One of the most exciting things that can happen for me is to watch a movie that creates a perfectly realized sonic environment. Not so much a good score or some good songs, but a perfect blend of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. So this list is not going to include the more obvious things like Koyaanisqatsi (which has an incredible score, but very little diegetic sound) or The Shining (which uses pre-existing music perfectly, but doesn’t necessarily create a sustained sonic environment of its own).
Instead, I’m going to list things like Eraserhead (whose entire soundtrack (which I mean in a literal sense – i.e. the sound that plays while you’re watching the film) is a veritable masterpiece of drone) and Kwaidan (where Takemitsu creates a brilliant sonic environment using non-diegetic instruments and sounds that are vaguely reminiscent of the diegetic action happening onscreen).
I’m also including films that have certain scenes that create amazing sonic environments, but don’t sustain them throughout the runtime. For example, I love the sound from the first couple minutes of The Match Factory Girl – there are some really great minimalist riffs there.
This list is very much in progress, and I’d love some suggestions if you have any!
A brief justification of each film on the list:
1. Eraserhead – the entire sound of the film is a masterpiece of drone.
2. Kwaidan – Takemitsu substitutes diegetic sound with non-diegetic instruments and sounds that are vaguely reminiscent of the sound of the actions happening on-screen.
3. Pale Flower – The gambling scenes. Takemitsu pulls it off again! Also, the voice of the announcer (?) is wonderfully hypnotic.
4. The Match Factory Girl – some great minimalist riffs in the opening scene with the sound of the factory.
5. Evil Dead – the voices of the evil dead are really incredible. Love the sound design there. Almost sounds like something Merzbow or Prurient would make
6. Onibaba – the vaguely recognizable sound of pigeons during the night scenes creates an amazing atmosphere.
7. Vampyr – incredible use of early sound creates an amazingly atmospheric film. Also, some great drones here long before drone was an established musical genre.
8. The Holy Mountain – almost all the diegetic sounds have a nice musical quality to them, particularly the sounds of the Orgasm Machine.
9. Brand Upon the Brain! – perhaps this one is a little too easy of an inclusion, but all the diegetic sounds are performed by a Foley team, and they create a really magical, mysterious, and musical atmosphere.Read less