The Use of Sound in Coppola’s The Conversation Essay

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We realised, we being the young filmmakers I used to hang around with, that sound is your special friend and does at least 50% of the job sharing with picture. (Coppola) (Thinking Sound, 2011)
As an audience we are manipulated from the moment a film begins. In this essay I wish to explore how The Conversation’s use of sound design has directly controlled our perceptions and emotional responses as well as how it can change the meaning of the image. I would also like to discover how the soundtrack guides the audience’s attention with the use of diegetic and nondiegetic sounds.
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was made in between the first two Godfather movies. The Conversation’s story is directly influenced by a combination of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), and Hermann Hesse’s book Steppenwolf (1927). The film is a character study of Harry Caul (Gene Hackman); Caul is a socially inept man who is a gifted sound surveillance expert working independently for private clients. He approaches his work in a military type fashion, hunting for the best quality recording he can get, while at all times maintaining a mantra to never get personal involved in his assignments. (Cowie, 1989) (Hilditch, 2002) (Ondaatje, 2004)
The opening title sequence is arguably one of the most interesting sequences of the entire film; it begins with a wide high angle shot looking down over San Francisco's Union Square. The square is busy from nearby office workers and Christmas shoppers eating their lunches and enjoying entertainment from local street performers.
As the camera zoom smoothly creeps in from the establishing wide we are exposed to a changing palette of noises from the surrounding environme...

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...11). Sound Upon Sound: The Conversation. [Online] Available from Sound on Sight: [Accessed 05 February 2012]
Ondaatje, M. (2004). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Shire, D. (2011). The Conversation: Interview with Francis Ford Coppola and David Shire [Blu-ray]. Studiocanal.
Tarkovsky, A. (1989). Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. University of Texas Press.
Thinking Sound. (2011). Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola Talks about the Evolution of Movie Sound. [Online]. Available from YouTube: [Accessed 05 February 2012]
Murch, W. (2011). The Conversation: Audio Commentary with Walter Murch [Blu-ray]. Studiocanal.
Weis, E. (1985). Film Sound: Theory and Practice. New York : Columbia University Press.

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