Wilhelm Scream

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The Wilhelm scream is a well known inside joke in the film industry. It is believed to have been recorded by actor/singer Sheb Wooley., who is well known for his song, “Flying Purple People Eater.” The scream originated in the 1951 movie, Distant Drums. Soldiers are wading through waist high water when one of them gets pulled under by an alligator. As he is falling, he screams the famous scream, and then proceeds to be eaten by several alligators. The next use of this scream was where it received its name. In Charge at Feather River, the scream is used three times, at least once in conjunction with a character named “Wilhelm.” It was here that sound designer Ben Burtt discovered the scream and decided to use it in the first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, A New Hope. He went on to name it after Wilhelm and use it in many of his other projects, including all of the Indiana Jones movies. As a result, many other sound designers picked up on it and decided to use it in their own projects, and so it became an inside joke of the sound industry. It has since gone on to appear in so many major motion pictures that it has become a bit of a sound cliche- well known to both those in and out of the film industry.

While studying sound editing, the Wilhelm scream immediately jumped to mind. It is a diegetic, external sound, which is post synchronized and dubbed to fit many different clips in many different movies. I think this youtube video is very interesting because it shows how a single sound clip can be put into all different types of scenes or genres without the audience noticing anything. I have seen many of the movies featured in this clip, but had no idea that the Wilhelm scream existed or that sound designers frequently reuse sounds from the archives until I saw this video.

Another interesting aspect of the clip and the use of the scream that makes it comical are the similarities between the character “screaming.” In almost every use, the individual is falling or getting hit by some explosion. The movies and scenes are different and range from Beauty and the Beast to Star Wars, but there is a consistency in how the scream is used. The way these clips are edited and put together in a montage exemplify the continuity and make the repeated use of the scream seem silly.

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