by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, May 9, 2013


So we spoke about continuity errors last week, and how they permeate even the biggest blockbuster behemoths - including, but not exclusive to, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. My point, of course, was not to poke fun at Jurassic Park, or sway your opinion of it in any way (for the record, I still think it's a slam-bang piece of commercial entertainment, with special effects that continue to impress to this day). I simply wanted to spotlight one of the more common types of film flubs we so often take for granted, and maybe open your minds to the filmmaking process as a whole.

Some call this nitpicking. I respectfully disagree. I think becoming more acutely aware of what you're watching only enhances the movie-going experience, enriches it, makes you an active part of it. Plot holes, camera angles, lighting styles, musical compositions, mise-en-scène - all these are part of the cinematic language as we know it, and understanding what they are and how they apply to specific films only helps our appreciation to grow.

And so, I propose another project, in which we'll tackle - one bite-sized morsel at a time - some of the many clichès and cinema staples that run through virtually every film, whether you're consciously aware of them or not. These will be kept mercifully brief, as to avoid that back-to-school, self-congratulatory feel I try so hard to avoid here at FTWW. Other blogs already do that, and do it well. Hopefully, though, we can learn a little something and have some fun while we're at it.

We begin today with a cinema staple you've no doubt encountered many times on your movie-going travels, even if you never realized there was an actual term for it. It's called the Wilhelm Scream, a generic sound effect often used when a character "is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion." Click on the player below to reacquaint yourself with the sound:

Recorded in 1951 by actor Sheb Wooley (for the Western Distant Drums), the Scream has been re-used hundreds of times since, most notably during the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. (Sound designer Ben Burtt named the Scream after Private Wilhelm in The Charge At Feather River [1953], who emits the sound as he's shot in the leg with an arrow.) Here, via YouTube, is a sampling of the Wilhelm's many appearances:

Right now you may find yourself asking, "Well, that's nifty and all, but why use the same sound effect over and over again? What's the point?" To which there are two possible responses: One, it's a nostalgia thing (as in, "Hey, they used it for Star Wars. And what's good enough for Star Wars is good enough for me!"), and two, it helps cut down on production costs. Foley artists are paid to create incidental noise for film, TV and video games during post-production, which includes anything from footsteps to thunderstorms to ice sloshing around in a glass to, yes, the shouts of a man falling from a great height or being thrown from an explosion. Why not shave a few bucks off your budget and use a sound that's readily accessible?

They've even managed to squeeze the Scream into TV commercials as of late. Can you hear it?

For previous articles highlighting other films flubs and movie maxims (or, as we like to call them, Staples of the Cinema), head on over here, here, here, and also here.

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