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Voicing the CinemaFilm Music and the Integrated Soundtrack$
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James Buhler and Hannah Lewis

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043000

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043000.001.0001

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Apprehending Human Voice in the “Silent Cinema”

Apprehending Human Voice in the “Silent Cinema”

(p.17) Chapter 1 Apprehending Human Voice in the “Silent Cinema”
Voicing the Cinema
Julie Brown
University of Illinois Press

In the silent cinema there was no soundtrack, nor indeed sonic accompaniment that was consistently applied to particular moving pictures in their various exhibition spaces. Least of all was there an established sound hierarchy in which “voice” occupied a particular place—central or otherwise. Rather, “silent cinema” was initially dominated by the notion of moving pictures as “attractions,” though, over its thirty years, it allowed for diverse representations of voice and vocality courtesy of a variety of cinematic systems, which might or might not have involved the creation of actual sound. This chapter outlines the many manifestations of cinematic “voice” in the silent cinema: onscreen speaking to which the audience is deaf, but which Isabelle Raynaud notes emanates from a screen world that is “hearing”; intertitles; bodily gesture; typed words on the screen; live voices in the theater variously describing the moving pictures, reading out title cards, lip synching dialogue or song, and so forth. The author draws on Brian Kane’s recent reconceptualization of “voice” as Phoné to theorize voice in the silent cinema in a way that moves beyond notions of vocal silence and audience deafness. For Kane, voice as Phoné “is distinct from three other terms with which it is often described”: echos, topos, and logos—roughly speaking, sound, site, and meaning. What Michel Chion describes as “elastic speech,” but which we can expand to silent cinema “voice,” might therefore be better conceptualized as a series of techniques necessitating a constant movement between different manifestations of echos, topos, and logos, created via various technologies or techniques (techê). Because echos is sometimes entirely absent in the silent cinema, the author argues that “apprehension” is more apt than “listening” as a description of how silent cinema’s representational systems for voice become intelligible to the viewer.

Keywords:   silent cinema, film music, voice, echos, topos, logos, Phoné

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