M 's Sound Aspects

Kari Hazlett


M was directed by Fritz Lang and was released in Germany in 1931. M follows the story of a strand of child murders in a German city. In a hunt for the murderer the police as well as the organized criminal underground of this German city search rapidly for the killer of these innocent children. The specific elements that Fritz Lang uses to express his view of what the sound should be are, how particular sound techniques shape the film, and how the sound affects the story. In a shot by shot analysis of a series scenes that uses diegetic sound the audience can understand what Lang's intentions for sound was for this film.

            Initially the audience is witness to how particular sound techniques shape this film. For instance, one of the main details that the audience hears is the song that the murderer whistles. Due to the marvel of sound the audience can pick out that the whistling is related to the murderer. Along with the blind man who figured this mystery out, the audience could only put these two together with this sound technique. The director shows the audience how such a simple part of every day sound can be so important to solving such a terrible crime.

An additional sound technique that the director uses is during the beginning of the film with the clock on the wall of Elsie Beckmann's family's apartment. The director uses this clock as a suspense builder to show more and more time is passing without her mother hearing something from her daughter. Attributable to the novelty of sound, the ding dongs and coo-coos on the clock are louder than in reality. This could be another way in which the director wanted to pull the audience into the element of what the clock was representing. This clock becomes a character of its own by haunting the audience with the reality that Elsie was not coming home. 

Another aspect of sound in this film was how it affected the story. By using sound dramatically in certain parts and not using it at all in other parts, sound gave this story an entity of its own. For example, during long stretches of film with mostly dialogue, there was no music played in the background, only a phone ringing in the distance, or the men's voices during their deliberation. These long silences also took place during editing shots of the town and images that surrounded this German city. This dramatic difference in sound was a revelation of how mood can be made by images and sound put together to make an incredible component. 

By offering a shot by shot analysis of a scene that uses diegetic sound the audience can understand why the director used these sound aspects to tell his story. This analysis does not just follow one scene but rather a series of scenes in order of what is relevant. First we are witness to the mother in her apartment washing clothes on the washing board and the camera then cuts to the clock, which is striking time and making an animated noise that brings the audience into this important element of the film. The story then cuts to Elsie being honked at on the street with horns that are overly dramatic in sound, yet another way for the director to use the sound technique. Another way the director uses sound in a dramatic way is when he presents Elsie bouncing her ball down the sidewalk and on the wall. Then when the film cuts to the children's feet running up the staircase and later the doorbell ringing, the audience sees how these diegentic sounds are very important to this sound film. Finally when these sounds are followed with the cook coo clock to end these scene sequences, the audience understands how important time is being portrayed for Elsie's mother.

In brief, the audience can see how this 1931 sound film could be shaped by sound in a number of ways. Considering that sound at this time was a new phenomenon it is understood why mostly diegetic sound was used over nondiegetic sound. This director also showed the audience how the story could be affected by sound with examples like the clock becoming a character and storyline of its own and also the murderer being identified with his whistling. With the lack of sound and the collage of images during specific times, the director was able to create a mood without music or sound. Apparently this was a technique that was learned throughout his many years of silent films. These details were what brought the story together and would not have been done so precisely without the technique of sound.