The Language of Film:



*      Sound—Film sound can have a multitude of relations to the image and the narrative: it can be background music; its source may be on-or off-screen; and it can even precede or follow the image it is linked to (as when a character’s remarks form a bridge into the next image). In some film, sound alone could make a major topic for analysis. When analyzing sound in film, consider the following questions:


*      What is the relation of the sound to the image in specific scenes or sequences? How might the answer to that question be refined to reveal the aims, achievements, or even failures of sound in the movie?

*      Is the sound used to link images, or does the sound have the conventional role of beginning and terminating with the image?

*      Does the sound ever become more important that the image, and what is the reason for this unusual strategy?

*      Do the musical numbers have any special relation to the narrative structure? (for instance, do they occur when the characters need to escape into fantasy?)

*      Why does the dialogue of the characters overlap or seem mumbled in some recent movies, so that it is difficult to understand the characters? Does the dialogue serve some other purpose than to help tell the story?

*      What role does silence play in the film?

*      Are there sound motifs that identify the characters’ mindsets or actions? Does the rhythm of the sound support or serve as a counterpoint to the rhythm of the editing?

*      If you had to pick three key sound sequences from this film, which would they be and why?

Components of Sound[1]

Music: Is its source part of the story (="diegetic") or added on (="non-diegetic")? With diegetic sound the source of the sound can be visible (on-screen) or unseen (off-screen). What kind of music: popular, classical, familiar, exotic, rock? Typical for the period depicted? Does music comment (foreshadow or contradict) the action? Does it irritate? What is the music's purpose in the film? How does it direct our attention within the film? How does it shape our interpretation of the image?

Sound effects: Artificial or natural sound? On- or off-screen source? Is there subjective sound? What does it signify?

Dialogue/Silence: Stilted or artificial language? Do different characters use different kinds of language; slang; dialect, profanity, allusion to other texts, quotations? Do certain characters speak through their silence?

Voice-over/Narration: Who is speaking and from where? Is voice-over part of the action or (non-diegetically) outside of it? What does the narrator know and what is his/her relationship to the action? Is s/he reliable, omniscient, unreliable?

Synchronization: Is sound matched with the image? Non-simultaneous sound? (For instance, reminiscing narrator or when sound from the next scene begins while the images of the last one are still on the screen. This is also called a "sound-bridge".)


[1] Taken from Eric Rentschler’s and Anton Kaes’s website, “Reading a Film Sequence,” at