NZIFF 51: Film Review – Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Listen up, do your ears a favour and catch this fascinating and educational look at the underappreciated art of cinematic sound design.

I’m a sucker for any documentary relating to cinematic history and the film making process – Lost in La Mancha, Not Quite Hollywood, Hearts of Darkness, This Film Is Not Yet Rated just to name some – and Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is another brilliant look at the magic of making movies.

Director –and Michael Bay’s long-time sound editor – Midge Costin plays it safe in her first directorial outing, with a similar style to 2017’s HBO-produced doco Spielberg. There are a lot of passionate talking heads and classic film clips, but the informative and entertaining way she explains the process takes it to another level.

With simple graphics that likens the elements of sound design – like dialogue recorded on set, foley, music etc – to parts of an orchestra, Making Waves will lift your senses and make you love movies all over again. Even when I stepped outside all the sounds of Aotea Square were so much sharper.

This doco doesn’t just sound off about legendary revolutionaries like Apocalypse Now’s Walter Murch and Star Wars’ Ben Burtt, it takes a deep dive into some unsung heroes like Barbara Streisand who pioneered stereo sound in cinemas with her version of A Star is Born.

Costin also lets the women in sound be heard, with the talent behind Braveheart, Ordinary People, Lost in Translation, among others, show the industry isn’t as male dominated as you think.

It’s not just the sound gurus talking; film fans will revel in this A-list directorial line-up. David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Sofia Coppola, Ang Lee, Ryan Coogler, Robert Redford among many discuss why sound is just as important as sight.

This doesn’t just shine a light on the luminaries behind the mixing desk either, but begins right at the invention of the phonograph (and later the motion picture camera) by Thomas Edison and delivers a fascinating history of the development of sound in cinema.

Hearing Chewbacca’s voice being created, how foley was literally invented for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, or being moved by the sound of running water in A River Runs Through It, you’ll have great fun rediscovering the films you love.

One thing is for sure, Making Waves will change the way you hear a movie.

Clayton Barnett