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The Coin Toss Sound Design
I really enjoyed this week’s lesson, and specifically found a lot of interest in the effects that silence gives in a film. I chose to focus on the coin toss scene in No Country for Old Men because it is a great example of minimal sound mixing. This scene begins with an establishing shot of a gas station in rural Texas, just as Anton Chigurh is about to pull in (20:57) . The scene ends when Anton exits the convenient store (25:20). Starting off, you hear many sounds in a short period of time, starting with a truck driving down a dirt road. Immediately after you hear the creaking of a rusty sign. Then it is the sound of footsteps inside the convenient store. These initial sounds create the rural Texas ambience that was discussed in The Beautiful Lies of Sound Design. From here on there is silence in the background with the exception of extremely faint suspenseful music laid over dialogue. This “music” could even be perceived as wind. There is no true silence during this scene.
The dialogue between Anton and the store owner is intense therefor, minimal sound mixing pairs with the scene well so that the viewer becomes immersed in the conversation. This continues until the conversation comes to its climax where Anton asks the store clerk to bet on a coin toss that will determine the his fait in life or death, although he does not know it. You hear the flip of the coin loud and clear in this moment. A short period of dialogue continues after this until you hear the footsteps of Anton walking out of the store at the end of the scene. I believe that the sound design of this scene is immaculate because the coin represents how life can be taken away with a small decision, and it also shows that Anton puts the life of the man into the store owners hands. This is why the sound of the coin flipping is the most distinguished sound of the scene and changes the tone from awkward to life-threatening. The sound design of the coin toss scene is simplistic in a complex way that shows how one instinctive decision can become deadly.
The chase scene, from 16:38 to 20:29, represents a major plot point as Moss realizes he’s running from the Mexicans. First, we hear Moss walking and the water jostling in the gallon jug. A clap of thunder rolls as Moss slows, then stops as he stares at the truck. Then we hear the jug set down on the ground and Moss pulling out his gun. He cocks the gun, walks cautiously to the truck, and opens the truck door, which squeals slightly. Then we hear another clap of thunder and we see that Moss hears voices talking. He looks back at his truck to see men talking and we hear them slashing his tires. He quickly dashes behind the truck and holds his head in his hands. As the Mexicans start up their truck and drive down the hill, Moss dashes behind the truck. We can hear his footfalls and the shots that follow him under another truck. We also hear Moss’ grunt of pain. The background noise of the bowls, which serves as this movie’s soundtrack, echoes as we see a close-up of Moss waiting to escape.
The truck gets closer, and we can hear its engine roaring now. Moss starts running, and that’s all we hear for a few seconds. Another clap of thunder, and then the Mexicans start shooting. They run over a dead tree, which crackles under the wheel of the truck tires. Another shot and we hear Moss grunt again as he falls down the ravine. The truck stops, and we can hear the dust settle. Then we hear chains and a dog barking. Moss dives into the water as the dog follows him. For another few seconds, all we hear is the dog panting and Moss swimming. We can also hear the current during this chase. Moss scrambles onto the shore, and we can hear him unloading and reloading his gun. We hear him blowing on the powder as the dog growls. Moss shoots and the dog squeals as it falls onto Moss. Moss gets up and stares down at the dog.
There are lots of sound effects here, from the gunshots to the thunder. The bowls’ echoes serve as the sole source of music. There is no distinct dialogue, but we do hear the Mexicans talking on the hill and right before they release their dog. There’s a moment of silence as Moss stops in front of the truck, but that’s all.
If I had to sum up this scene in a sentence, I would say this: The sound effects and lack of music add to the intensity and suspense of the scene. I believe this sound design kept the music and talking at a bare minimum, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat. The chase was an effect of Moss stealing the money and prompts him to find a way to get rid of the money.