What are good examples of sound used as a cue in cinematic history?
January 17, 2007 4:56 PM   Subscribe

What are good examples of sound used as a cue in cinematic history?

I'm looking for specific (ideally well-known) scenes and moments in movies that really accentuate the niceties that can be achieved with sound.

For example, some scene involving a woman walking down a hallway in high heels, their click-clacking reverberating throughout its empty halls menacingly (that scene from The Godfather is a tad similar to this).

Again, looking for relatively well-known and immediately recognisable examples.
posted by Lockeownzj00 to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The screeching in the shower scene from Psycho would fit, if I understand what you're asking about.
posted by rossination at 4:58 PM on January 17, 2007

The deep reverberations of the T-Rex approaching in Jurassic Park?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:00 PM on January 17, 2007

Do you mean sound effects/foley etc, or are you also looking for examples using nondigetic music?
posted by Brian James at 5:01 PM on January 17, 2007

The distorted recordings in The Conversation.

Jets passing overhead in Matinee.

The killer's leather overall squeaking as he moves in High Tension.
posted by brundlefly at 5:09 PM on January 17, 2007

I thought Adaptation used canned music to great effect: at one point, the movie becomes the sort of movie that it is mocking, and the ominous-sounding canned music is one of the cues that the movie has shifted gears.
posted by adamrice at 5:13 PM on January 17, 2007

Darth Vader's breathing.
Depending on the answer to Brian James' question, the strings in Jaws.
posted by zoinks at 5:15 PM on January 17, 2007

The duh-duh....duh-duh... from Jaws is the first thing I thought of.
posted by griffey at 5:15 PM on January 17, 2007

The very end of Chinatown. (spoiler: the cops are shooting at an escaping car; suddenly it slows down and its horn starts blaring, telling you that the driver is dead and slumped over the wheel)
posted by equalpants at 5:24 PM on January 17, 2007

The breathing sounds in 2001. Very spartan and distinctive.
posted by Paragon at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2007

or the ta-ta-ta-taTUM reprise from the Terminator movies. Sorry, I couldn't find clips.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2007

The big wheel on the wood floor in the beginning of The Shining.

The radio changing stations during the opening credits of Pulp Fiction.
posted by bingo at 5:54 PM on January 17, 2007

Have you checked this page: Filmsound.org? Lots of good examples there, with references to specific movies and scenes.
posted by krippledkonscious at 6:00 PM on January 17, 2007

I'm always struck by that scene in Spinal Tap, when they're onstage and stuck inside the big plastic pods. You hear a beat in the background, which almost sounds like part of the music, getting louder and louder until you see it's the roadie pounding on the pod with a hammer.
posted by Brian James at 6:19 PM on January 17, 2007

The droning of the bi-plane, punctuated by machine guns in North By Northwest.
posted by Good Brain at 6:20 PM on January 17, 2007

How about sound bridges? A textbook example can be found in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, when a woman's scream merges with a train whistle in the next scene.
posted by zoey08 at 6:31 PM on January 17, 2007




posted by loiseau at 7:41 PM on January 17, 2007

Jaws for sure...the theme from Indiana Jones that always kicks in when he is fighting off hordes of bad guys is always quite stiring.
posted by mmascolino at 8:05 PM on January 17, 2007

In Three Kings there's a great *splurch* at the beginning of the bullet entry, uh, sequence, that totally sells the look and feeling of the scene. It's under a little soliloquy, and the squelching continues throughout the description. Bullet zings are great in that movie too.

In Pi Darren Aronofsky describes the pill-popping scenes as 'hip-hop sequences.' The crisp cutting of zips, caps, and pops in the sound mix is an integral part of the very engaging bits of film.

Heh, The Three Stooges.
posted by carsonb at 9:02 PM on January 17, 2007

Best footsteps in a corridor and a very famous use of this sound is in Point Blank, the original (Lee Marvin) movie.

If music is fine, the Zither in The Third Man is very famous and immediately recognizable.

The sound in Clean, Shaven is among the best you'll ever hear but it's not so famous as barely anyone saw the film. But, as for what you can achieve with sound, it is a stunning example for a contemporary film.

carsonb, are you sure you're not thinking of Requiem for a Dream? I remember the pill popping and coffee stirring and such scenes from that movie whereas the PI ones don't register to my brain at all.
posted by dobbs at 10:16 PM on January 17, 2007

Look at the original Star Wars. John Williams soundtrack is immediately recognizable - you can 'hear' every major character as they come on screen.
posted by filmgeek at 10:53 PM on January 17, 2007

The films of Robert Bresson all use sound to great effect.

You said in an interview once that the ear relates to what is inside and the eye more to what is outside.

The ear is much more profound. You must feel the ear and the eye together if you can because the ear gives something to the eye. When you hear the whistle of the train it gives you the idea of the whole station. The ear is inventive.

The scenes in the woods during Mouchette would probably be the most memorable example.
posted by fire&wings at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2007

This scene from Delicatessen where the rhythm of the couple on the bed echoes through the house.
posted by markdj at 1:27 AM on January 18, 2007

Somewhat linked to this thread, today's guardian has an article about the use of music in film.
posted by biffa at 3:46 AM on January 18, 2007

The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, where Captain Miller is dazed by an explosion as he tries to get onto Omaha beach, uses sound quite effectively to underline the confusion - for instance the shots of soldiers drowning underwater filter the sound as if the viewer is underwater, and when we are seeing Miller's own viewpoint as he comes to, we also hear what he is hearing.
posted by greycap at 3:55 AM on January 18, 2007

While I think the air/swish/shoosh has probably become cliche, I hear it used in several new contexts with some effectiveness. Originally used in martial arts films to accentuate the speed of a kick cutting through the air, I've recently heard it in "Strictly Ballroom" synced with some of faster dance moves. I think the best use was some movie I saw where it was heard every time a drill sergeant saluted.
posted by klarck at 5:12 AM on January 18, 2007

in "M" the whistling of the child molester
in "The man who knew too much" The crash of the Cymbal that signals the killer to shoot.
posted by Gungho at 7:15 AM on January 18, 2007

Darryl Hannah whistling in Kill Bill, as discussed here.
posted by TedW at 8:09 AM on January 18, 2007

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
posted by joquarky at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2007

Rebel Without A Cause -- as Plato (Sal Mineo) dies the orchestra music in the background fades away to a simple drum beat which then slowly morphs from nondiagetic soundtrack and slows to become the final heartbeats of the young boy. Really pretty spectacular but easy to overlook so I'm not sure it meets your criteria...
posted by rosebengal at 11:49 AM on January 18, 2007

Cat People (1942)

There is a scene I remember that I just tried to explain but I think wikipedia has a better explanation:

Lewton and his production team claim credit for inventing the popular horror film technique called the "bus". The term came from the scene where Irena is walking behind Alice; the audience expects Irena to turn into a panther at any moment and attack her. At the most tense point, when the camera focuses on Alice's confused and terrified face, what sounds like a hissing panther jumping out at her turns out to be the sound of a bus pulling over to pick her up. After the excitement dies down, the audience is left uncertain whether anything supernatural or life-threatening actually happened. This technique has been adapted into a great many horror movies since then. Anytime a movie creates a scene where the tension rises and dissipates into nothing at all, merely an empty boo!, it is a "bus".
posted by spec80 at 12:24 PM on January 18, 2007

This is completely opposite of what you're looking for, but it's an interesting angle on the same concept...

Sometimes a complete lack of sound can really emphasize something going on in the scene. My first thought of this is in the recent movie Jarhead. They are in mid-battle in the desert, bombs blowing up all around them, and the main character sorta ominously stands up and realizes the magnitude of what he's in. The sound of the bombs and his fellow soldiers fades away completely and you can only hear the sound of sand hitting his face. It's a pretty genius use of (lack of) mise en scène.
posted by GrubbyUtter at 5:01 PM on January 18, 2007

carsonb, are you sure you're not thinking of Requiem for a Dream? I remember the pill popping and coffee stirring and such scenes from that movie whereas the PI ones don't register to my brain at all.

Max takes painkillers and/or antipsychotics throughout Pi. Cap off, pills in hand, pop in mouth, aahhhh. Aronofsky expanded and enhanced the "hip-hop sequence" idea in Requiem For A Dream to again convey drug-taking.

posted by carsonb at 5:44 PM on January 18, 2007

The beginning of Punch Drunk Love has some amazing sound cues involving passing vehicles. The DVD urges viewers to saturate the colors on their TV and turn the volume waaay up.
posted by carsonb at 5:55 PM on January 18, 2007

carsonb: timely advice, just got the DVD in the post, will try that this weekend.
posted by biffa at 12:44 AM on January 19, 2007

Here are four movies in which you'll find multiple interesting examples (and beautiful sound design in general): Serenity, Mulholland Dr, Solaris, Cube.
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:00 AM on January 23, 2007

By Solaris I meant the 2002 version; the 1972 version is interesting too in terms of sound design, but the 2002 version is gorgeous sonically (and it has one of the best film scores I've ever heard... if you're also interested in scores).
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:05 AM on January 23, 2007

« Older I need to get copies of my W2 and Tax Returns...   |   Buttons! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.