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Open Access The din of gunfire: Rethinking the role of sound in World War II newsreels

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French film historian Laurent Véray has famously called World War I ‘the first media war of the twentieth century’. Newsreels, which first appeared in 1910, brought the war to movie theaters across Europe and the U.S., screening combat for those on the ‘home front’. However, while the audience could see the action it could not hear it – sometimes only live music would accompany the movements of the troops. The arrival of sound newsreels in 1929 radically transformed moviegoers’ experiences of the news, and, by necessity, of armed conflict. Drawing on examples of World War II newsreels from British Pathé’s archive that was recently made available online, this article seeks to delineate the logic governing the combination of voice-over commentary, music, sound effects, and field-recorded sound, and argues that it can be traced directly to the treatment of sound in the ‘Great War’ fiction films of the preceding decade.
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Keywords: British Pathé; World War II; newsreels; sound technologies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Masha Shpolberg is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Film & Media Studies in ‘cotutelle’ at Yale University and the Ecole Normale Supérieure. After earning her B.A. from Princeton in 2010 she studied at the ENS and the Université de Paris III. Her Master’s thesis, defended in 2012, focused on audiovisual strategies employed by Polish documentary filmmakers to circumvent censorship after 1956. She has also worked on archival film projects related to documentary and early silent film at the Fondation Cinéma Vérité and the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé.

Publication date: September 1, 2014

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  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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