9. SOUNDS AND SILENCE
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9 SOUNDS AND SILENCE S O U N D S A N D S I L E N C E • 565 . . . The four manifestos that compose this chapter all revolve around the question of sound in the cinema. Perhaps it is not surprising that three of the four were written on the cusp of sound cinema. Many filmmakers, critics, and theorists were convinced that the advent of sound would strip away from the cinema its specificity and its universalism. Indeed, even for filmmakers who mastered sound, there was a lingering feeling that the silent image constituted the true cinema. Alfred Hitchcock, who made ten silent films in the United Kingdom between 1925 and 1929, often argued that a good sound film ought to be perfectly comprehensible to an audience even if the sound were turned off. The first three manifestos address the arrival of film sound at the end of the 1920s. The first, and most famous, sound manifesto, “A Statement on Sound,” by Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigori Alexandrov, published in 1928, argues for contrapuntal sound, eventually achieved in some parts of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (USSR, 1938), most notably in the battle on the ice between Novgorod and the Teutonic knights. This manifesto is especially relevant given that in the late 1920s socialist realism had not replaced the early formalism of Soviet cinema; the films of the period were still focused on the plasticity of the cinema that Bazin later decried; the naturalism of sound presented specific aesthetic problems for Russian formalists. In “A Rejection of the Talkies,” written as part of the press material for City Lights (USA, 1931), Chaplin defends the use of synchronized sound but, like his Soviet cineaste compatriots, decries the use of sound as a substitute for the international language of the silent cinema as he defines it. For Chaplin the specificity and universal appeal of the cinema lies in its use of pantomime, and he argues that sound can easily eradicate this aspect of the cinema through an overreliance on explanatory dialogue in lieu of pantomimic acting. Basil Wright and B. Vivian Braun raise similar issues; like the aforementioned manifestos, “A Dialogue on Sound: A Manifesto” derides the “talkies.” Wright and Braun develop in a practical manner many of the points raised in “A Statement on Sound,” foregrounding again the contrapuntal use of sound, raising a clarion call that sound can easily overdetermine an image, killing its meaning in the process. The “Amalfi Manifesto,” written some thirty years after the advent of sound, examines the way in which overdubbing has functioned in Italian cinema and decries the lack of imagination in the soundscapes of Italian films. Unlike the other sound manifestos presented here, the “Amalfi Manifesto” concerns itself with the problems of antirealism and argues that dubbing detaches actors from their roles, creating a degree of alienation for the audience through the break in verisimilitude. It argues for a “unitary plane of style,” urging a more complete and total cinema, one that does not break apart sound and image. ...