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The rush of the ride
Maike Helmers

This chapter argues that the creative and evocative use of sound throughout BBC’s drama Bodyguard played a particularly important, though generally unacknowledged, role in the show’s success. Analysis of the prolonged opening sequence, in which the protagonist thwarts a plot to blow up a moving train, reveals how claustrophobic visual framing and dynamic editing contribute to an overarching atmosphere of threat. However, the most critical factor in producing the intense paranoia that pervades the scene is the aural mise-en-scène, a blend of composed music and sound design. The discussion explores a carefully nuanced soundscape integrating diegetic sonic components, such as metallic screeches and groans apparently emanating from within the scene’s train setting. These aural elements transform the composed non-diegetic music into a liminal acoustic presence that shifts between sound design and underscore in a manner resonant of the musique concrète, pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer.

The chapter argues that these aural themes act as accelerants for the dramatic tension of the overall narrative, as well as metaphors for its protagonist’s mental state. It further explores the ways in which the text uses aural and visual points of perception to create an ambiguous psychological portrait of Bodyguard’s central protagonist. It then traces the ways in which similar aural themes emerge extra-diegetically in subsequent scenes, where the story setting no longer provides a diegetic rationale for their inclusion. This chapter argues that Bodyguard’s complex sonic structures represent far more than an aural reflection of visual storytelling: here sound design undercuts, intensifies and challenges the visual domain.

in Sound / image
Christa van Raalte
Maike Helmers

This chapter explores the use of direct audience address in Netflix’s flagship drama House of Cards, and the role of this technique in building up a relationship between the show’s Machiavellian anti-hero, Frank Underwood, and the television audience. As was the case with the BBC series on which the show was based, critics were divided on the ‘theatrical’ strategy of breaking the ‘fourth wall’ between the audience and the lead character. This chapter, however, will argue that the device of direct address is key to the characterisation of the anti-hero as well as to the viewer’s investment in his story. On a simple level it gives us privileged access to Frank’s character allowing us to enjoy the ‘operational aesthetic’ of watching his plans unfold. On a more complex level it creates an inter-diegetic space and a reflexive metanarrative, while employing a shifting tone that subtly informs the dynamics of the narrative. Frank’s use of direct address to camera is as variable in form as it is in function, producing a degree of affective disorientation, both in terms of our cognitive and emotional alignment with Frank himself and in terms of our immersion in his story-world. We are lured into an imaginative investment in the anti-hero, who at once seduces us with this cleverness and repels us with his cynicism; simultaneously we are reminded that both he and his world are fictional constructs, enabling us to set aside our own moral judgement and blamelessly enjoy his wickedness.

in Complexity / simplicity