‘A quiet passage can create almost unbearable tension, while an abrupt silence in a noisy passage can jolt us’ (Bordwell, 2017).

Sound offers the filmmaker plenty of possibilities. The filmmaker judges which sounds to use based on how they suit the film’s overall form and how they shape the viewer’s experience of the film.

We tend to think of sound as an accompaniment to the moving image. This assumption enables sound engineers to create a story world without the viewer noticing.

Sound is a powerful film technique, in that ‘it engages a distinct sense mode’ (p.264).

Eisenstein – “synchronisation of senses” – ‘making a single rhythm or expressive quality bind together image and sound’ (p.264).

‘If a sound and image occur at the same moment, they tend to be perceived as one event’ (p.265)

Sound can ‘actively shape how we understand image’ (p.265).

The viewer will construe the image depending on the sound.

‘Sound summons up an unseen space’ (p.265).

Sound guides our eye and mind.

Three examples:

Letter from Siberia (1957) dir. Chris Marker

  • Demonstrates the power of sound to alter our understanding of what is on screen.
  • Marker shows the same footage three times, each time the footage is accompanied by a different sound track – first affirmative, second critical, third a mix of praise and criticism.
  • The viewer will construe the same images differently, depending on the voice-over commentary.
  • Shows how sound ‘can steer our attention within the image’ (p.265).

Blow-Out (1981) dir. Brian de Palma

  • ‘exploits the guiding function of sound’ (p.265).
  • Sound reveals a clue – Jack studies his DIY film made from magazine photos; synchronises his sound tape with the image track; when the two play together, the blowout sound matches a flash from the bushes near a fence post.
  • The flash was visible in the replayed footage, but it needed the sound track to make Jack and the viewer notice it.

Babel (2006) dir. Alejandro Inarritu

  • When the deaf teenager enters the disco, the club music is about to climax.
  • Instead of subjective sound, we get subjective silence.
  • This sharply dramatises the teenager’s isolation from what is happening around her.

‘Sound gives a new value to sound’ (p.265).



Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art: An Introduction 11th edition New York: McGraw Hill