I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why I don’t go to the movies anymore, or watch drama television. My short answer is, ‘It puts me to sleep.’ Which is true enough, but when I analyze it, I realize it’s not the visuals that put me off, but the audio tracks. Every time someone of 007’s elk gets into a jam – which is about every other minute in most dramas – the producer decides to trump the scene with sound effects. It’s almost as if they’re trying to block your inner ear. And they succeed, overwhelmingly so. That’s the main reason I don’t watch what I write. Listening to pianos and violins while watching our hero and villain duke it out on the edge of a cliff is a stretch too far. Where’s the orchestra? To catch this on the page, the novelist would have to write something like… “With each punch I landed, violins screeched in my ear; with each punch he landed, a piano struck a low chord.” That’s about as ridiculous as it sounds!
Films and television drama today are all eye candy, but the worst of the worst are sitcoms with laugh tracks. I think Seinfeld is great, but I can’t watch it for more than a few minutes. I’m old enough to judge what’s funny and would love to be able to see it without someone else’s interpretation. I love standup comedy, though.
Novelists have to appeal to more than just the eyes if they want to capture readers. The only way you can do that on the page is to get inside the head of your reader; open up their inner senses. Only on the page can you taste what’s cooking, feel the warmth of a touch, and smell the earthy dew at dawn. None of which comes across on the screen. Today’s film producers put so much weight on visual effects they’ve forgotten that silence speaks volumes.
Alfred Hitchcock was the master of silence. Hitchcock – whose logo was his bulbous silhouette – could keep an audience holding its collective breath staring at a pitch-black stairwell with only creaking footsteps getting louder. No soundtrack could be more frightening.
I enjoy watching most live sporting events. They usually do a good job with color commentary that adds to the coverage. But a few sportscasters just tell you what the cameras are showing, and that’s about as entertaining as having someone sitting next to you constantly saying watch this! Live auto racing is notorious for watch this commentary. Watching auto racing on mute is more dramatic, too.
I also enjoy watching programs that deal with nature, animals, science and history. Some of these programs are starting to introduce soundtracks, and I think they’re making a mistake. I guess they’re afraid they’ll lose the audience if they don’t put out something dramatic to hear while the lion slowly stalks the antelope on a starry night. I’d rather hear the crickets go quiet as the lion closes in. I’d rather see the antelope perk its ears at the sudden dead quiet. That would be much more dramatic, whether you’re rooting for the lion or the antelope. Instead, they cue the orchestra and rob viewers of nature’s voice. Where’s the remote?
My wife subscribes to Netflix and will watch hour after hour of the same series. She calls it binge TV. I call it nap time.