Tuesday, December 11, 2007

COEN COUNTRY: an announcement.

by Ryland Walker Knight

One dime
[You've been putting it up your whole life.]

Seeing as the Coen Brothers and their new movie haven't gotten enough blogosphere attention, we here decided we would talk about the Coen Brothers and what their new movie has done to and in their body of work. A lot of it is due to my complicated reaction to the film, which I find ostensibly "perfect," if philosophically grim on the surface. Thinking about the film over the past month has deepened my appreciation for its positive aspects (speech-as-spectacle, mise-en-scène, the cast) if only complicated my uneasiness with its negative aspects (all that blood seen from such a detached perspective, the fatalism, its reputation). In that it is a film about America, as much as any of their pictures are, I thought it might be prudent to look at how No Country for Old Men plays next to the Coens' other works. Plus, you know, my whole Cavell obsession.

Luckily, my fellows at VINYL have decided to join me, offering their perspective on some of their favorites of the Coens' oeuvre. We should have them all good and ready by next Friday, the 21st (when Sweeney Todd and Youth Without Youth open). Expect a lost brother, a deadened barber, a foul-mouthed (non) ladykiller, a forested crossing, some bowling, and dialogue. As expected, all signs point to a coin toss. Be there. Call it.


  1. I chose to link to Dub C's review for a few reasons.

    1. I like it.
    2. I just saw _I'm Not There_ a day ago; more on that later in the afternoon.
    3. There's this quote in it that I'd like to call attention to, as another signpost for something that's striking about all the excellent movies of the year:
    In the exceptional films of this year (of which _American Gangster_ seems the most survey in nature and hence the one destined for awards recognition), there is a unifying thread that things are only as bad as they ever were and, worse, that there's no life preserver left that's not taking on a dangerous amount of water.
    My reaction was something like this: Really? Guess so. But I also guess _it_ doesn't have to be all that bad, or plain bad. _Things_ are only as bad as you make them. Which is an interesting lens to look at this year's movies, and their reception (I guess any year/any movie), especially divisive ones like The Coens' picture, and the not-really-Dylan-but-still-very-much-Dylan picture. Again: more a little later.

    (also funny: using comments as footnotes to posts... it's the little things.)

  2. I recently watched MILLER'S CROSSING on cable and it still strikes me as phony and, worst of all, boring. I must admit the hats look good. What's frustrating is that these guys have great skill and are very clever, but they hide behind a surfeit of technique with very little to say. In MILLER’S, everything is in service of the production design, including the actions and motives of the hero played by Gabriel Byrne, who is by turns cunning and idiotic, depending on what the plot requires. This character arc is all build-up with no payoff. As for the gangster action: the famous ‘Danny Boy’ set piece plays like a Chuck Jones short operating under the same laws of physics in a Roadrunner cartoon. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

    Fast forward to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The set pieces here are flawless, and truly heart-pounding, unlike the cartoon violence of earlier efforts. So it is all the more disappointing when the Coens hide behind the frontier skirts of McCarthy’s novel and fuck up their own third act. SPOILERS: other than frustrating the audience, what purpose is there to keep the death of Lewellyn Moss off screen? Why have the secondary villains kill Moss? And why put a passive character like Sheriff Bell in a leading role? He’s an in-action hero, with not too much on his befuddled mind. What gives me hope with NO COUNTRY is that the Brothers Coen are able to handle action set pieces with great conviction now, and the moments of cartoon violence are almost gone. But they still don’t have the nerve to adapt a book like this and make it there own. Better to turn in a term paper instead. What can you expect from two guys who grew up with college profs for parents?

    Memo to Joel and Ethan: get out of the library and into the light. Tell stories that are not pastiche. Take a risk for once. Call it.