Gary Rydstrom on Rear Window’s ingenious sound design

Northwestern’s Block Museum hosted a screening of Rear Window that was introduced by Gary Rydstrom, Oscar-winning sound designer for Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many other movies you love. Though I didn’t stay for the movie (I’ve already seen it on the big screen), I was eager to hear Rydstrom’s perspective on one of my all-time favorites.

He included this great quote from John Fawell’s Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film:

Rear Window is so highly charged with a sense of the significance of the hidden, with the mystery of the barely glimpsed and distantly heard, that it is difficult not to carry this same sense of mystery back to our own world. Hitchcock’s cinema leaves us with a more highly charged sense of the mystery of the world. We notice certain things more after a Hitchcock film—a glass of milk, a woman’s handbag. Mundane items buzz with a mystery they did not have before. Hitchcock tends to invest us with his manifold neuroses. He makes us more wary of, and therefore more alive to, the world. Rear Window specifically heightens our attention to the barely glimpsed sights and distant sounds of our own neighborhood. It makes us more sensitive to the mystery of hidden lives, to the mysterious presence of loneliness and alienation in our own world.

Other notes from his brief talk:

  • He saw Rear Window on TV in 1971 as a 12 year old; turned him on to movies and sound design
  • His goal was to marry Grace Kelly (ditto)
  • We tend to think movie sound should be loud and dramatic; Rear Window‘s wasn’t, yet still an ingenious use of sound to this day
  • Film was a counter to criticisms of Hitchcock that his films were cold and clinical
  • The film’s hero is Lisa Fremont
  • Stewart’s Jeffries a criticism of the American male
  • Murder mystery was in service to the love story
  • Voyeurism generally has a reputation as a sickness, but this shows an upside
  • Diegetic music throughout (pianist, radio) comments on and contrasts with the action
  • Distance/echo of music around the apartment complex indicative of neighborly distance and alienation; also technically hard to do in 1954
  • Sound design changes once Thorwald appears
  • Pianist’s “Lisa” theme develops during movie along with the story

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