Designed For Sound | January 2016

Every week we highlight a movie with outstanding sound, whether that’s for it’s importance to cinematic history, it’s creative use of sound or the sheer audio enjoyment factor of the film. Some might be obvious but we’ll be unearthing hidden gems too.

Star Wars (1977)

© LucasFilm.Ltd

We begin in a galaxy far away with a title that has it all: the essential and very on trend Star Wars saga. Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) was the first film to be screened in 5.1 surround sound - I can only imagine the experience of being immersed in this world back in the 70s! The vast yet coherent audio universe created by sound designer Ben Burtt is a work of epic proportions that has transcended into Western pop culture like no other movie to date. So thank you Mr Burtt and Mr Lucas. And if you still haven't been to see The Force Awakens at the pictures, you won't be disappointed... Just make sure your cinema has Dolby Atmos sound ;)

Elephant (2003)

© 2003 New Line Cinema

Written, directed and edited by Gus Van Sant.

The film is a dramatic reconstruction of the tragic 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, as seen from the student's and perpetrator's view alike. It's one of those films where sound really tells half the story - but does it in a very unconventional way. Long tracking shots slowly follow the characters as they make their way through the school. What you hear is not always what you see. Without really noticing it, that juxtaposition between what the images are depicting and what the sound is telling you slowly takes shape, blowing the cinematic experience to another level. The wizard behind it all is sound designer Leslie Shatz, who following Van Sant's guidance cut in some of Hildegard Westerkamp's beautiful soundscapes, giving them and the film a whole new life.

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

© 1968 Paramount Pictures

A Western classic. Sergio Leone shot this after the successful "Dollars" trilogy, at the apex of his career and backed by a Hollywood studio. It's an epic story written by the brightest minds of Italian cinema at the time (Leone, Bertolucci, Argento...), complete with Morricone score and Delli Colli cinematography. The opening ten minutes sequence is entirely scripted for sound. The actual quality of the sound effects may be crude for today's standards but the way they are placed and used is an absolute masterclass in film sound and storytelling. It is no coincidence that the Scorseses, Tarantinos and Lucas of this world all cite this movie as an influence.

C'era una volta il West (original title) opening sequence via