Heart to Art

A couple hangers —

Fiona wanted me to point out that the pounding heartbeat we hear as Jekyll transforms into Hyde in the 1931 Mamoulian DR J & MR H, was the first heartbeat heard in a movie. And this leads me to an anecdote. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

My friend Lawrie Knight worked as an assistant on Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film of HAMLET. Emulating the well-known Mamoulian technique, which had been much written about and praised, Olivier decided to use a heartbeat sound to accompany the first appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost, right at the start of the story. Atypically, the athletic star-director asked someone else, a lowly clapper boy, to do the physical work of running round the sound stage a couple of times in order to generate a sufficiently pounding pulse. The little lad took off, completed his laps, and settled down, wheezing and sweating, in the path of the microphone, which was then pressed to his palpitating bosom.

“Nothing but indigestion!” chortled Lawrie.

Olivier elected to use a drumbeat instead, and brilliantly added to this an optical effect whereby the image pulsed in and out of focus in response to the thumping rhythm.

Fiona also wishes it to be known that Fredric March won the Oscar for his dazzling interpretations of Jekyll and Hyde, the first time an actor won the award for a horror movie, and the last, until Anthony Hopkins scooped up a gong for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Strangely enough, Fredric March as Hyde makes the exact same Evil Sucky Noise that won Hopkins’ Lecter so much attention.

Based on this observation, it would seem almost certain that making an Evil Sucky Noise is the sure path to Academy Award glory. Which explains Tom Hanks.

3 Responses to “Heart to Art”

  1. When the doctor examines Edouard Dermithe’s heart in Les Enfants Terribles the beating heart we hear is that of Jean Cocteau.

  2. And Kubrick’s heartbeat standing in for Gary Lockwood during the EVA sequence in 2001.

  3. Beautiful, D-E!

    Of course, Kubrick was derided by some critics for such “obvious” devices, but these subjective sounds were a brilliant solution to the problem of having a soundtrack in the depths of vaccuum. Something nobody else has solved without resorting to bogus rocket blast FX etc.

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