directed by Midge Costin
by Alice Stoehr "Sound is half of the experience," says George Lucas over a muted excerpt from Star Wars' opening shot. The din of laser artillery and John Williams's score have fallen away, so the director's voice accompanies two vessels drifting in the silence of space. This sequence caps an introductory montage darting from Jurassic Park to The Elephant Man to Lawrence of Arabia in order to sensitize viewers (and listeners) to the intricacies of film audio. Midge Costin leans a lot on such montage in her documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. They're groupings of iconography à la Chuck Workman, part of her bid to demystify the craft. She structures two-thirds of the film as a rough history via sound-design heavyweights while leaving the rest for anecdotes from other luminaries in the field. Oscilloscopic sound waves are her primary graphic motif. It's instantly accessible, very Film 101. Costin, like the film's writer, Bobette Buster, is a professor at USC. (Lucas and Steven Spielberg endowed her position.) Their work together has all the clarity of a syllabus. The 1992 doc Visions of Light went deep into the art of cinematography; this, decades later, is its ear-oriented counterpart.