Of sound design and small cinemas
Being a big Coen Brothers fan, I saw No Country for Old Men last weekend. We headed over to the Phoenix, a great little two-screen joint in Jericho (as in the Oxford suburb, not the ancient West Bank city) partly to escape the horrific doldrums that are the twin Odeon Cinemas in Oxford’s town centre, but mostly to take advantage of Jericho’s great pubs. Next time you’re in Oxford, visit the Gardener’s Arms for the world’s greatest I-can’t-believe-it’s-a-veggie-burger.
Anyway, the film was/is fantastic – another Coen triumph which sits a lot closer to Fargo in tone and style than anything else in the brothers’ oevre (I cannot believe I just used that word). It’s an adaptation of a novel by Cormac McCarthy which I’ve not read, but may just have to seek out having seen the film. But the thing that struck me most about it was the sound of wind that permeated each scene in testament to the film’s desolate Southern Texas setting.
I should really have twigged when the film moved into the larger town and city sets – the texture of the sound never changed, even when all the on-screen action was clearly in a well-insulated Texan office building. Turns out that it wasn’t intentional sound design after all – just a dodgy air conditioner about 10 feet behind our seats.
It really did add a note of bleakness to the film and, as my ears adapted to it, it blended into the film’s soundtrack to weave a subtle thread of unease throughout. The film’s soundtrack is incredibly minimalistic, with spot effects and very little ambient noise being the order of the day; the original score apparently accounts for 16 minutes out of a 180-minute film.
To be honest, this story really doesn’t go anywhere (much like the film itself, except there’s less bloodshed in my yarn) – but I highly recommend the movie. Just make sure you’ve got a clapped-out AC unit behind you when you’re watching it.