Monday, September 22, 2014

Blood! Blood!

"The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema; the only thing they lacked was the sound of people talking and noises. But this slight imperfection did not warrant the major changes that sound brought in. In other words, since all that was missing was natural sound, there was no need to go to the other extreme and completely abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way they did when sound came in...In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call "photographs of people talking." When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it's impossible to do otherwise." Alfred Hitchcock

Today, Steven Soderbergh recently posted another experiment on his blog Extension 765. It is Raiders of the Lost Ark but without the sound and in black in white. In the blog entry he says the theory he operates under is that a film should work with the sound off. Upon reading the blog post, I was instantly reminded of the dialogue between Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut in which they discuss the pitfalls of the introduction of the talkies and contrast them against the pure cinema of the silent movies. Silent cinema peaked in 1928 and 1929 and was cut off by the knees with the introduction of talkies. Both Soderbergh and Hitch have a point: the director is, above all, a visual artist.

Another important notion Soderbergh talked about was staging. When staging a scene it is important to clearly separate the dialogue from the visual elements. Another thing Hitchcock and any really good director excels at. It is up to you as the director to hold the audience's attention.

The example below showcases pure cinema during the sound era. The dialogue "Mother, Oh God Mother! Blood! Blood!", the door closing, Bernard Hermann score, the sound of the shower going, the sound of Norman running to the bathroom, the painting being knocked over are all arranged through editing and staging in a way that suggests Norman is running to the scene of a murder and is frightened at what he sees. The resulting clean up of Marion Crane's body, the car slowly sinking in the lake and then stopping for a bit. All of this is done without that one line of dialogue being used. Other than that it's all carefully orchestrated sound and editing. It's one thing to have a scene as iconic as the shower scene in Psycho, an educational tool in itself as far as montage goes. But to have the following clean up sequence be a master class in silent cinema technique is unparalleled.

Link to the Soderbergh post:


  1. Great work here Luke. Couldn't agree more with you and Soderbergh's post - staging and silence are crucial to excellent filmmaking. Few directors knew how to stage better than Hitchcock, and the scenes you pointed out from Psycho are great examples of this. Speaking of Psycho and Extension 765... did you watch Soderbergh's Psychos? I thought it was utterly fascinating.

  2. I did indeed. Psycho is a film school in itself. Friedkin said it best "I didn't go to film school. I went to Hitchcock."

    I really dig Soderbergh breaking down Raiders. Let's hope he puts more of these experiments online.