Director: Midge Costin
Script: Bobette Buster
Cast: Midge Costin, Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom
Running time: 94 minutes
Midge Costin, with the help of prominent directors and three revolutionary sound designers, guides the viewer through the history and importance of sound in her directorial debut Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. What could have been a topic that leaned on the dry side, is, in fact, a warm, engaging documentary that will give you second thoughts and an increased appreciation of the art of sound design.
Costin leaves no second to waste and has more ground to cover than the 95-minute runtime cruelly limits us too. Costin guides us through a very short history lesson of the use of sound in film, noting how orchestras have been prominent in cinema for almost as long as cinema has existed. Mentioning how some studios would have an orchestra tour around with their film to help elevate the visuals. Sound in cinema is integral to your overall enjoyment of the piece. Costin has created a film that will not only make you understand this fact but to fall in love with the craft of producing sound for a feature film.
A wonderful timeline showing the importance of 1933s King Kong all the way to the importance of Apocalypse Now. Costin breaks these down expertly and with a great deal of confidence. Muting a scene in Star Wars to show the simple impact of showing how sound effects really enhance the overall experience. A simple example of course, but we are then shown the differences between mono and stereo. One can only imagine a cinema experience without the invention of stereo and eventually surround sound. It just wouldn’t click as well as it had intended, would it? From the first use of sound to the ever-increasing technological advances we are making Costin covers as much as she can in such a short time and the duration of the documentary will pop up more than once throughout this review.
We are left to rue how important figures in the early days of cinema were never recorded. Their thoughts or techniques and indeed the stories now lost to only second-hand memory. So sadly yet understandably Costin rushes through it to get to an era where the people who created such work are still alive today to discuss it. This is one of the shames of the documentary as all film lovers would love to have learnt about that era as well. Alas, it was not to be for this piece. Regardless, Costin would not have had the time in this documentary to add their thoughts and stories in due to the length of the running time.
Spread throughout are Hollywood heavyweight names such as Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer, Barbara Streisand and many more. They get the chance to wax lyrical about their love of sound design. Costin has utilised her big guns very well in Making Waves. Not being omnipresent throughout is key to the documentary working. Refreshingly they are also not present for a mere cameo and add some value to the overall piece. But also that they are now just a simple cameo to have their name on the starring list. Being able to juggle their screen time as well as their input is impressive for a first time director, as well as getting all involved to appear so eager to talk about the subject is heart-warming to see. Sometimes filmmakers are shown as a little cold, but having them open up with specific anecdotes is wonderful
While big-name directors speak glowingly of sound. The real stars are the three sound designers Costin has interviewed. It will be impossible not to come away from the film without feeling some sort of love for them. With their introduction, the film seems to kick into a different gear. Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), Ben Burtt (Star Wars) and Gary Rydstrom (Jurassic Park) are legends in the field of sound design. We delve into the careers and innovations of all three. This could have really been 30 minutes each. Such is the density of their work not only in the chosen films but their entire career. Time is our enemy and sadly we are left wanting to know more about them, to have more conversations with these sound designers. Maybe another time we will get the chance.
The accessibility of the documentary is the key to its success. It could have been a technical termed mess of a piece. Here, however, everyone involved has purposely brought the details down to a conversational tone. A little help from the huge library the clips at Costins expense assists with this engagement. Making Waves is the best kind of film school lesson. It brings you in and makes you want to dig deeper than what you have been presented with. The love and joy each sound designer has interviewed have for this art form increases that warmth. Increasing the need to watch one of the films shown and more importantly list to it.
As great as the documentary is, there is just too much to delve into in one sitting. Making Waves could easily have and should have been expanded to a miniseries. With a bit of luck, this should be the starting point for one. This is about as negative as one can get with Making Waves in truth. This is one of the best things about Making Waves is that it has barely scratched the surface on what it could talk about to a viewer.
Great sound should be impactful to a film and how it resonates with the viewer, but it should never call attention or distract the audience from the film. Sound designers are the forgotten men and women of cinema. But thanks to this documentary from Midge Costin, we now have a documentary that celebrates their work and role in the industry. Without a doubt, Costin’s work here will be used in film schools for years to come.
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is screening at selected cinemas in the UK and is available on digital now, then will be released on DVD on 25th November by Dogwoof.