Movie Review By Casey McCabe
The world of cinema is considerably richer for the careers of Joel and Ethan Coen, the Minnesota brothers who between them have managed to write, direct and produce just exactly the kind of films they want. The audience, with an assist from the video rental market, has managed to catch up with the Coens. Though "Raising Arizona" "Barton Fink" and "Miller's Crossing" were never theatrical blockbusters, it's hard to find a filmgoer today who doesn't know and fiercely love at least one of them. The Coens finally did reach critical and popular mass with "Fargo" but they really hadn't changed a thing in their approach. Take the basic story of "Fargo": a heavily in debt car salesman hires a couple lowlifes to kidnap his wife and ransom her wealthy father. It's easy to imagine any number of filmmakers tackling it. Some would have made it funny. Some would have played it straight. A few would have come up with a good movie. But only the Coen brothers would have made it "Fargo."
There aren't a lot of truly original filmmakers to begin with. Fewer still who don't lose their independent edge when handed bags of money and expectations. Maybe it's the accelerating appreciation of the Coen's growing body of work that has inspired the theatrical re-release their first film, 1984ís "Blood Simple" Unless you can remember another film getting a 16th anniversary retrospective.
"Blood Simple" works just fine on the small or big screen, without any hindsight, or with an eye for promises the Coens would later fulfill. It's the story of a small time Texas love triangle, with the wonderful M. Emmet Walsh adding another angle as a Volkswagen driving bagman. We don't necessarily love or hate any of these characters, yet the suspense remains delicious as the audience sees just how horribly things are going awry while the characters edge cluelessly into something much worse. The Coens wore their influences on their sleeves and executed their story with very cool assurance. But what makes "Blood Simple" memorable as a debut is their sheer giddy love of the medium. Which means a love of the camera. The Coens weren't then, and still aren't, afraid to use the manipulative devices that only motion pictures provide. One image I'd held of Blood Simple for the past 16 years was that of a newspaper spinning end over end and slamming violently against a screen door in the background. It meant nothing to the story but added something unforgettable to the film.
Naturally, the new release of Blood Simple has been digitally remastered. But for perhaps the first time in film history, the new Director's Cut is actually shorter than the original. As Ethan Coen explained in a recent issue of the New Yorker, the brothers doubted whether anyone needs to see more of anything done by anybody in their twenties. "We made the movie about five minutes shorter," he writes. "So that a pace that was once glacial is now merely slow, and did some editorial smoothing so that scenes that were once inept are now merely awkward."
Well okay. He's being coy and deprecating. He's also probably right. No doubt the brothers could make a better "Blood Simple" today. But their clever little 16 year old stands pretty solid on its own two feet.
© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 7/19/00
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