Berlin (dpa) – Millions of people have seen the “Star Wars” films. Most of them can still hear the shaggy Wookie Chewbacca – sometimes angry, sometimes happy – in their ears.
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The roar of the giant figure seems strange for a good reason: It doesn’t come from a human or a computer. In the 70s, sound designer Ben Burtt went to Long Beach Zoo with a portable tape recorder in search of the perfect sound. There he took in, among other things, a walrus that sat in a bad mood and moaned on dry land because of a pool cleaning.
“And then there was this young bear named Pooh. There was his sound when he got bread. He loved bread,” recalls Burtt in the outstanding documentary “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”, which was released on Friday at 9:55 pm The clock is running on Arte. In the end, he mixed up the sounds. Lions and badgers also flowed into Chewbacca’s voice.
The American documentary filmmaker Midge Costin spoke to many people who, away from the limelight, in dark chambers, develop the sound that turns a film into a sensory experience. “I have always believed that our ears guide our eyes,” says successful producer Steven Spielberg. For the first 25 minutes of the war film “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), Spielberg and his crew spent many weeks just listening to the sounds of the Battle of Normandy: the hail of bullets, the whistling of projectiles next to the ear – and the deep silence just before the detonation of a hand grenade. A tunnel vision of the camera at the same time completely restricts the perspective.
Many examples make it clear that what you hear is often not exactly what you see: The horror film “King Kong and the White Woman”, which rocked the western world in 1933, profited significantly from the work of sound pioneer Murray Spivack. This recorded tiger noises in a zoo and played them backwards – already he had the bloodcurdling voice of a dinosaur.
The noises of big cats are also in the hissing engine noises of the jet fighters from the pilot drama “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise from 1986. Sound expert Cecelia Hall found real turbines too boring. The sound earned her an Oscar nomination. In Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film “Spartacus” (1960), a sound designer used a bunch of keys to make the armor rattle.
“Making Waves” accompanies the greats of sound design, including the multiple Oscar winners Walter Murch (“Apocalypse Now”) and Gary Rydstrom (“Saving Private Ryan”). Star directors such as George Lucas, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Ang Lee, Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler provide insights. They explain the technology and what it triggers in the head. And again and again surprising findings arise. Who would have connected a mafia murder from the drama “The Godfather” (1972) with the first sound experiments by John Cage? Composer Hans Zimmer sums up the best effect: “First the heart has to come, reason will follow.”