Once you start piecing together a feature length film, it’s astonishing how many little inevitable technical issues rear their heads up and start clamoring for your attention. They are as distracting as hell. From cuts that stubbornly won’t match to constantly changing ambient noise to varying cloud cover it all seems like a quilt made by a madman.
So, once you’ve made the most simple, honest, workmanlike cut possible, you start getting tricksy. Oh, it starts innocently enough. You’ve done your best to preserve the integrity of the actors’ performances by using masters whenever possible, or trying to stay with a particular take for each actor’s one-shot. Then one day you realize that the dialogue from an alternate take is cleaner than in the take you’re using, and to your astonishment it matches the actors lip movements perfectly in the better-looking take. So you swap the audio. Suddenly you’ve taken the inherent Frankenstein monster aspect of movies, of your movie, to another level. Next thing you know, you’re having the actors re-record vast swatches of dialogue to get rid of troublesome ambient noise. Then you realize that the only way to deal with the noise in a particular scene is to add more noise. Tastier noise.
So you add some noise that has nothing to do with the original environment of the scene, a low level tone, say. Uh oh. It sounds very cool, and injects a new visceral tension into the scene. Next thing you know, you’re designing soundscapes for almost every scene in the movie. It adds impact, makes the movie slicker, more professional, more impressive. But now, what are people responding to? The story and the actual moments between the actors? Or some sexy noise you added? Certainly, it’s all part of yer cinematic arsenal, and when deployed effectively this stuff gets the audience totally jazzed up and can make you millions of dollars and win Oscars. So why should I be concerned about some notion of purity? Does it have any value at all?
I believe in the end it comes down to personal taste, and what kind of movie you’re making. So many of these effects, both sound and visual, are cues to the audience. Used excessively, and more and more viewers are going to feel like they are being spoon fed, while there will always be some viewers who never feel like they’re getting enough candy. Myself, I’m the kind of movie watcher who feels Spielberg really screwed up in Schindler’s List by making that little girl’s coat red in an otherwise B&W movie. Others think it’s the best thing in the picture.