A lot of people, when they’re watching film, take the soundtrack for granted, and don’t necessarily single it out as an important element. Sound is forgotten about sometimes, when people do tend to teach film, largely because they’re often not sure how to teach it. And I think that a lot of the time, there is a real focus on the visual image. When you actually take the music away from a film, and show the same clip to someone, they realise how much music can bring to that artistic statement, and realise the powerful impact that sound and soundtrack and music can have.
I think sound is a great tool for literacy, because I think often, with the absence of sound, it is very, very difficult to build up a picture of what’s happening in the film. And when I say the word picture, I mean actually deciphering what the story is. I think sound is a really, really good way of teaching young people about things like plot development, setting, the characters that exist within a film. And I think they all add up to the literacy of the film itself. Sound can convey just about anything that you want to talk about in a film. So you could start with, very simply, to start with, the mood of a film.
Sound establishes mood in ways that dialogue can maybe take a long, long time to establish. So straight away, you’ve got an idea of the atmosphere of a film. Sound can also assist you with the setting, and the season that a film may be set in, by using Foley effects, weather sounds, weather effects like that, to accentuate the time of year that the film might be set at. If you think of the example of the genre of horror cinema, that uses sound in a very, very particular way and it can often confuse and scare the viewer.
Whereas, if you think of another kind of genre of film, such as the western, for example, if a cowboy comes into a bar, there’s no way of you knowing whether they’re a good or a bad person. And the only way you would know that is based on the sound, and the soundtrack. I think sound is a great tool for literacy, because you don’t need a massive amount of prior knowledge to use it, the way a lot of people think you have to. A lot of teachers that may think that they need some specialised musical knowledge, or a background in music, in order to be able to talk about it, but you really don’t.
You just need to talk about the effect it has on you, as a viewer of the film. I think young people find sound so inspiring because music is something that a lot of young people gravitate towards. And I think when that is shown in film, especially when it can be, say, tracks from popular music that they know of already, I think that it can lift the images that they’re watching. It can provide a lot of those images with meaning they didn’t necessarily know existed. And I think it’s that marrying of the visual image and sound together that I think is the beauty of cinema.
Sound is an instinctive method of communication, and literacy, when you boil it down, is all about communication, and talking to people. It’s writing, audio, however way you want to communicate, sound is just another way of doing that.