also have scores to accompany them. What a lot of people (myself included) don’t
think about is everything that goes in to creating all the sounds that make a
movie seem real but not overwhelming. Once you really do start to think about
all the time and energy that goes into sound design you can appreciate the
sounds in movies a lot more than before you knew the long and involved process
of getting the quality just right. When doing sound design, you have to think
about the ambient sounds (traffic, wind, etc.), dialogue, artificial sounds, and
the score that are all required to aid the film on the journey it will take the
audience on. To gain a better understanding of how all these aspects come
together, I am going to look at some instances of the sound design in Mike
Nichols’ The Graduate (1967).
Right off the bat, in the opening credits of The
Graduate, there is an instance of sound overlap. There are announcements in
the airport and the song “Hello Darkness” by Simon and Garfunkel is playing in
the background. Since the audience cannot see the source of either of these
sounds they both qualify as non-diegetic sounds. The airport announcements make
sense for the scene, so we can attribute that to an overhead PA system that is
just not seen in the shots. The Simon and Garfunkel song is therefore attributed
to the score, because there is nothing else that calls for the song to be
playing during that scene. “Hello Darkness” is played three different times
throughout the movie, in the beginning, at the end, and the first time that Ben
gets together with Mrs. Robinson, thus being present for three major changes in
Very soon after the opening, there is a scene when Mrs. Robinson asks Ben
to drive her home, and you can hear Ben’s fish tank going in the background
(although it is probably a bit louder than it would be in real life). When the
scenes transition from Ben’s room where they are talking to Ben driving Mrs.
Robinson home, a part major of the transition is the sound of the fish tank
fading while the sound of the car overtakes it as the lights come up on the
scene. This transition also takes place at another point in the movie with
Elaine Robinson when Ben is driving with her, although I don’t think that the
change is from fish tank to car engine, but it is essentially the same process.
Towards the end of the film when Ben is frantically driving to the church
to try and stop Elaine from marrying Carl Smith, there is music playing in the
background. When time is almost out, of course Ben’s car runs out of gas. This
section of the score fits perfectly with the section of the movie. The score is
going along as fast as Ben’s car is, and it’s almost like the score is the car’s
engine, because once the car starts to slow so does the score. It is almost
imperceptible at first, but then it becomes more noticeable and that’s when the
audience’s hearts start pumping in anticipation and it all becomes real.
Jack Solomon, the sound designer for The
Graduate, did an excellent job with the sounds in the movie, especially
given the technology of the time. With that being said, there were some things
in the sound design of the movie that I found to be a little frustrating. Yes,
there is great attention to detail and everything that needs to make a sound
does, but there is not enough blending of the sounds to compare to what this
generation of movie goers are used to. There is not enough blending when there
is score, dialogue, footsteps, and other ambient noises in the same scene. Other
times, the background music is just as loud as the dialogue is, so it can make
it difficult to hear both of them at the same time and not be overwhelmed. Then
there are other instances in the film when Solomon understands that there is no
need for anything other than ambient sounds and dialogue, not every sound
designer appreciates that not every second requires music.
Sound design is a complex task, and now that I have a better
understanding of it (though by no means a complete understanding of it) I have a
much greater appreciation for all of the movies and shows that I have seen and
the tasks that the sound designers have to accomplish.
Prince, Stephen R. Movies and Meaning: an Introduction to
Film. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013. Print.
Mike Nichols. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Kathrine Ross. MGM,
IMDB. IMDB.com, Inc. 1990-2013. Web.
14, Nov 2013.