Seeing Sounds: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Sound Mixes Form a Strange Symphony (Video)

Just as easily as a film’s images can lull its viewers into a trancelike state of submission, so can its sounds wake them from that state—much like what happens when you dump a bucket of ice water on someone who sleeps through their morning alarm.

Editor Jacob T. Swinney is fascinated by this point-counterpoint phenomenon in sonically jarring cinema, and has distilled it into a short-form video essay, “Hearing Paul Thomas Anderson.”

Dirk Diggler, Lancaster Dodd, Barry Egan, Lena Leonard, Daniel Plainview, Freddie Quell, Amber Waves… Think of what gives Anderson’s protagonists’ presence so much heft and weight: Is it their internalized angst that pierces through even their quietest moments? Their off-kilter, sometimes aggressive physicality? The haunting words they use to cope with a world that seems to be moving too fast for them to truly understand?

If you answered with any of these, you wouldn’t be wrong. But sound also plays a fundamental role in punctuating his characters’ journeys with violent, ponderous and poetic intensity, turning up the volume of their uneasy psychological turmoil that’s always humming on the inside, even when outsiders can’t hear it. Events and actions happen with such spontaneity and blunt force in PTA films that they require their own aural announcement, so without further ado, allow that announcement to be made by watching the video below.

Still got PTA ringing in your ears? Keep the listening party going with our Criterion Crash Course installment on Punch-Drunk Love, to learn how the film’s “integration” of score and staging allowed composer Jon Brion’s soundtrack to march to the beat, literally, of its director’s drum. MM

1 Comment

  1. Ryan

    January 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Cool how not only the sound but also the score can unite his characters together too, reminds me of that scene in Magnolia where everyone sings Aimee Mann

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