Aural Artists

'Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound' gets behind the sounds of the movies
BOARD ROOM: 'Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound' explains the soundscapes that lure us in.

Surprisingly familiar a film about technology, co-producer and director Midge Costin's Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound takes us through 90 years of film sound. It's reveltory about what goes on over the course of making a movie.

There are technicians who do things as deceptively simple as record the wind, water or crowds. And there are other sound designers who create the effects. Ben Burtt, for example, started the work on the original Star Wars a year before principal photography began. George Lucas asked Burtt what noise a wookie makes; Burtt found it by recording the eloquent groans of a hungry but docile bear. Decades before, Murray Spivak found roaring voice of the original King Kong by slowing down a recording tigers at the Selig Zoo. And Cece Hall, supervising sound editor on Top Gun, amped up what she called the "wimpy" sounds of actual Navy jets by mixing in a tiger's bellow.

The film also teaches us some lingo. "Foley Artists" are makers of custom sounds, such as the original Jack Foley himself, who augmented the sound of an entire army of Roman legionaries on the march in Spartacus by recording the jingling of his car keys. And there are ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement) technicians, a lot of whom are women—Bobbi Banks talks about working on Selma and helping recreate the sounds of the police attack on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Victoria Rose Sampson discusses her mother Kay's use of subtraction to get the more intimate sounds in Ordinary People. What would that film have been, without the way Kay Rose edited everything out but the clicking of silverware on dinner plates, summing up a certain sort of unhappy family.

Directors who had the ears to understand the importance of sound include Orson Welles, who used his background in radio for Citizen Kane. Hitchcock's care for such details is seen and heard in the dead silence surrounding the little gasp of horror Tippi Hendrin utters, right before the wings of a hundred crows start beating.

Barbra Streisand, Alphonso Cuaron, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, Walter Murch, Ryan Coogler, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Sophie Coppola comment on their own use of the craft; illustrated by scenes as different in scale as the storming of Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan and the strange, murky noises that lead Henry in Eraserhead to his nocturnal audience with the Radiator Lady. The work comes with a certain cost. Burtt had a nervous breakdown trying to top himself, and his advice to the young and ambitious is to ground themselves with their families. That said, it's quite a recruiting film for those who listen and imagine.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
UR; 94 Mins.
3Below Theaters & Lounge, San Jose

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