August 6, 2018

Watch: Here's How the Coen Brothers Use Sound to Strengthen Their Visuals

The Coens have worked with DP Roger Deakins numerous times, but let's take a moment to appreciate their films' sound design.

An auteurist trait that often goes unrecognized is the sound design incorporated into a filmmaker's body of work. While film is undoubtedly a visual medium and the distinctions in cinematography, theme, and genre are not to go unnoticed, far too little attention is paid to the recurring aural choices and motifs that envelop a director's series of projects. Neither image nor sound is created in a vacuum, however, and neither is the relationship between the two. After all, once you can identify a go-to sound choice that a filmmaker relies on heavily, there's usually a visual reoccurrence that accompanies it. 

In a new video essay produced by Luis Azevedo of Fandor, Joel and Ethan Coen, the brotherly filmmaking duo behind the dark No Country for Old Men and Fargo to the broadly comic The Ladykillers and Burn After Reading (and A Serious Man, a devilish thematic transfusion of the two) are applauded for their nimble sound choices. In discovering consistent traits from film-to-film, a pattern of pain, guilt, and quirk quickly emerge. Unlike a typical video essay, the one below lets the subjects do the talking. 

The sounds of leather furniture squishing, glass clinking, sad-sack characters on the floor gurgling and gasping, landline phones being picked up fervently, objects emerging from the water, and ghostly silence are just a few of the recurring traits that are most audibly noticeable throughout the Coens' filmography, and the video, by mere nonchalant presentation, emphasizes how that adds to the pop of their aesthetic.

As evidenced above, sound can accentuate chaotic disorder, awkward exchanges, and bursts of momentary glee, and the Coens use their ears to drive that point home. Their visuals wouldn't offer the same thematic relevance without those direct sound choices.

What do you think of the video? Are you very much aware of the intricate quirks of sound when watching a film by the Coen brothers? Let us know in the comments below.       

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2 Comments

Yeah, in the opening shots of Miller's Crossing (still my favourite Coen Br's movie), a close-up on a glass with the ice cubes hitting it and the whiskey being poured in are perfect, just as off-camera the great Jon Polito (should have an Oscar for his performance here) says, "Ethics." Fantastic opening for a movie. These guys really have everything nailed down. The best directors working today.

August 10, 2018 at 1:46PM

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Br. Lawrence Morey
Producer of small films for my abbey
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