The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

There was a Demon that Lived in the Air – The Right Stuff (1983)

Exploding Bolts

Exploding Bolts

“There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, 750 miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way.” The Right Stuff (1983)

The Right Stuff (1983) is pure patriotism wrapped into 3 hours and 13 minutes of some of the most exciting sequences ever filmed. This book was based on the novel by Tom Wolfe releases in 1979. To say I am a fan of Wolfe’s writing and this movie would be a gross understatement. I have read the book at least six times and have watched the movie well over two dozen times.

The book and the movie tell of America’s early adventure into space. This all began at the end of World War II using captured Nazi rockets and scientist. Ironically, the Nazi rocket program was based on Robert Goddard’s US patents. Following World War II, most of the world was neatly divided between the Soviet Union and the United States. The battle between these two powers was fought on every plain, from literature to surrogate ground wars. It finally came down to which side would control outer space.

This movie tells a lot of the story from the perspective of Chuck Yeager, World War II flying aces and a natural pilot. Yeager was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, California with a group trying to break the sound barrier. Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947. This took place under a top-secret umbrella. However, as the space program expanded, a greater amount of press coverage was necessary and allowed.

In the movie, around the time the future Mercury pilots arrive at Edwards Air Force base in California, the Air Force liaison man explains that the program needs coverage. Yeager calls them rout [root] weasels that pop cameras off in your face. The liaison man says funding makes the machines go up, “no bucks, no Buck Rogers” and who gets the funding gets the technology.

Later, when Yeager takes the X1a up to go beyond Mach II (twice the speed of sound), he loses control of the ship. If you listen carefully, you can hear the demon roar try to drive Yeager back. It is a bold choice that the film producers made to use the roaring demon and make it a real entity. Yeager regains control of the ship, and the demon is gone.

A better-known sound effect was used for the reporters. Each time the reports showed up, there was a clicking sound. Having a photographic background, I just it was the motorized winder on the camera. This was something that wasn’t commonly used at the time. I began to look into the sound and found that director Philip Kaufman made a sound to announce the press corps. He used a motorized camera (like I thought) and the sound of beetles clicking[1].

It is odd that they decided to do this with the press corps after they went to the trouble to explain their need. Maybe the lesson was that Yeager didn’t listen to the warning and never was assigned to the space program.

Anyway, the use of these two sounds added an extra dimension to this already fantastic film. So when you watch The Right Stuff (1983), listen for that old demon. And remember, to chase them out of your life as well.


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