Bravo, Mr. Chandler! Finally, on page 45, you were thinking like a sound designer, whether you realized it or not.
In the previous scene, the cocktail party, Betty has some tense moments with Margot, Brandon, and Mitchell. But the sound for that sequence seems very straight forward creatively. The only signature moment would be the heavy/sharp clunk of Margot’s purse, which we are thinking contains a pistol. We might hear a “Brandon” foghorn or two in the distance, but probably not.
The music in the party is described as coming from a phonograph record. I’m sure the director knows already to avoid having music playing on the set while shooting dialog, but I’ll mention it to them anyway. As well as only having the principal actors onscreen talking, everyone else pretending to talk.
It’s later, in Betty’s hotel room on Page 45, that Chandler has designed sonic and visual doorways into her mind for us. Here are the ways he has set us up for a potentially great sound design sequence: First, her room is dark. Darkness is always friendly to sound design because the eye is being starved for information, so the ears are relied upon more. Second, smoke wafts in front of the clock next to her bed. Smoke always suggests mystery and potential danger. Have you ever noticed that when a person is shown smoking a cigarette in a movie, even in contemporary movies, that character is almost always worried, concerned… basically it is visual shorthand for telling us that this character has a problem. Whenever there is a visual cue, like smoke, that something mysterious is happening, a switch gets turned on in our brain that makes us hear more acutely.
The third way Chandler opens the door to sound in this sequence is with the lightning/thunder to camera/flashbulb metaphor.
Betty is obviously alarmed by the storm. So alarmed that she shuts her eyes. This is a crucial visual opening for sound design, because as we look at her face with her eyes closed we know she is still listening, and not only to the thunder storm outside her hotel. We sense that she may be “listening” to her own memories that the storm resurrects. Note that the script describes the camera moving closer and closer to Betty’s eyes. The message to us is that we are also getting closer to her thoughts and feelings. Extreme close-ups are almost always sound design friendly shots because they bring us deeply into the world of what the camera is focused on, making us part of it, allowing us to feel what it feels, to share its emotions. As we know, sound, even non “musical” sound, is a trigger for emotion and a conveyor of emotion.
If this were a movie being made in 2020, even if it is telling a story from the middle of the last century, I might lobby with the director to not show news cameras using flashbulbs, mainly because it’s such a cliche at this point, both visually and sonically. It might work just as well to have lightning flashing outside the court room.
As the camera pulls back from Betty standing by the door to the courtroom we will almost certainly want to move sonically from subjective sound to more objective sound. Having entered her consciousness back in the hotel room we are now pulling back to some degree from her thoughts and feelings, and experiencing the “real world” again.
By the way, it is revealed in the flashback to the courtroom that Betty was known as Elizabeth in her previous, east coast life.
When the judge declares her not guilty, reversing the jury’s decision, we zoom in to her eyes again, opening the door to all kinds of delicious sonic subjectivity. I’m thinking that the sounds of crowd movement and voices in the courtroom can morph into the sounds of rain outside her hotel room, so that we make the sound transition before we make the visual transition out of the flashback on page 56.