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Alien or familiar: sounds and images in The Twilight Zone, ‘The Invaders’ (1961)

Bignell, J. ORCID: (2021) Alien or familiar: sounds and images in The Twilight Zone, ‘The Invaders’ (1961). In: Cardwell, S., Bignell, J. ORCID: and Donaldson, L. F. (eds.) Moments in Television: Sound/Image. The Television Series. Manchester University Press, Manchester. (In Press)

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This chapter analyses the unusual and expressive uses of both visual style and sound in an episode of the science fiction series The Twilight Zone, ‘The Invaders’ (1961). The episode has no dialogue, though it has some framing narration spoken direct to camera, and it has little music. Nevertheless, this chapter makes the case that the consequent rebalancing of the usual expressive means available to television is both innovative and compelling. The absence of sound becomes an occasion to think more precisely about what sound does, and by removing some of the usual functions of sound the episode allows us to question the customary hierarchy in which sound is a support for the image. Shifts in the viewer’s knowledge of the fictional world depend on how image and sound manipulate our relationship with the female protagonist of ‘The Invaders’ in both conventional and unconventional ways. Her character, who is never named, is played by Agnes Moorehead, whose wordless performance is central to the episode’s images and sound. In particular, sounds produced by her vocally, by her body movement and as a result of actions she initiates, as well as sounds coming from alien invaders and their technologies, carry an extraordinary weight because of the lack of other kinds of audio information. Framing narration at the opening and closing of the episode loads those passages of speech which are present with great significance because they are the only words on the soundtrack, identifying – and, crucially, misidentifying – the nature of the fictional world. In the main body of the episode, lack of the speech which would usually convey information, emotion and tone encourages the viewer to attend to images more intensely than usual, reading details of setting, costume, posture and facial expression for example, to make sense of the action.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:98448
Uncontrolled Keywords:Television, Twilight Zone, science fiction, 1960s, drama, performance, aliens, aesthetics
Publisher:Manchester University Press

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