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DeathwatchAmerican Film, Technology, and the End of Life$
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C. Scott Combs

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231163477

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231163477.001.0001

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Echo and Hum

Echo and Hum

Death’s Acoustic Spacein the Early Sound Film

(p.103) 3 Echo and Hum

C. Scott Combs

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines the nondiegetic soundtrack as registrant in the early sound film. In theory, the sound camera can capture the last audible breath or spoken utterance, and it can produce the medial equivalent of such a stop. The body has an acoustic “off” switch, and the continuity of sound can be suddenly muted. But the theory of an instant does not translate well to screen practice: final words are reinforced by the slide to bodily inertia, and sudden silence leaves an echo. This chapter analyzes disembodied death sounds in films such as The Jazz Singer, Applause, and Frankenstein and the role played by the disembodied voice in ending life onscreen. It also considers the microphone as a death technology and how dying can be heard from the external space surrounding it. Finally, it explains how offscreen sounds of singing, talking, and crying registrants affect the fundamental flow of the deathwatch.

Keywords:   nondiegetic soundtrack, sound film, death, death sound, microphone, dying, singing, crying, disembodied voice, registrant

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