Sound designers/editors/mixers didn’t always have all of the fancy and (VERY) precise tools that let us get as in depth as we do today, but there are still many films that hold up incredibly well…especially when you consider those that really used sound effectively as a story-telling element. There’s a lot we can learn from them though. Working within restrictions is such a big part of creativity (both as a source of inspiration and a challenge).
So what are some of your favorite classic films that got sound right. The older the better. Some of mine:
- Fritz Lang’s M (1931)
- Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)
- Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956 – thank you Criterion, for finally bringing this to the U.S.!…original title – Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)
- Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)
For me, the hybrids are stunning too
Walter Ruttmann Wochenende
Sergei Paradjanov The Colour of Pomegranates
Dziga Vertov A Man with a Movie Camera (yes, silent, or rather to use Michel Chion’s beautiful phrase “deaf cinema”,
so you can hear it, but you can’t)
Chris Marker Sans Soleil (turn the vision off and just listen to it- even more daring)
I don’t have a lot of films in mind, but there are three that came up immediately :
- Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) – but I will also recommend Mon Oncle (1958) and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
- Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959)
- Andreï Tarkovski’s Stalker (1979) – they produced a 5.1 “remaster” version on the dvd where they added a lot of sounds compare to the original in mono and imho you lost a lot of the evocative aspect bring by the mono soundtrack. So watch it in mono (both version are on the dvd).
However I don’t know if Tati and Bresson’s films will be easy to find outside Europe.
I loved the sound for Citizen Kane. I found myself paying attention more to the sound than the cinematography of the film.
The Godfather II (1974)
This movie had a lot of great sounding moments particularly loved the sounds of the shoot out in the streets as we hear inside the bar then cuts to the shootout with the car tires squealing trying to get away and the flashback scenes of the ambience of Italy.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
I’m a bit biased on this one but I remember the first time watching it as kid on TV and my dad pointing out the punch sounds in the movie. It was the first time I realized that the sounds would have needed to be recorded by someone and added in.
I also am not sure what qualifies films as “classics”, but I think when considering this question it is important to consider the historical, technological and contextual perspectives of these films. Having said that, I think that THX 1138 (1971) had fantastic sound design that created a sense dystopian ambivalence towards the workers. This then sat well with the music score by Lalo Schifrin to create a starkness and feeling of insignificance which works well the visuals and narrative.
Worth checking out if you have not seen it.