Dramatization of Frederick Douglass: Soundtrack Proposal

Glenna Hartman 1/25/13

To the Producers:

In this proposal, I plan to focus on a few scenes that will be significant in the movie Frederick Douglass, which you have informed me is a historical drama that closely follows the book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Upon examining the text, I have chosen a few snippets of aural scenes that may help you better piece together the sonic landscape the movie will contain. The keynote noises I plan to focus on are the vast difference between silence and noise in the Southern United States before the Civil War. Silence of plantation life was often broken by violent noises to whipping and abuse. Then again, the silence wasn’t safe for the slaves either; they were often being watched and felt afraid in the silence. The same fear of silence and noise was instilled in the masters too. They were afraid that slave’s silence meant they were plotting, but the lyrics slave songs often talked about escaping, which worried the masters also. I think the two following scenes display the tension between silence and noise in Douglass’s narrative.

 

pp 51-52 “The Whipping of Aunt Hester”

During this scene, the camera will only because focused on Douglass’s dimly lit face to make the auditory response more intense. The scene starts with the deep, dark, almost penetrating silence of night. Abruptly, a door slams, making Douglass’s eyes spring open. Silence for a while, then all of a sudden, an intense, loud crack rings through the night followed by a shrill scream. Silence for a few seconds again, then the low, gruff yell of “damned bitch.” Screaming follows, along with prayers and a woman’s voice begging for mercy. The louder she yells it seems the crack of the whip grows more frequent and violent. The sound of hard, rough leather hitting soft flesh is repeated again and again under the yelling. Finally, there is silence from the woman, and one last gravelly “Now, you damned bitch I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders” from the man. A few more hard cracks are heard, a door is slammed again and then a startling, now horrifying silence falls over the soundscape.

Although there would probably be other noises going on while the whipping is happening, I’m choosing not to include them to make the scene all the more riveting and dramatic. Such a violent violation of the silence will hopefully create a dramatic effect on the listener’s ears.

 

pp 103-105 “Mr. Covey’s Hymns”

This scene is meant to be an exploration of the character Mr. Covey, one of Douglass’s many slave owners. I found it interesting how he used silence and stealth to keep an eye on his slaves, often sneaking up on them in the field. For this scene, background noises will be included. The constant sound of labor and movement should be heard. Doulgass said they were in a cornfield, and the sound of the hoe cutting into the fresh ground to dig up weeds is another background noise. Singing can be heard in the distance, a deep soulful tune coming from perhaps a field over. A soft, whispery rustle is heard somewhere among the corn, and somewhere whispers, “The Snake!” All of a sudden activity seems to go faster and metal beats dirt at a break backing speed. Suddenly, Covey jumps out of the corn and in a cruel, cackling voice yells, “Ha, Ha! Come, come! Dash on, dash on!” All the while he’s brandishing a whip that occasionally cracks it with a hard smack on someone’s back. Scene cuts to Mr. Covey commencing his family devotions by trying to sing a hymn. His rough voice cracks and falters, and vulnerability shows when the listener realizes he can’t carry a tune. Suddenly, Douglass’s deep, rich voice chimes in and the song ends with Douglass’s smooth voice holding the last note.