Can you imagine a speeding ambulance weaving through traffic to deliver a sick patient to the hospital without siren? Or better yet, a high speed police chase where the police car also does not have a siren? Furthermore, what if you were sleeping in a building that suddenly caught on fire and the fire alarm failed to make any noise? As you can see, sounds are essential to the way things are carried out in the world. Upon hearing a certain sound, a person can expect what is happening or what is going to happen next. When a person hears a siren from an ambulance or a police car, he or she knows that an emergency is taking place or has taken place, and that they must get out of the way if necessary. When you take sounds and alerts out of society, you hinder people from being able to predict future occurrences. One writer/director found that he could enhance an audience’s movie experience by reducing the amount of dialogue. In the 1968 western film Once Upon A Time in the West, Sergio Leone increases the suspense of the movie by decreasing the dialogue/monologue between the characters.
The movie begins with a gang of bandits raiding a local train station. Upon entering the salon, the bandits run into an elderly station agent and a mid-aged lady. They wander the station with slow movements refraining from saying anything to either of the two individuals—even as the elderly station agent addresses them. The writer ignites suspense within the audience because he does not clearly show the intentions of the bandits. By omitting dialogue, he leaves it up to the audience to guess what will be the bandits’ next action. Leone now makes the audience become the bandits and make decisions such as: should we leave salon peacefully, or should we ignite chaos? Another mechanism that Leone used to increase the suspense in the movie was foreshadowing. The bandits waited at the station for the arrival of a man who carried a harmonica. When his train arrived, the bandits and the man with the harmonica stood on opposite sides of the track and addressed each other. The man with the harmonica asked the bandits “Did you bring a horse for me?” One of the bandits laughed and answered “Looks like we’re shy one horse”. The man with the harmonica then responded “You brought two too many”. At this point, the audience then is given a signal that someone will not make it out of this scene alive. The director enhances the suspense by silencing the characters for a brief period. The audience is left to decide which character(s) will meet their fate. The author ends the suspense once the man with the harmonica eliminates the three bandits.
Picture #1: The bandits meet the man with the harmonica (time stamp: (0:11::01))
Another instance in which the director uses silence and foreshadowing to enhance suspense occurs at the abode of the McBain’s. Mr. McBain and his son were preparing to leave to the train station to pick up his new wife, Mrs. McBain. His son asked him “How will we know what she looks like?” Mr. McBain then pulls out his letter from her which says that she will be arriving in a black dress. In society, the color black is usually associated with death. This was a method that the director used to foreshadow the death of McBain. Shortly after reading the letter, the family grew quiet as Maureen McBain watched as birds flew off in a hurry. The camera focuses on Maureen as she stares in awe of the birds. This was a form of foreshadowing her death because birds are associated with death and being free from the bondage of the world. Silence then strikes the characters as they try to figure out what startled the birds. The audience also is left to figure out where the disturbance is coming from and what will happen to the characters. The silence is suddenly broken with the firing of a gun to Maureen and then to Mr. McBain and his son. The youngest son walks out the house and stumbles into Frank, the notorious gangster who led the massacre. Silence again occurred as the audience is left to figure out what will happen to the young lad. One of Frank’s handymen asks him “What should we do with this one, Frank?” Frank then answers “Well since you’ve said my name…” Frank does not finish his sentence and instead becomes silent. The audience at this point is suspenseful, trying to decipher the fate of the young lad. The scene ends with Frank killing the young boy along with his parents.
Picture #2: Frank approaches the young McBain (time stamp: (0:21::46))
In summation, the author found favor in this technique because it was a method of keeping the audience engaged in the film. For the remainder of the movie, the director continues to use the method of silence and subtle foreshadowing. By doing so, the audience is able to imagine the story in their point of view for a brief moment. Increasing the silence of the characters will keep enhance the suspense of the film.