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A new narrative frame: sound design and conceptual storytelling in German film 1930-1933.

Helmers, M., 2018. A new narrative frame: sound design and conceptual storytelling in German film 1930-1933. Doctoral Thesis (Doctoral). Bournemouth University.

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HELMERS, Maike_Ph.D._2017.pdf



During the final years of the Weimar Republic, precisely at a time when the democratic principles of German government came under increasing pressure from national as well as global political and economic forces, sound film became rapidly established as an innovative element in German cinema. With the arrival of technology enabling the production of synchronous sound for cinema film, the era of live sound accompaniment in cinemas drew to a close. This thesis discusses the period of Germany’s transition into the sound film era within a wider historical context of the late Weimar Republic and identifies the emergence of a new cinematic aesthetic in early sound films made in Germany. The term “sound film” or “sound cinema” in the context of this thesis refers to film with a continuous, synchronous soundtrack. Sound film featured dialogue as well as other sound elements, such as sound effects, atmospheres or music. This new film- making process arrived in Germany right at the end of the 1920s and introduced film-makers to the technology to record dialogue (and other synchronous sound elements) alongside the image at the time of filming, on location or on a specially- built studio set. This research project examines German films from the late Weimar Republic in terms of a newly emerging relationship between image and synchronous soundtrack. The central research question addressed by this thesis is: • Against the backdrop of a medium in transition, how does the relationship between sound and image manifest itself in early German sound film? My original contribution to knowledge is the combination of academic research with practice-based knowledge of sound design determinants, resulting in a new methodology for the understanding of an emerging sound aesthetic in narrative films produced in Germany during the transition into synchronous sound. At the centre of this thesis are four films, selected from a longer list of titles under consideration; in- depth engagement uncovers the presence of greater complexity in these films’ use of sound than has been recognised to date. These case studies are assessed in terms of their creative approach to sound. This process reveals that the relationship between image and sound became an important component for the development of greater narrative complexity, as well as introducing new potential in the use of sound and image from an editing perspective. Furthermore, these early German sound films demonstrate that integration of music was more conceptually ambitious than has been previously acknowledged. The films selected for closer analysis for this project were made between 1930 and 1933 and belong to the narrative fiction or drama genre (as opposed to factual or documentary film). The findings of the thesis are summarised as follows: • It challenges existing assumptions that early sound films were unable to develop a degree of complexity within their soundtracks; • It reveals how the relationship between image and sound enhanced the intricacy of narrative and emotive story elements; • It demonstrates that high cost of converting to sound film drove most small independent film studios out of the industry, leaving sound film production to big companies such as Ufa; • It revises the concept that eminent theorists of the Weimar period rejected sound film, in preference over silent film; • It refutes an assumption that the arrival of sound represented a retrograde step for editing and cinematography, or that early German sound films were inferior in creative ambition compared to the films of the silent era; • Furthermore, this project establishes that the arrival of technological innovation (inventions which facilitated the use of sound) was just the beginning of a more complex conceptual process during which film- makers developed a new film language to integrate the sonic domain. This thesis concludes that the transition from silent to sound film was of considerable public interest, and that the potential promise of sound for film was a topic of wide- ranging debate before, during and after the transition took place in Germany. The arrival of film sound technology was a revolution; harnessing the creative potential of this technology in order to enhance cinema’s narrative potential was a process of evolution.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:If you feel that this work infringes your copyright please contact the BURO Manager.
Uncontrolled Keywords:sound design; german cinema; weimar republic; westfront 1918; emil und die detektive; kuhle wampe; das testament des dr mabuse; silent film; early sound film
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:31235
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:14 Sep 2018 10:38
Last Modified:09 Aug 2022 16:04


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