The Coen Brothers

I don’t usually pay much attention to filmmakers nor to movies in general. I see maybe a dozen a year and sleep through many more. But if I see one I like, I don’t usually search out who did it. And it is not like it is as easy as an author, you like William Faulkner, you buy a William Faulkner book.

I certainly like some stand-outs. I will always give Alex Proyas a try hoping he will repeat his brilliance in Dark City. I will always check out a Simon Pegg, Nick Frost comedy. I will consider a new Leonardo DiCaprio (shut up, he’s a great actor) film because the man can act and he has a knack, sometimes, for choosing a really great film. Or the Christopher Guest spoofs.

iTunes and Netflix are great because you can easily see who directs it or produces it and a single click of my remote leads me to whatever else is available by this person.

So last night I watched a film called Barton Fink which I had wanted to watch years ago but it got lost in life. When I brought it up on the screen I saw all the other movies these guys had done, I was, “oh crap, these guys!”. Because I had seen a couple of their other films and found them to be unique. Uniqueness is hard to come by in Hollywood, and usually that uniqueness is ineptness.

Barton Fink is a great film on many levels. First, you can’t get a better cast than that: John Turturro, Tony Shaloub, Michael Lerner, John Goodman and Mahoney. The movie deals with several themes that are not placarded in your face, but also not so obscure or hidden to be possible of enough interpretations to render it meaningless.

The main arc of the story was a thrill. When Fink first meets Meadows I got the impression that the main point of their first meeting was that Fink cut him off and wasn’t listening to what Meadows had to say. Even though Fink is going off on his platitudes of the “common man” in film and story, he is deaf to the common man sitting right in front of him in the character of Meadows. But what they do is they don’t hang on this point nor repeat it nor try to hammer it into you. The scene itself is given enough room for you to grasp it even if only tentatively.

Then the story proceeds without reference to that first encounter. But it underlies all that happens next. I had forgotten all about it and was delighted when Meadows explained it too Fink in the hotel fire scene at the end.

One thing you will encounter in (at least all the ones I have seen) a Coen brothers film, is a complete lack of realism. Of journalistic naturalism. Although one could just as well argue the counter that naturalism pervades their work. What you would expect a character to say in some normal scene (such as the scene where Fink checks into the Hotel Earle) is not said, normal actions are not taken. Where the claim of naturalism could be made is people in their films say awkward things, stutter, drop stuff, etc.

But these also are not the people you are going to encounter in everyday life.

I don’t know, its an interesting thing. Marge Gunderson in Fargo is both a naturalistic, common, character you could meet in North Dakota, and she is not.

One last thing because I am not an expert on film by any stretch, my thing is writing. I love their use of non-action, of actual scenes where a character is just sitting there, lingering moments of discomfort. Most movies are constant blabbering or constant action and getting little traction for the effort.

But if you want a different experience (and a little thought) in your film, I can’t recommend their movies enough.


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