Every other Tuesday, Matt Marlin posts a new “Framing the Picture” video to his Vimeo channel. And last week, the astute student of cinema broke down the memorable, awkward, and tense botched drug deal scene from Paul Thomas Anderson’s low hanging, intoxicating, porn world classic, “Boogie Nights.”
As he regularly does, Marlin both edited and narrated the analysis, this episode of which is dubbed “Sound and Tension in Boogie Nights’s Drug Deal Sequence.” He starts off with his thesis, that “one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most effective maneuvers in this sprawling tale of the ‘70s and ‘80s is his use of sound; mainly, it serves as a tool for settings, and songs from the era play throughout. They’re diegetically, as characters from the scene put them on, or non-diegetically, as Anderson sees most appropriate.” Essentially, “the music of the time is a constant presence throughout.”
However, Marlin points out, Anderson flips this mechanism on its head during the climactic drug deal gone wrong at the end of the film. “Since the film charts Dirk Diggler’s rise and fall over its duration, it’s only fitting the lowest point in his fall has Anderson inverting the way audio has been used in the rest of the film.” Over the next eight-minutes of his video, Marlin thoroughly studies, describes, and breaks down the various layers of sound Anderson employs to build tension and foreshadow events in the drug deal.
Marlin doesn’t fail to scrutinize every detail. He highlights both the ambient noise, as well as sound that plays over each edit. From music — diegetic, Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” — to the firecrackers popping regularly, to the dialogue and all the noises that interrupt it (or overtake it), Marlin leaves no note unexamined.
Of course, the suspense of the scene doesn’t rest solely upon PTA’s use of sound and music. Rather, the sound works in tandem with the actors’ performances (Mark Wahlberg, Thomas Jane, John C. Reilly, and Alfred Molina as Rahad the drug dealer, though with a shout-out to B. Philly Johnson as Rahad’s bodyguard), as well as with Anderson’s direction: when he cuts from a shot; what sounds we hear and the images they correspond with; whether we see their source on screen or off; what dialogue we can hear; what happens off-camera. Everything works together to build a tremendously tense, unnerving, edge-of-your seat experience, which Matt Marlin elucidates perfectly in the video below. [35MM]