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  Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound Noise DeploysBuy this film here.
Year: 2019
Director: Midge Costin
Stars: Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbara Streisand, David Lynch, Robert Redford, Peter Weir, Hans Zimmer, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola, Mark A. Mangini, Cecelia Hall, Ryan Coogler, Anna Behlmer
Genre: Documentary
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: While everyone who enjoys films can call to mind their favourite images from their favourite films, calling to mind their favourite sound designs may be a different matter. Sure, they can recall a piece of music and how well it was wedded to those images, but what of the sound effects, the ambient noise, how the noise creates a feeling of movement, and so on? Possibly there are some where the effects are brought to mind, and even more possibly that film will be 1977's Star Wars and its sequels, for that brought together Walter Murch and Ben Burtt, whose manufactured sounds contributed hugely to the overall impact: what would the franchise be without the sound of a light sabre or a TIE Fighter? Where would Chewbacca be without his voice?

Or R2-D2 without his bleeps and bloops? As is pointed out in director Midge Costin and scripter Bobette Buster's documentary, the soundtrack is half the movie experience. This seems to be stating the bloody obvious, but with a host of well-chosen clips and sympathetic interviewees you will come away from Making Waves with plenty more respect for those technical wizards, which was of course the point of the exercise. This was strictly Hollywood we were talking about, so it was rare to hear a non-American accent throughout the ninety minutes or so it took for this to unfold, but as it was Hollywood that blazed a trail for the craft, you could forgive them that, and it was an American film after all. Costin knew of which she spake: she was a sound editor of many years' experience.

She started with Cannon back in the eighties before blockbuster work in the nineties, or became established midway through the eighties at least, which may have you wondering if she had seen Mark Hartley's documentary on that notorious studio and this had inspired her to make something similar: their format was very much the same, though there were not quite as many laughs or outrageous stories in this. It was closer to a primer for the uninitiated than it was an in-depth scrutiny of the subject matter, but even so hearing those anecdotes from those who were there when great developments were being made was always going to be entertaining, despite Star Wars fans having heard a lot of it before. There was something of the history lesson about how it was structured, starting way back with Thomas Edison's first recordings.

It then explained how synchronised sound was developed, famously with speech in The Jazz Singer in 1927, and how Hollywood studios came to rely on the same effects and cues to use in all their films; King Kong's unsung sound hero Murray Spivak was offered due respect here as the true pioneer in 1933. Then we move forward to the seventies where directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola understand how important the sound of their movies is, Barbara Streisand demands that her 1976 A Star is Born remake has to have stereo recording that becomes an industry standard, and Gary Rydstrom arrives in the eighties to shake up the technology with digital sound. It also touched on the inclusion of female technicians, though perhaps surprisingly, mostly in passing, and broke down the main facets of the work that goes in to constructing a soundtrack; it was nice to see David Lynch's collaborator Alan Splet paid tribute to, as much a pioneer as the more famous names. Really film documentaries have to avoid the temptation to look like an extended DVD extra, and Making Waves does not quite manage that, but it does entertain and have you thinking about the next movie you watch. Music by Allyson Newman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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