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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound documentary review: why movies sound so great (even if you never noticed before)

Making Waves The Art of Cinematic Sound green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Enlightening, thrilling masterclass in the art of cinematic sound, from every moment of groundbreaking history to the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. (Win your next Oscar pool!)
I’m “biast” (pro): I am desperate for movies by women; big film production nerd
I’m “biast” (con): literally nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

Come on, admit it: The categories where you get stumped while filling out your annual Oscar picks for the office or party pool are Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Even really serious cinephiles can find themselves asking: What are these crafts, even, and what’s the difference between them?

Now, it’s true that the stunning and surprising new documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound — from Midge Costin, a veteran sound editor making her directorial debut — is not here specifically to help you win your Oscar pool. It’s merely an excellent bonus that after this wonderfully enlightening and entertaining overview of the history of sound in film, you will have also gotten a terrific, if perhaps accidental, primer on the difference between sound editing and sound mixing (as well as nearly everything else to do with movie sound).

Making Waves The Art of Cinematic Sound

You can hear the T-Rex roar even in this still image, can’t you? (That’s the power of movie sound.)

What a movie sounds like and how that enriches our enjoyment of it may not be anything you’ve ever considered before; after all, we talking about seeing a film, not hearing it (as someone notes here). But that will all change after you listen to masters of cinematic sound discuss how “sound is half the experience” and the “subliminal” impact it can have, and after you witness the evolution of how sound makes our encounters with cinema more seductive.

The timeline that Costin and her experts lay before us is a litany of classic movies that take on newly thrilling meaning when you pay attention to how they fall on our ears. (Clips galore here! You will want to go watch all these movies again — or for the first time — after.) Sure, everything changed with 1927’s The Jazz Singer and its pioneering synchronized dialogue. But that was nothing to how everything changed again with the introduction of intentionally designed sound effects for 1933’s King Kong… and again with the rich invented-yet-realistic soundscapes of 1977’s Star Wars… and again with the immersive surround sound of 1979’s Apocalypse Now… and again

What a movie sounds like may not be anything you’ve considered before; after all, we talking about seeing a film, not hearing it…

The lords of movie sound are teaching this masterclass: Walter Murch (who won his first Oscar for his sound work on Apocalypse Now), Star Wars legend Ben Burtt, and others. You’ll discover how the Beatles(!) affected movie sound. The innovations that Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock brought to the craft. Why 1976’s A Star Is Born was so groundbreaking. And so much more.

Behind-the-scenes movie stuff doesn’t get much wonkier than this. But Making Waves is not overly technical. It’s simply delightfully eager to help you understand a woefully underappreciated aspect of the filmmaking art… and even if you are not deeply engaged in the practical side of filmmaking, it will bring a whole new level of appreciation to your movie viewing. If you love movies, love how they transport you, and want to understand better how they do their magic on you, do not miss this one.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.

green light 4.5 stars

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Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019) | directed by Midge Costin
US/Can release: Oct 25 2019
UK/Ire release: Nov 01 2019 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 12 (images of moderate violence and threat)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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