11 Great Filmmakers Who Can Teach You The Most About Sound In Cinema

6. Yasujiro Ozu

An Autumn Afternoon

“I don’t think the film has a grammar. I don’t think film has but one form, If a good film results, then that film has created its own grammar.” – Yasujiro Ozu

Acoustic and visual pause are the devices Ozu uses quite often in his stories. In such moments, there is no dialogue, voice-over or music. This is Ozu’s approach to bringing out the most inaudible acoustic details which normally are covered by other sounds. During Ozu’s pauses, the spectator hears what normally is left unheard.


7. Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker - Closing Image

“(In Mirror) We wanted the sound to be close to that of an earthly echo, filled with poetic suggestion—to rustling, to sighing. The notes had to convey the fact that reality is conditional, and at the same time accurately to reproduce precise states of mind, the sounds of a person’s interior world.” –  (Tarkovsky, Sculpting Time, p.162)

Subjective approach and treating a cinematographic work as poetry are the traits which have marked Tarkovsky’s cinema. Using one specific sound effect without a visual reference in one picture after another leads to a kind of sonorous symbolism in his films. There are a number of such examples in his works where he overlapped acoustic layers (separated from visual representations) and by using layers upon images created a sense of conceptual comparison.

For instance the sound of the train passing, after a slow dolly out movement in a shot that shows a little girl moving an empty glass on the table just by looking at it. Thia shot belongs to Stalker (1979), where the characters are merely known by their professions and ideologies. The film details the story of a writer, a professor and the stalker exploring “the zone”.

The soundtrack details the sound of a train passing nearby stalker’s house and causing sudden movements in the stationary objects similar to the effect of an earthquake (the use of which symbolically recalls an unstable life, which would be referenced years later in Seven (David Fincher, 1995). The train in Stalker is a symbol of rationality and physical reality. On the other hand, what the girl is doing is pure metaphysics.

Using the sound of the train juxtaposition with the image of moving things just by looking at them displays a delicate indication as to how wrong mere physical rationality is and at the same time how certain and firmly moving is the train, ignoring what is happening at the same moment in a little house nearby.


8. Michelangelo Antonioni


“The voice is a “noise” which emerges with other noises in a rapport which only the director knows. It is therefore up to him to find the balance or imbalance of these sounds.” – (The Architecture of Vision, 49)

Antonioni’s mode of using ambient sound can be called “cinematic sound scape”.

In Blow Up (1966) the park scene contains the dominant sound of the wind blowing in the trees which is undoubtedly an existent and ambient sound and Antonioni has eliminated all the other unwanted ambient acoustic details.

The same thing happens in both initial and final scenes of Eclipse (1962). Eclipse opens with an internal scene with nothing moving in the room, not even the characters. The only actual moving “thing” is a fan that every once in a while blows on a page of a book. This is an artificial wind. The whole treatment of the narrative space is telling the viewer one thing: this relation is dead and finished and there’s nothing alive under the roof that these characters are sharing.

Obviously the narrative potentials of the ambient sound, the sound scape of the location is underscoring the message. There is only silence with the constant repetitive sound of the fan. The final scene also contains a similar message. The urban silence gives an expecting impression.

It seems that this is one of those moments that the acoustic pause encompasses actually hearing something. The viewer is waiting in the spot where the couple is supposed to meet. They never come,though. Some passersby with similar look approach the spot; we mistake them for the protagonists, not knowing that they have already left the story.

The music in Antonioni’s films is almost always digetic. He uses the acoustic contradictions of two locations in the opening sequence of Blow Up: every shot of the silent, almost calm scene of the workers striding out of a factory is punctuated by the noisy presence of the clowns in the urban landscapes of London. Diegetic sound in Blow Up marks out the conceptual effect of the final scene where the protagonist hears an invisible tennis ball bouncing up and down.


9. Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver

What is really interesting and reoccurring in Scorsese’s film is his use of narrative voice-over as an approach to subjective narration and also the casual texture of the dialogue which is paradoxically anything but subjective.

The dialogue in Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990), Cape fear (1991) and Raging Bull (1980) are not sharp and are always dissolved in the ambient sound (maybe to take distance from subjective mode of narration); By using narrative voice-over he gives an impression of subjective approach while by the minimal quality of the dialogue he maintains his distance of his characters.


10. Pier Paolo Pasolini

La Ricotta (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1963)

“I think dubbing enriches a character: it is part of my taste for pastiche; it raises a character out of the zone of naturalism.” – Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pasolini believed that dubbing his films could heighten and stylize his characters. Unlike other Italian filmmakers, he never regret the decision of eliminating the real voices, replacing them by recorded dialogues, maybe even performed with the voice of somebody other than the visible actor.

The actors in his films are often speaking with the voices of others which gives an impression of not knowing the actor, though they may be a familiar name. But dubbing is not his only way of “refusal of Nature”. Pasolini often used altered sound,utterly eliminated ambient sound as in case of his episode in Ro.Go.Pa.G. In La Ricotta (1963), some dialogue is even out of sync.


11. Sergei Eisenstein

The Battleship Potemkin

“Sound, treated as a new montage element (as a factor divorced from the visual image), will inevitably introduce new means of enormous power to the expression and solution of the most complicated tasks that now oppress us with the impossibility of overcoming them by means of an imperfect film method, working only with visual images.” – (A part of “A Statement”, S.M. Eisenstein, V.I Pudovkin, G.V. Alexandrov)

Being one of the more effective filmmakers of silent cinema, Eisenstein tried to replace sound effects with close shots, super impositions and various editing methods which became important lessons concerning the use of sound in cinema.

Though it appears the silent cinema lacks sonorous narrative potential, in fact, more than in any other era, silent cinema (in particular the films of Eisenstein) provoked the sonic memories of the audience in terms of invoking a specific picture for which the viewer already has an acoustic reference in their mind and consequently the viewer of Eisenstein’s film imagined the non-existent sound.

Author Bio: Maryam Raz is a freelance filmmaker and screenwriter based in Italy. La Mite based on The Gentle Spirit of Dostoyevsky is her most recent work.