The paper "Cinematic Technique in Silence of the Lambs" is a wonderful example of a movie review on visual arts and film studies. Sound is of overriding importance in creating the multi-dimensional experience one commonly looks forward to in film viewing, by creating the atmosphere for evoking certain emotions. There are two classes of cinematic sound techniques, the diegetic (or “ actual” ) sound, and non-diegetic (or “ commentary” ) sound. Diegetic sound forms an integral part of the story space and comprises sound that both the characters and the audience can hear. Dialogue between characters, basic sound effects produced by objects within the scene, and music played by instruments or devices that form part of the scene, are examples of diegetic sound.
On the other hand, the non-diegetic sound does not form part of the story context; it encompasses all sound heard by the audience but to which the characters are oblivious. These include mood music, the film score, and any commentary by a narrator if any. This report, due to its brevity shall discuss only the application of diegetic sound technique pertaining to the movie “ Silence of the Lambs” . Probably in no other movie is the use of multi-channel stereophonic sound, as delivered by the Dolby System, put to better advantage than in Silence of the Lambs (Beck & Grajeda, 2008).
Dolby Stereo employs an important sound technique which first originated in cinema in the 1970s, and since then it has dominated as the standard cinematic sound format. According to Beck and Grajeda (2008), “ Dolby Stereo ushered in a new regime of ‘ listening’ that reflected the hierarchical structure of the soundtrack’ s construction as well as the stylistic imperatives of the narrative form” ( p.
68). In effect, it transformed the flat acoustic renditions of that time to stereophonic, multichannel sound delivery, wherein sound could be positioned in the left-to-right space of the screen, and moving effects created to match the on-screen motion. Dolby’ s technology developed over the years, but the final structure of Dolby Stereo was mainly due to the efforts of sound editor and mixer Walter Murch and director Francis Ford Coppola, who aimed for a sound mix for “ Apocalypse Now” that sounded like the quadraphonic musical recordings of the seventies, and to fill the room and appear to emanate from 360 degrees.
The technique is important to the development of movies because more and more, heightened realism is achieved by the other elements of the mise-en-scene other than the contents of the visual frame. Motion picture seeks to achieve a level of performance that convinces the viewer that they are part of the action in the movie. As such, details which are in view should be supported by the accompanying sound, not in the artificial monophonic manner sound had been delivered previous to the development of the technique, but similar to the natural sound reception of people’ s auditory senses (Fahy, 2003).
The technique is used to create meaning by creating the context by which a person is put in the middle of the action. The visual frame is limited and two-dimensional, and the audience sees only what is in front (or back) of the hero or subject. By the use of the Dolby system which has several levels of digital sound, the person is subjected to the illusion that the space around him actually echoes with the reverberation of the hero’ s footsteps or the increasing distance barking of a dog.
The meaning of the visual frame is thus enhanced by the three-dimensional quality of the sound. The response the technique evokes in the user is thus a heightened sense of the emotions. Since our auditory system relies on stereophonic sound reception to detect dimensions and directions of sound, the more believable a sound adapts to this stereophonic nature, the more complete the experience that the viewer is actually within the scene (Rabiger, 2008).
As mentioned, Dolby Stereo’ s expanded capability was best put to use in Silence of the Lambs. In the penultimate scene, Agent Starling was tracking the location of the killer down a dark and winding basement, navigating an unseen space guided only by the shouts of the kidnap victim Catherine. During this suspenseful moment, sound replaces the narrative convention of the establishing shot, and the audience is drawn into the subjectivity of Clarice. Dolby’ s sound space creates an “ ’ acoustic aquarium’ , where sound ‘ magnetizes’ the fragmented diegetic space into a concrete whole” (Audio-Vision, 69-71 in Beck & Grajeda, 2004, p.
76). Dolby’ s more faithful rendering of acoustic detail constructs several acoustic planes that permit the auditor not only to hear individual sounds more clearly but to identify the spatial dimension from which it emanates. In the same scene, clever use of sound effects that maximize the use of Dolby’ s qualities allows for the film to add a material reality to the objects which the sound effects relate to, and adds a depth to the sound-space or diagesis even if they are not seen.
Michel Chion (Beck & Grajeda, 2004) has coined the terms materializing sound indices (MSIs) and elements of the auditory setting (EASs) to describe two distinct ways of creating sound space. MSIs anchor themselves to their physical counterparts whether seen or unseen, such as the rustling of Agent Starlings dress as the moves through the underground tunnel. The sound is otherwise known as “ ambiance” because it belongs to the background. EASs, on the other hand, are discontinuous sounds that punctuate the sound space, for instance, the beating of the hero’ s heart or the sound of her exhaling and inhaling as she exerts effort.
Together with the barking of the dog, a cacophony of increasingly louder noise suddenly stops as the lights switch off, creating a double-absence (or sight and sound) and plunging the audience into an indescribable fear because of sudden disorientation in the cinematic space. These are but some of the sound techniques employed in Silence of the Lambs. They have in no small way contributed to the success of this movie in the field of cinematic art.