General discussion of DAYS OF HEAVEN
Film Analysis: THE NEW WORLD

Sound and mise-en-scene

Two of the readings on Days Of Heaven, chapters 8 and 9, discuss the importance of sound and music to the meaning of the images in the film. Do you agree? What seems especially powerful about the sound and music in this film as it relates to the interpretation of what you see?

One of the authors, Wierzbicki, goes so far as to argue that many of the heightened "noises [in Days of Heaven] are components of mise-en-scene, as functional as costumes, lighting and props" (page 115). What does it mean to think of sounds as being 'in the frame'? What, arguably, makes the 'noise' in Days of Heaven 'visible'?


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Amy Elder

I feel like this whole movie was based on sounds and visuals, not storyline. As suggested in Chapter 8, much of the movie suggests that the characters are living in an aquarium. The theme song of the movie that is played in the very beginning and then two other times throughout the film is titled "The Aquarium". I agree with Power, that the scenes showing the wheat field appear to ripple likes waves in water and that the world in Texas the Farmer, Bill, Abby, and Linda live in seems to be an artificial one (p. 105).
I believe the prime example of the sound being in the frame is the sound of the windmill. The scene where the Farmer realizes Bill and Abby are secret lovers the windmill gets louder as you see the anger on his face get more and more pronounced.
The loud windmill sound then leads to the sound of a heartbeat and the Farmer's face then becomes determined and you can tell he is getting a rush of adrenaline to go and confront Bill and Abby. You not only see that adrenaline on his face but you also hear it. The sounds in this movie really emphasize the events and the feelings of the characters in this movie and it is one of the things I really enjoyed about the movie.

Hope Sneddon

I like that Amy pointed out the scene there the Farmer is on the roof watching Bill and Abby. When I saw his face, heard his heartbeat and the intensity of the windmill I also felt somewhat upset. The noises helped make the feelings more believable and strong. All of this emotion could have been conveyed by using words but by simply using the heartbeat we understood he was angry just as easily as if he had told us.

Josh Noble

I would have to say the windmill on the farmers house was the most recognizable sound to me. Every time I heard it tensions rose. It sounded very unnatural to me, machine-like, which put it in conflict with the theme of nature. I would definitely agree that sound was major part of the film; shaping how I felt about what I saw on in the scene. In this way I could see it being described as part of mes-en-scene.

Lauren Hiland

I think the sounds and music in the film Days of Heaven really made the film stand out as a different type of film. I enjoyed the music in the film, and thought I matched the moods of the scenery and charcters well. I think the sound and music becomes especially powerful when instead of hearing the actors voices, at some points you would only see thir lips moving and instead of hearing them you would hear music or a loud sound. I think that gave power to the film because it showed that music and sounds can be just as important if not more than actors dialog. As far a sounds being in the frame, I think he means that the visiblity of the sound is shown through the action on stage, either through charcters expressions or something happening in the scene(such as the fire burning). The action and expressions of the actors are really what makes the sound and music "visible".
For example during the fire, we hear the sound and the music and on screen we can see a huge fire blazing and dancing across the wheat as worker's rush in a mad frenzy trying to put out the fire! I belive that sort of action gives the sound an "image".

Josh Noble

Lauren you bring up a good point in regards to the fire scene. It's a hectic scene, due in large part to the music. There is a mixing of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds that when combined with shaking camera make for a very unsettling scene. In this way the music almost become "visible."

Hope Sneddon

The piece "The Fire" that is played when the locust strike the farm is another example of how the music was used to highlight the emotion and intensity of the scene. The music started soft and begins to build in tension as the fire escalates and gets out of control. It really helped showcase how nature overcomes the people.

Lily Miller

Sound can add to the interpretation of what you are seeing on the screen by adding a sort of feeling. Take the tall wheat grass flowing in the wind similar to ocean wave motion. If the only sound you hear while seeing this is the sound of the grass, you understanding almost immediately what it is and don't think about it further and you're ready to move on. With ethereal, floating-like music, you have to think more about it to understand what exactly you are seeing but also hearing. In this instance the sound adds a connection to a dream-like state or relation to the ocean itself.

Anna Markee

I agree with the reading that sound and music are important to the scene. Sometimes the music in a film can give away characters thought and feelings without them having to show any emotion at all. Because of this, music is an important aspect to a film because it can create different thoughts and feeling for the viewer.

To say that sound is "in the frame" is a correct statement. Typically the music in a film, in this case Days of Heaven, plays a big role in the development of the movie. The noise in Days of Heaven was visible in several occasions. One occasion in particular was during the fire in the wheat fields. The movement of the camera was kind of shaky and the scene kept switching from character to character. The scene as a whole was hectic and the music that accompanied it was the same. I can imagine watching that scene on mute and knowing that music was playing just by watching watching what was going on. The music played a big part of the understanding and development of the movie.

Melissa Werner

I also agree that sound and music play an integral role in this movie. One of the things that had struck me while skimming Chapter 8 was when Power pointed out the long-established idea that the Devil plays the fiddle, so I paid close attention to the first bonfire scene, and noted that that's the scene where she tells the Farmer that she'll stay. Later on, as they walk away after the marriage ceremony, the eerie presence of a fiddler playing, ties the two scenes together. It's as if she has sold her soul for the creature comforts that the Farmer offers. Or perhaps that the venture was doomed from the start. (After going back to the book and reading further, I see that Power also commented on the fiddler at the wedding.) Not long after, as they watch the Vaudeville performers and we are already aware that the relationships have begun to overlap, Linda's narration says, "I think the Devil was on the farm." The music in this scene is different than in the two I've mentioned, but it definitely has a similar feel to it.

Lucas Ashland

Different people are affected by different aspects of a film, so I think the impact of music will vary from person to person. In the Days of Heaven, music seems to be especially powerful because there is not a tremendous amount of character acting or other details in the film to direct the viewers emotions or feeling about the film. I had a hard time figuring out what made the soundtrack from Days of Heaven so unique from other films since most films use music to enhance the mood of a scene. For example, scary movies will use ominous, haunting sounds to indicate that something scary is about to occur. I think what sets the soundtrack of Days of Heaven apart from other movies is that the music is used more subtly than that of scary movies for example. The book talks about how the classic music score, "the aquarium" is used to give a more upper class feel and uses the folky guitar music for the train scene with the underclass workers. The fact that this movie combines music from different genres such as classical, modern classical and folk is another factor that sets it apart from other movies.

I think that sounds being in the frame simply means that they have an important impact of the mood, time period as well as many other factors of a movie. Like I mentioned earlier, I think that some people pay more attention to the soundtrack of a film than others. I think for a majority of films, the music seems very generic and can easily get lost in the background and are easily forgettable. But for other films, maybe more artistic films like Days of Heaven, the music can the effect of drawing the viewer more into the film. For this movie specially, because there wasn't a lot of dialogue in the film, the music tended to play a strong role to fill that void.


If I were to know nothing about what made up mise-en-scene I would have suggested that music and sounds be a part of it. With every movie that I love and have committed to memory, I can recall exactly what sounds go to what scene and what scenes go to what sounds. Jurassic Park for example, I could confidently say I could describe a scene and it's actions based solely on one dinosaur's sound.

Wierzbicki's introduction of the concepts of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds really helped me understand how sounds work in a film. Using these concepts really cement the idea that sounds are a part of mise-en-scene. The "in the frame", or diegetic sounds are obviously the most apparent sounds, since they're the ones we have visual sources for. This being said, diegetic sounds help augment the visual aspects and make the scene more realistic.

The use of the non-diegetic sounds though, really help bring a sense of emotion to what would normally be a "2D" scene. I remember in class I had mentioned that the audio seemed really choppy and poorly mixed, but after reading about how these sounds are intentional and used to highlight a certain emotion, action or character I now retract that statement.

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