Frank Kruse interview: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ supervising sound editor

Before supervising sound editor Frank Kruse started to work on Edward Berger’s adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” he thought there might be some original recordings from World War I still available to hear as a point of reference. But when that was quickly proven implausible – the few recordings available had a poor sound quality that “didn’t get across any physicality,” Kruse says – the industry veteran turned to the printed word instead.

“I found very little research going on about the soundscape of that time. But what I did find is an article mentioning letters of soldiers that wrote especially of the terror of sound they experienced in the trenches,” Kruse tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview as part of our Meet the Experts: Sound panel. The soldiers fighting in World War I, Kruse says, spent hours being bombarded while crouched in the trenches – a psychological warfare that rattled even the most hardened recruit. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“It was mainly about getting into people’s heads to create fear and destroy the morale of the troops – if it wasn’t already, just because of the conditions and stuff,” Kruse says. “So those descriptions were very specific, like the descriptions in comic books where they write down the character of a sound.” Soldiers, he found, gave nicknames to the bombs and grenades that exploded around them, and even put words to the sounds of decomposing bodies and dying horses. “Really horrific details,” Kruse says. “What I found reading from these letters was there’s really no point in being scientifically authentic [with the sound]…. We decided to create the sounds to create more of an emotional effect instead.”

That emotional response is one of the reasons “All Quiet on the Western Front” has proven quite formidable this awards season. The Netflix release, Germany’s selection in the Best International Feature category at the Oscars, has ascended in recent weeks with five Oscar shortlist mentions and 15 BAFTA longlist citations – including inclusion among the Best Sound contenders at both ceremonies. Just this week, “All Quiet on the Western Front” received nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors and Cinema Audio Society as well.

Based on the famed 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque about the atrocities of war as told through the perspective of German soldiers in World War I, “All Quiet on the Western Front” has been praised for its technical achievements and its anti-war message – particularly a scene where the film’s central figure, a soldier named Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer), kills a French soldier and then suffers an anguished breakdown over what he’s done. The scene gradually drops the cacophony of the battle down to nothing, a subtle effect that enhances the impact on the audience.

“That was really heartbreaking for everyone. Everyone’s jaw just dropped,” Kruse says of the sequence. “Edward just told me the other day – I didn’t know this – that during one of the tests he heard a weird sound on his headphones. And afterward, he was asking, ‘What’s going on? I have this weird, kind of strange sound in my headphones.’ And it turns out that the camera operator actually broke out into tears while they were shooting the scene. There was a similar effect on us when the first cut came in. That scene is like the entire film – our approach to the sound that we made was really about the contrast between light and dark, loud and quiet. And we wanted to explore the extremes.”

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is now streaming on Netflix.

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UPLOADED Jan 13, 2023 8:01 am