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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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Silencing and Sounding the Voice in Transition-Era French Cinema

Silencing and Sounding the Voice in Transition-Era French Cinema

(p.34) Chapter 2 Silencing and Sounding the Voice in Transition-Era French Cinema
Voicing the Cinema
Hannah Lewis
University of Illinois Press

This essay examines two contrasting aesthetics of the voice in early 1930s French cinema and the role that music played in each. Filmed theater, or théâtre filmé, emerged from the conception that sound cinema was primarily a recording medium. In French theatrical adaptations, the speaking voice took precedence over all other elements of the soundtrack. The author argues, however, that in théâtre filmé, speech takes on almost musical qualities, folding music and sound effects into the voice itself. Avant-garde filmmakers took a contrasting approach, rejecting the restriction of camera movement imposed by the theatrical model and hoping to recapture some of the visual freedom characteristic of silent cinema. These filmmakers told their stories with as little spoken dialogue as possible, incorporating music prominently into their soundtracks in order to silence the speaking voice. Though the intent may have been to strip the voice of its dominance within the soundtrack, these directors’ strategic denial of the voice often granted it a much greater significance. By examining early experiments with the voice on the soundtrack in the transition years—including those by Jean Renoir, René Clair, and Jean Grémillon—the author’s analysis expands the concept of “vococentrism,” as articulated by Michel Chion and David Neumeyer, to include different models of understanding the voice in cinema beyond those found in classical Hollywood and helps shed light on competing conceptions of the voice’s role in cinema before practices became codified.

Keywords:   film music, French cinema, voice, Jean Renoir, On purge bébé, René Clair, Sous les toits de Paris, Jean Grémillon, La Petite Lise

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