Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The Transition from the Silent into the Sound Era in German Cinema

The Innovative Use of Sound in Pabst’s Westfront 1918

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2018), 12, (2), 121–139.

Abstract

With the arrival of sound, cinema had to reinvent itself. The role of the scriptwriter became more complex. Directors had to conceptualise new narrative approaches in order to weave sonic elements into their storytelling. For the first time, sound enabled film to incorporate out-ofvision sound to enhance narrative elements beyond the visual frame. Filmmakers such as Pabst, Lang, Dudow, and Lamprecht recognised the potential of sound film as extending further than the ability to use spoken dialogue in film, and attempted to incorporate sound in more creative ways through atmospheres and effects. One particularly striking example of the use of sound to conjure up the nightmare of human misery in the trenches is G.W. Pabst’s 1930 film Westfront 1918. Focusing on Pabst’s film as an example of sound as a story-telling device, this article discusses the function and emotive use of sound in several key scenes. The article also explores how the German film industry approached its transition from the silent into the sound era during the late 1920s, precisely at a time when the democratic foundations of the Weimar Republic became strained by increasingly polarised political pressures.

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Helmers, Maike