FILM: On Screen/Sound No. 9 @ EMPAC at RPI, 2/4/16
Film review by Jeff Nania
EMPAC at RPI first launched its “On Screen/Sound” series last September with an opening night that featured the 1982 cult classic, “Tron,” and the fall season continued with seven more installations that explored unique pairings or uses of sound and film in historic works. Last week’s winter/spring season opener continued to fit that bill by exploring the way that dialogue is dubbed into the soundtrack.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 film “Blackmail” approaches this exploration by looking at one of the major changes to ever occur in the film industry – the introduction of talking pictures. This film starred lead actress Ally Onda as a woman who kills a man in self defense, and is then blackmailed by a criminal who ultimately winds up taking the blame. Onda was a seasoned actress at the time, and her acting proves to be just fine, but her voice betrayed her Czech heritage, and her English just didn’t cut it during sound tests. Given this challenge, British actress Joan Barry was hired to come in and actually speak Onda’s lines off-camera while Onda lip-synched.
Given the time period that this film was made, two versions were actually released – a talkie and a silent film to accommodate theaters that were not yet equipped for talking pictures. The silent version and talking picture both feature the same opening with an extended six-and-a-half-minute sequence with musical accompaniment, but after that some of the scenes were restaged for the talkie. The silent film version was released after the talkie, but ultimately wound up running longer in theaters possibly due to the fact that most theaters were not equipped for the talkies. The way the sound was actually dubbed onto the film was somewhat inventive as well – it is an example of “sound-on-film” which means that the audio is actually recorded on the same strip as the visual media as opposed to simply having a separate visual film reel and a record playing alongside it.
The night at EMPAC also began with a shorter piece called “Picture and Sound Rushes,” Morgan Fisher’s 1973 film exploring various ways that image and sound interact with each other. The film is broken into four equal parts and essentially just explores synchronization of lips and speech moving together, a post production where visual film is shot and then sound is overdubbed, sound without a picture, and finally no visual or audio at all. The piece is rather clinical and just features ultra-repetitive and monotonous scientific-type talk with a single person sitting at a desk dead center with a clock to the audience’s left and some papers on the table.
EMPAC’s next installment of the On Screen/Sound series will be held at 7pm on Thursday (February 18) featuring a pair of films that explore the act of vocalisation – Joyce Wieland’s “Pierre Vallières” (1972) and Clio Barnard’s “ The Arbor” (2010).