Navigation auf


Seminar für Filmwissenschaft

Sonic Contemplations of Modernity: Urban Noise in the 1930s Italian and Japanese Sound Films

Gli uomini, che mascalzoni... [Mario Camerini, Italy 1932] • 浪華悲歌 / Naniwa Erejī [Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan 1936]

Nadine Soraya Vafi, M.A.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Daniel Wiegand (University of Zurich)
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Hiroshi Komatsu (Waseda University)

The research work intends to show, by example of two in-depth case studies, that urban noise was an indispensable element for the depiction of the metropolis in early sound film, manifesting not only the state of sound technology and its artistic use, but also reflecting modern life with its political, economic and societal implications defined the ideas of multiple modernities. While different sound technologies, various aesthetic expressions and the transnational impact of the former have been widely recognized and historically assessed in current research, the sounds of dialogue and music have been predominantly at the core of these findings. Urban noise – an impeccable and highly debated aspect of modern life in the 1930s – has thus far gained little attention in historical research. The aim of the dissertation project is to close this gap and to uncover the transnational nature of cinematic urban noise in early sound film.

Japan and Italy pose a particularly interesting case study. On the one hand, both countries saw an immense growth of population in its urban centres during the 1930s and as such, political as well as philosophical debates on the nature of modern life, and the meaning of modernities (whether of proletarian or fascist nature or else), shaped both countries. In addition, the transnational aspect of economic growth (including the emergence of consumer culture) and political power reflect the dialogue between both countries, which had accumulated to the infamous Tripartite Pact in 1940. Based on close readings of primary sources (audio-visual and written) and a comparative as well as interdisciplinary approach, the project aims to show that urban noise in early sound cinema was consciously woven into the narrative and aesthetic of film – it was modernism’s response to the concurrent modernities, not by means of reality, but an aesthetic idea of such. 

Some of the questions, which lie at the heart of this research, are as follows: in what manners did noise contribute the depiction of the metropolis in early sound film? What are the differences of cinematic urban noise portrayal between the various production contexts? In what ways did the respective political, economic and societal circumstances shape the cinematic portrayal of urban noise? And in what ways did non-filmic debates on modernity and realism shape the expression of urban noise in film?