Special thanks to Brandon, a student in my film studies class this past quarter, for alerting me to the Wilhelm scream in the Google Doodle on Wednesday (June 6) celebrating the 79th anniversary of the first drive-in movie theater.
The Wilhelm scream is a bit of film history lore that I teach in the course during our “sound” section. It is a scream recorded in the 1950s, with a very unique and recognizable quality. It was a “stock” scream inserted into B-movies in the ’50s and then seems to have fallen into obscurity until it was resurrected in the mid-1970s by sound designer Ben Burtt.
Burtt, whom I’ve written about before, is passionate about the history of Hollywood sound. He used the Wilhelm scream extensively in the Star Wars films. Other sound designers picked up on it and have used it in scores of movies since. Once an in-joke of affectionate regard among sound designers, the Wilhelm scream has also gained a following of movie fans who delight in spotting it. Several compilation videos exist on YouTube, such as this one.
Once you’ve heard the Wilhelm scream, the fun begins and you’ll start recognizing it in unexpected places . . . like Wednesday’s drive-in Google Doodle! Watch and listen. Do you hear it?