Jump to: navigation, search

Film Quarterly (1983) - The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track




Review of "The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track" - by Elisabeth Weis


THE SILENT SCREAM: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track

By Elisabeth Weis. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. $19.50.

The study of film sound has been coming into its own in the last five years, but this is to my knowledge the first published auteur (director) book that concentrates on the sound track. The publisher is to be commended for venturing forth with such a novel topic. Weis devotes chapter-length studies to six films (Blackmail, Murder, Secret Agent, the first Men Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, and The Birds) and treats several others in two topic chapters-one on diegetic music and its narrative functions, and one on 4 'aural intrusion" as formal and thematic device. I found the topic chapters to be generally more dense and interesting. While sometimes the film analyses make telling points — mainly about formal matters — sometimes they become mere exercises in list-making.

One must ask the question implicit in the whole project: does Weis's strong commitment to auteurism get in the way of her approach to film sound? It certainly seems to in the case of Bernard Herrmann (note that none of the privileged six films have full orchestral music by him). Weis goes out of her way to treat only matters that Hitch controlled by himself, and the Herrmann movies are thus difficult for her to deal with. But for a book on Hitchcock, and on film sound, to deemphasize the Hitchcock-Herrmann collaborations seems perverse — they are among the highest achievements of the narrative sound cinema. Given Weis's marriage of sound analysis with auteurism, and the resultant conflicts, The Silent Scream is generally accurate and enlightening. It will probably be of more use to students of sound than to students of Hitchcock. The study provides a model of descriptive analysis of a body of films in terms of sound, and it demonstrates how thematic arguments can be meshed with this. My one real complaint is that references to contemporary sound practices in the early thirties are sketchy and occasionally off. For example, Weis claims that sound and image were shot on the same piece of film in 1930 (p. 36), but Fielding's "A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television", p. 193, has a description of typical early double-system recording, used in all but a very few cases of newsreel shooting.