For a while now, I’ve been in the habit of keeping subtitles on when I watch anything on tv. I started doing it because it’s easier when Phil and I watch things together. I’ll just mute my video and use his sound so we don’t have a horrible nano-second echo. After a while I realized it was great for screenshots – particularly for Murder She Drank nights – and now I just leave it on all the time. They’re a constant source of entertainment, especially on B movies. (Eerie music.) (Moody music.) (Spooky jazz.) (Sultry jazz.) Once, memorably, (Jazzy jazz.). The descriptive ones are almost entirely focused on music, in my experience.
Until this week. I’ve started watching Penny Dreadful. I’ve not gotten very far yet, but so far it’s good campy atmospheric fun. A love a supernatural drama in period costume to while away the hot days of summer. Almost immediately, I noticed something that sets it apart from anything I’ve ever seen before. Nope, not the plot. Deffo not the dialogue. Camera angles, just like mother made. But the closed captions are something else. They are superb. Not only is every line of dialogue accurately captions (much less usual than you’d think), but the non-verbal atmospheric descriptions are incredibly specific. Somebody felt really strongly about conveying the atmosphere of this show to viewers who can’t hear, and it’s pretty amazing. I’m not sure it truly adds to the tension of Penny Dreadful, but I was impressed. I kept pausing and screenshooting over and over again – it took me an hour and a half to watch the first episode. This is what I’m talking about:
It got me thinking about sound, and the role it plays in fear. For me, it’s pivotal. If I couldn’t hear Freddy’s metal fingernails scraping along the walls, I wouldn’t be half as frightened. The inhuman hyena laughter of the Texas Chainsaw family is the main part of my fear. The nightmare I most fear having involves scratching and whispering outside my door. Thinking about all the scary films I’ve seen, I think Halloween might be the only one that could still make my skin crawl without sound. I’d miss the music, but Michael Myers’ silent, psychotic head-tilt is entirely visual. Looking at it in the light of no sound (as it were), that’s a remarkable achievement.
Those details closed caps are a remarkable achievement, too; it would be great if every film was as thorough.
(Today is Blaugust 27th.)