand the situations that occur around the characters, and this can only be done if we can hear what is happening as well as see it.  Aside from giving information to the audience, sound is also important in setting the tone for a film.  This is also fitting seeing as noir is a style that is very concerned with setting a specific tone.

Sound design in film noir is easily as important as the visual aspects that reoccur in the genre.  As I’ve noted in earlier entries, noir is a very specific style of story writing.  So it is important to convey certain elements in the tone, elements that can be captured only in sound.  Music, sound effects, even characters’ speech can be tailored to fit the style of noir.

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