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Milestones in Film Sound Design  

Matthias Lempert:  
I am preparing lectures on sounddesign for films  and would like to collect some opinions on which films you consider to be milestones in filmsounddesign 
from the beginning till today. 

Randy Thom: 
The term "sound design" is a loaded one in this context because most of the films likely to appear on such a list had nobody credited as "sound designer." 

I'm a huge fan of the films from the nineteen seventies and early eighties produced by the so-called "Movie Brat" directors, so most of the following quickly composed, short list is from them: 

  • Citizen Kane 
  • Touch Of Evil 
  • The Birds 
  • The Conversation 
  • American Graffiti 
  • Star Wars 
  • McCabe And Mrs. Miller 
  • Apocalypse Now 
  • Once Upon A Time In The West 
  • The Black Stallion 
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark 
  • Eraserhead 
  • Raging Bull 
  • Saving Private Ryan 

Elisabeth Weis: 
 I agree with Randy that the phrase "good sound design" is problematic.  I concur completely with Randy's list and assessment of the best sound period.  If you want some other films with interesting sound, you might add 

  • Blade Runner, 
  • The Marriage of Maria Braun, 
  • Silence of the Lambs, 
  • and almost any film by Godard 

  • (though his approach is entirely different). 
I'm not sure whether they have good sound design per se, but they are interesting to listen to closely.  If you are trying to put things in a historical perspective you might want to check out my book "Film Sound: Theory and Practice", which I mention not to advertise it but because I created it specifically to  teach the same sort of course you are doing and so put together the readings I needed to accompany the course.  It suggests a few films with historically interesting sound tracks and a few experimental filmmakers, such as Peter Kubelka, who have an interest in sound and provides essays on why they are interesting. 

Randy Thom: 
All excellent choices, I think.  It occurs to me to add 
  • Das Boot, 
  • Rumblefish, and 
  • The Right Stuff. 

Christian Bass: 
I particularly agree with Randy on looking at Rumblefish. It's a particluarly great example of marrying music score to the effects tracks and at times the boundary between the two is certainly unrecognisable. It was obvious that Stewart Copeland seemed to work closely with the effects crew to accomplish this result. Very impressive...even if the movie isn't...! 

How about  

  • 'THX 1138'. 
Surely one of the most surreal tracks to ever to be done for a sci-fi...and one of Walter Murch's 'first' (and perhaps one of his best?) feature-length tracks. 

If you can't get it perhaps

  • '2001'? 

  • (though I guess it's not really in the same domain...) 

Gustavo Costantini: 
I agree with many of the lists I read. So I suggest to add few films not so recent, if we understand for "good filmsound design" those films that introduced new forms of using sound. 
  • M                                                     Fritz Lang 
  • The Testament of  Dr. Mabuse          Fritz Lang 
  • Un Condamne a mort s'est echappe   Robert Bresson 
  • Solaris                                              Andrei Tarkovsky 
  • Traffic                                               Jacques Tati 
More recent: 
  • Sacrifice    Andrei Tarkovsky  (to Sound in Tarkovski's Sacrifice )
  • Ran           Akira Kurosawa 
  • Dracula     Francis Ford Coppola 
  • Alien         Ridely Scott 
Respect Godard, I think many of his films present very good ideas  but like a kind of experiment. So, in my modest opinion, I suggest one film in which he develops a complex and definitive version of former experiences: Nouvelle Vague (1990). 

Randy Thom: 

Hi, Christian! 
You're right about Rumblefish.  There was definitely more collaboration between Richard Beggs (the Sound Designer) and Stuart Copeland (the Composer) than there is on the typical film.  I've invited Richard to participate in the list, and I'm hoping he can give us a few details about that collaboration. 

Matthias Lempert: 

Hi everybody, 
1. Thanks a lot, the response on my request was overwhelming, and I am glad to 
find a place, where discussions on this subject are possible. 

2. Dear Randy, I know the term sounddesign is a critical one, but I used it 
nevertheless, because first, sounddesign takes place regardless if the  director, the editor or a specific sounddesigner is in charge of it,  and second to make a distinction towards filmmusic. 

3. Dear Elisabeth, of course I already own and appreciate your book. 

Rodger Pardee: 
It's a good list of titles that have been given so far. I'd like to add "The Exorcist", which had an influential and unusual approach to its track. The supervising sound editor was Fred Brown, the lead re-recording mixer was Buzz Knudsen, and the director who was molding the whole process was William Friedkin. 

One of the recurring themes in this discussion group is that not all directors are intimately involved in the details of the sound editing and mix. Friedkin is one of the exceptions. (Sometime I may have to post some of my experiences on "To Live and Die in L.A.") 

But let me nominate another sound designer for consideration, someone you might not have heard of, although you've certainly heard his work. If good sound design is meant to immerse the audience in a compelling "sonic world" that profoundly enriches the experience of the film to the extent that it forms a kind of distinct vocabulary of its own, then perhaps one of the greatest sound designers was a man named Tregoweth Brown. 

Treg Brown was the editor who created the sound effects for all those classic old Warner Brothers cartoons, and his library of sounds still echoes around in my subconscious: a rabbit falls through the sky roaring like a plane in a steep dive; a duck gets flattened against a wall and peels free with a rubbery balloon stretch and a plunger coming unstuck. 

Not what you'd ordinarily think of as art films, certainly, yet there was a lot of artistry at work in them. 

A discussion tread about good film sound design posted at the E-mail Group "Sound Article List"   URL 

/Sven E Carlsson 
Teacher in Media  

The sound-article-list eGroup is a service at Film Sound Design & Theory" (a resource site for sound design) 

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