Posts Tagged ‘Sound’

Hell on Wheels 103

November 22, 2011

Throughout its run, Hell on Wheels has always been visually stunning. The special effects are more consistent feature films rather than cable television. Additionally, the set pieces often appear to be shot on location rather than a Hollywood set. This makes Hell on Wheels aesthetically pleasing and separates it from most television programs.

One of the more visually, emotional scenes occurs when a fellow worker confronts Elem and accuses him of wanting to be white. The camera follows a line of black workers as they shovel dirt from the ground. The diegetic sound of some 100 workers digging into the earth provides an added authenticity to the scene. With each passing dig, the viewer can see the escalating frustrations of the workers. Finally, tensions reach a boiling point when a worker puts down his tools and refuses to continue. Elem quickly confronts the man in a face-to-face stare down. In the background, an explosion occurs, followed by a large cloud of black smoke. This visual serves as a representation of the explosive anger that both men feel and epitomizes the potential for damage that might ensue.  Here, the use of special effects adds another layer of richness to the story and helps establish the emotions of the scene.

Though Hell on Wheels remains a visual stunning program, the non-diegetic sound fails to add value to the program. As another blogger has stated, the soundtrack often feels like its playacting towards the audience’s emotions rather than to  “an honest relationship with the story being accompanied.” I agree that the result can take the viewer out of the story and often feels like the show is trying too hard to generate emotions for it audience by using a soundtrack. Thus, I believe, that if the show could introduce a more realistic sound from the era, the result could be a stronger reaction to what is depicted in the scene.


Third Time’s Not Quite The Charm

November 21, 2011
After last week’s class discussions, I watched episode three of Hell on Wheels with a new eye, attempting to be overtly discerning and analytical as opposed to serving as a more story driven viewer. With that mindset, focusing more closely on the sounds, cinematography, and overall composition, I was slightly amazed at how manipulative the creative elements appeared to be. It was both ballsy and effective to tell an entire story in the teaser without dialogue, and underscoring proved to be just as much a character as any of the flashbacks getting offed on screen. Yet, the music was distinctly non-diegetic, even having instrumentation (like electric guitars) that couldn’t have existed in Cullen’s time. They were for the audience’s emotional sake as opposed to an honest relationship with the story being accompanied, and that took me out of it. This was furthered by the final seconds prior to the opening credits, when the music faded out, only to be replaced by diegetic wind and breathing.
It’s fairly clear that Hell on Wheels‘ creators aren’t too concerned with diegesis. We hear strings when the characters are sad, the music surges when Cullen rides off into the wilderness towards the end of the episode, stylized in classic Western fashion as a great hero, and so on. It would seem that the only time diegesis was directly explored was the Reverend’s voiceover, which became diegetic upon seeing his delivery in the funeral / sermon. However, Durant is a much stronger orator, putting the meek sermon to shame. He may still talk to himself (err, the audience) unnecessarily or read telegrams out loud for no apparent reason, but the man has speaking chops. When paired in a scene with Joseph the Cheyenne (oops, I mean Christian) and his robotic monotone, that becomes all the more apparent. Is this directing style, I wonder, or lack thereof?
To me, the best part of this episode was when Lily’s wound was addressed, with the final remnants of the embedded arrow removed. A flask is introduced, and instead of it being utilized for her comfort or to cauterize the wound, it’s there for Cullen to drink. And drink. And drink. Three episodes in, Hell on Wheels doesn’t truly work for me, but it works best in instances like that, where it doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously.

The Wire: The Real World Baltimore

December 1, 2009

This was my first time watching The Wire, and I was really impressed.  I really got into its complexity and interlocking storylines, and I find the characters to be really compelling.  The story is slow to unfold which allows for a lot of information to be presented, which I find is a much more rewarding to the viewer.  What struck me most, however, was what I thought was a very good attempt at realism.  So many television shows feel like they have to present some perfect world where unemployed young people live in fabulous lofts and every situation gets resolved happily.  It’s refreshing that there are shows like The Wire are trying to show a more realistic view of the world.

            I’m from Baltimore, and a lot of what I’ve heard about the show is that it gives Charm City a bad reputation.  Not only has The Wire been a tremendous economic benefit to Baltimore, but I like that it tries to depict a realistic portrayal of the city.  Baltimore is rampant with murder and drugs.  The politicians are corrupt, the school system is horrendous, and bureaucracy prevents changes from being made.  I like that there is a show that presents these problems without a sugar coating.  I like that things aren’t neatly tied together at the end of each episode like a pretty bow, because that’s not how life actually is.  

            The subject matter isn’t the only factor that ads realism to this program.  I noticed that they used unknown actors that look like people you would actually see on the street, because lets be honest, cops don’t really look like Heather Locklear.  They also shot the show in Baltimore, which gives the show authenticity.  Most of the scenes took place in recognizable Baltimore locales which made it believable, for me anyway, that these events could have actually taken place.  I also noticed that the sound was strictly diegetic.  The music was always coming from the radio or some other distinct source.  There was no background music or voiceovers to interrupt the presented reality.  In real life there isn’t ominous music when someone is about to get killed, and it isn’t there in The Wire either.

Uses of Sound in Breaking Bad

November 3, 2009

I had never seen Breaking Bad before and while watching this episode, I was particularly intrigued by the choice of sounds (or lack thereof) throughout the episode–be they in the form of music, voices,the banging of the ATM machine in the drug addicts’ home, or mere silence.

Actual music was utilized sparsely in the episode. Music played at the beginning as Jesse obtained the address of the drug dealers. The music used in this scene is loud, haunting and suspenseful. Karen Lury, in her essay “Sound” states that continuous and loud sounds are a “recognized measure of torture”. The sound enhances the viewer’s experience as it reflects the dangerous situation Jesse is about to put himself in.

Music also plays in the background as Walt and Gretchen have an intense argument in the restaurant. A seemingly sophisticated jazz piece by John Coltrane plays as Gretchen criticizes Walt for his dishonesty to his wife, and as Walt, in turn ridicules her frivolous and wealthy lifestyle. The stark contrast posed by the refined tone of the saxophone against the weighted conversation occurring between the two characters seems to reflect the two lives Walt is straddling – life with his supportive family and the world of lies he conceals from them.

Another interesting use of sound in the episode occurs in the scene in which Skyler confronts Walt about Gretchen’s alleged withdrawal of financial support towards Walt’s treatment. During the conversation, we hear a clock ticking in the background. It’s almost as if the clock ticks for Walter as if waiting for him to tell his wife the truth. It could also symbolize the time he has left to live after being diagnosed with cancer. This is an extremely slow scene as we wonder whether or not Walt tells her the truth. As Walt lies to his wife, the clock ticks seem to slow down. It becomes even slower as Skyler contemplates on her husband’s statement (which she believes).  When Skyler worries and gets emotional, the clock gains momentum. I found that this variation provided for a more enhanced audio-visual experience .The lack of actual music intensified the scene and conveys a greater deal of suspense towards the viewer.

The episode ends with the sound of sirens as the child sits on the doorsteps of his home. The juxtaposition of the heartbreaking state of the child, and the approaching sirens is powerful. It enhances the irony posed by the fact that the arrival of an ambulance (and the death of his father) would possibly ensure the child a better life.

Majority of the episode is engulfed by silence. The lack of sound in this episode reflects Lury’s belief that the absence of sound relates to “the missing sound’s potential to cause offence”. I personally thought that this “sound of silence” was appropriate for the heaviness of the episode as well as the different emotions and bleak situations it exposed.