The power of image and silence (Murch and Munch)

By Susana Alarcon

When watching the piece of Apocalypse now, I remembered an article I saw some years ago (luckily I found it @–New-world-order-devastating-implications-Western-nations.html) , where a journalist talked about the war of worlds’s economy and compared the situation and horror with the scene of the “The Scream” of Edvard Munch.  Well, the point I am trying to get to is how the emotion of a powerful image can be enhanced by silence.


In early posts I talked about my impression of how the lack of sound in a composition leads to the rich and unique imagination of it by the audience. Moreover, the use of silence in hand with a powerful visual can be unforgettable.

In Apocalypse now, we can’t hear the screams of Capt. Willard , but the image, the acting and other sounds in the composition makes us feel the horror in a successful way.


NOTE: When silence is employed effectively in conjunction with a great visual composition, our imagination can explode the emotion.



by Susana Alarcon

“Apocalypse Now was my first stereo film.” (Murch)

Murch played with our way to experience the changes in “Apocalypse Now” reality, as well as he made us  went through a roller coaster of emotions. Of course the intention and plan was there but how did he achieved it?


As we know, it was his first stereo movie, and this fact opened a whole new world of possibilities and gaming in the sound side of the movie.

I found an interesting interview with him where he says “So I jumped with both feet into the fire, not only doing a stereo film but doing the first dramatic quadraphonic film.”  and here he talks about the correct use of the stereo, what to choose to put in front of the audience, what to put in back, how you can’t move sounds around when they are clearly defined and something that I found impressive and a clear example of his master mind: how is better to go back to mono in some parts to focus attention and give power to the use of stereo.

He didn’t know how to work with stereo, and anyway he did it all by himself in a tremendous efficient and creative way!!

Technological barrier and synchronism

by Susana Alarcon


From the beginning of the “film” with the Kinetoscope, there was already an enormous interest in adding sound to it. Edison’s dream of synch the phonograph and kinetoscope took him (as seen on class and read on Talbot’s Moving pictures book) a lot of years of his life, and even then, being the master mind of the idea, he was left behind by other minds.

What was the main issue? Synchronism.

As sensorial beings is normal that Edison and other inventors (and companies)in an attempt to recreate a vivid experience had stayed with the plan of showing picture and sound in movies. Logically, the technical barrier was how to  synch both in the replay… Is it better to play the tracks at the same time? make one and then based on that, the other? or as Edison plan: synchronise the recordings of both?

Cinephone: Picture to fit the gramaphone record. Synch by hand

Vivaphone: By hand again, but system of needle shows up asynchronism

Chronophone: Automatic or by hand, synched motors recording and replaying

Vitaphone (supported by Warner Bros. ): largely distributed, synched recording, (extra recording) play synched automatically but still by hand in case of errors in play. Evolved through the years and brought up new opportunity areas in sound such as fidelity and amplification. It was part of a company maybe more than a dream (like for Edison).

Still… before the digitalisation of sound, and even with digital in home made or just “record the moment” times  we use to record and replay at the same time.

So the logic answer to my questions here is: Synchronism in recording and replaying, I guess that for our personal use, record of memories and in the replay of true reality, the synching and of course high fidelity on the recording and replaying of it is the most important. But when talking about the show business, we realize that replay of the moment is not enough; success and evolution comes in hand with money, big companies, audience and market.

Last. Special thanks to inventors and companies that brought us the digitalization of sound to manipulate and change it to our will.

Murch, Murch and Murch…

by Susana Alarcon

“Apocalypse now”  was the main topic in this week. Not just because the sound is an innovative exploration of possibilities with the introduction of surround sound, but because Walter Much, the father of Sound Design, took entire charge of it.


Though I know it already, I am going to write that was HERE, in Apocalyse Now, when the Sound Designer title first emerged: was first granted by Francis Ford Coppola to Walter Murch, and yes, one more time I found myself talking about the incredible mind and capabilities of such a man. Multi tasking, Munch brought a highly interactive play with places, emotions and point of view with the use of picture and sound in the same level of importance.

Audience (as we experienced some minutes of the movie in class) becomes embraced by the moment (in the film) and though we don’t realize it, we are being manipulated to believe in a time, place and situation far from our life.

I am still impressed that it’s so natural to us an automatic association of images, sounds, places and emotions and that we don’t even think about the fact that all of that has been planned by a master mind.

Embrace reality or change it?

by Susana Alarcon


With sound or not. The point of the movie/theater has always jumped from being a reproduction of reality to distort it and back.

We saw in class that the background of some personalities that started dealing with movie making such as Melies (previous magician) led  to exploration of the film as a “circus” attraction; then the possibility of picture manipulation and montage enhanced the possibility to distort the reality and make a show out of it.

I guess that if we go back in time and check out the precursor of the movie (theater and circus) we’ll notice that entertainment has always been a show: the reproduction or exaggeration of reality, the over exposition to emotions (gladiators and animals) and storytelling (plays) for religious, historical, political or entertainment aims… As well, the media and location has also been important. The interplay with acting, music, lights and shadows (like in Plato’s Allegory in the cave) has always been present in the show.  At least, all is a show! the main aim is entertain us!

Talkies and why they were not suppose to succeed

by Susana Alarcon


It sounds logic that silent movies are considered as an international and immediate success. The evolution of sound brought with no doubt a total new scheme to the movie world. On one hand, the reality was being enhanced, the emotions cleared, on the other, the show business got enriched by a new wave of possibilities.

This topic came like a very important point at the moment; and with the evolution of sound the possibility to add voices to the films was obvious. I would have thought that everyone was comfortable with the idea, but I never imagined that for some film lovers, the fact of adding word to the picture could be an issue, specially as  a culture and language barrier.

I took some time to look at the book “Moving pictures: how they are made and…” (Frederick A. Talbot) and as we saw in class, there was the idea that the target market was already in love and use to the silent films, and that it would be difficult to introduce this “new” style cinema. Moreover, the idea was that once the “curiosity” was satisfied (of the trendy singing and talkie movies), the public would demand just movement.

How wrong was that!


What happens with the way films are thought when sound comes in?

by Susana Alarcon


Sound is a success, technological barriers are being destroyed, audience likes sound and asks for more, theaters are changing to embrace sounding films. What happens in the production side of the films?

Along with the arising of more fidelity, quality, production, … issues, I can only imagine how hard was in the side of “how films are done” suffered a dramatic shock when the introduction of sound happened. Thinking more deeply I can point out that:


Topics and styles were added, I can mention musicals as a classic example.


If sound becomes the main part of it, then music can be the starting point for a film. (Fantasia by Disney)


Going a bit more to the planning: Now you need dialogue and scene writers!


The actors of silent films are not trained/used to speak and not exaggerating emotions. So evolve or go.


Though is related to fidelity in reproduction. New innovative ways of recording without too much noise on scene had to be planned. Box Isolators for the recorders were an example of it.

These are just obvious topics that came out to my memory and mind when I thought about this introduction of sound, but still there must be a huge variety of different issues and evolving solutions that the movie environment should had suffered when the other half (at least) of the nowadays “movie” arrived to the business.

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