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Great sound engineering movies - part 1

There are few movies about sound engineering, but there are at least some with sound engineering as a central theme. Here's one...

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There are few movies about sound engineering, but there are at least some with sound engineering as a central theme. Here's one...

Singin' in the Rain (1952), directed by Stanley Donen and starring Gene Kelly

What? Surely Singin' in the Rain is about dancing and, er... singing, and of course rain? Well that's everyone's recollection. The famous scene where Gene Kelly splashes in puddles viewed by a puzzled officer of the law sticks in the mind so strongly that it erases everything else. But the film is actually about sound engineering. Yes, really sound engineering.

The story is set in 1927 when talking pictures were just about to break through into the world. Gene Kelly's character has of course an excellent singing voice and has no trouble making this transition. However his partner has a voice that would strip wallpaper. So secretly a singer, played by Debbie Reynolds, is hired to overdub her voice.

Of course this happens all the time in real life cinema. Famous examples are Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956), and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) - actually she does sing one song, and you can really hear which one it is! And now anything is considered fair game (Julia Roberts's legs on the poster for Pretty Woman!). But to see this as part of the story is a great sound engineering experience, and it is all done pretty much faithfully to reality.

My favorite scenes - the one where Gene Kelly's regular partner keeps turning her head away from the microphone and therefore is sometimes picked up clearly, sometimes hardly at all. The other is one that shows the soundproofed camera booth. Film cameras are noisy and if sound is to be shot, the camera needs to be silenced in some way - either by putting it in a booth, or mounting it in a blimp. Good practical sound engineering stuff.

In addition to the sound engineering content, it's a great film and I would put it in the 'absolutely must watch' class.

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By the way, Debbie Reynolds's voice was dubbed by Betty Noyes!

Know any more sound engineering movies?

By David Mellor Monday October 16, 2006
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