As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Blood Simple/Raising Arizona

Posted by Hedwig on January 6, 2008

In anticipation of the official release of No Country For Old Men, I decided to have my own, semi-chronological, Coen bros. retrospective. To my great surprise, no less than 5 people came to join me on the first night, featuring the Coens’ debut, Blood Simple, and their follow-up comedy Raising Arizona. I’d seen the former once, about, I’d say, six or seven years ago. I’d seen various fragment of the second one, but I don’t think I ever had from start to finish. To entice people to come, I wrote the following blurbs:

Blood Simple

It takes most directors a few films to find their footing. Not the Coens: Blood Simple emerged fully formed from their combined brains. It’s a neat little neo-noir about a woman (Frances McDormand, who later married one of the brothers and frequently collaborates with them), her lover, her husband, and the PI the husband hires. The story is full of noire tropes: not just adultery but blackmail, murder, and lots of things that just don’t go as planned. The title is even derived from a Dashiel Hamett novel. I will be watching the Director’s Cut, which is one of the few director’s cuts that’s shorter than the theatrically released film. Ever since this great debut, the Coens have had final cut.

Raizing Arizona

Blood Simple has some funny moments, sure, but it’s essentially a pretty grim undertaking. Raizing Arizona, on the other hand, is a raucous comedy (albeit with some grim undertones). It’s about Hi, a former criminal, and his loving wife Ed, a former policewoman. They desperately want to have a baby, but can’t. Then they hear a rich man in the state just had quintuplets, and figure that with this bounty, he won’t miss one. They kidnap one of the babies, and since they’re not exactly the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed, hijinks ensue. Add scary biker & bounty hunter Leonard Smalls to the mix, and you have a very crazy, but also very funny film on your hands, full of typical Coen touches.

Blood Simple was indeed as assured as I remembered it. Oh, sure, there’s things like the show-offy hop-over-the-barfly shot, but it generally feels like the Coens already knew they had nothing to prove. It’s odd, but I think it might also be the movie that prepared them best for No Country for Old Men, or at least for the first two thirds, for the thriller part of that movie. Because damn, this film is scary! One of the dream sequences Frances McDormand has, for instance, made me wish I, too, had a boyfriend next to me whose hand I could squeeze. There are also sequences of different people visiting the same location that the Coens used to even greater effect in No Country.

Anyway, I shouldn’t analyze this film only in comparison to No Country, because it still stands really well by itself. The PI (I looked up his name, it’s Loren Visser) and his laugh are unforgettable, the plot, with all its twists and slow deaths and misunderstandings, is both fascinating and funny, and really, why has John Getz been relegated to TV work? He’s a perfect noir anti-hero, nice in principle but caught in a web of circumstances he can’t escape from.

In the end, only the woman is still standing. You gotta love that.

Raising Arizona, on the other hand, is entirely inconsequential, but it was the perfect palate cleanser. It’s miles from Lebowski, but it’s a lot funnier, really, than it has any right to be. I mean, who would have thought two men yelling could be funny for over two minutes, but it is. HI’s overly complicated way of talking would later be perfected by Everett McGill, but it already works pretty well, here. Near the end it gets a little saccharine, but it wraps in under an hour and a half, and you know? “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things” sounds pretty true to me.

And then of course, Leonard Smalls vs. Anton Chigurh. I say a weird haircut beats a weird nose, any time.

Next up: it’s either Miller’s Crossing/Barton Fink (which would be the ‘right’ pairing, historically speaking) or Miller’s Crossing/The Hudsucker Proxy (which fits better in the thriller-followed-by-comedy pattern, and Barton Fink IS a very disturbing film). However, since The Hudsucker Proxy is the only Coen film I have yet to see, I’ll need a blurb for that one. Feel inspired? That’s what the comments section is for! I’m emphatically NOT looking for a plot summary (I can find that on imdb or Wikipedia), but for a short (100-200 word) piece giving an impression of what the film’s like. I have no real reward to offer, but if the person who provides the best blurb has a blog, I’ll gladly plug it here.

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7 Responses to “Blood Simple/Raising Arizona”

  1. Kaj said

    Nice first entry of the new year. I haven’t got a blog, but if you’re gonna do a Miller’s Crossing/Barton Fink doublebill, then I’d love to be invited. I really need to see those two again. So here’s a ‘blurb’ for The Hudsucker Proxy:

    [i]The Hudsucker Proxy[/i] bombed upon release and was largely dismissed by the critics, but has since then gained a following and well deserved respect. Another great comedy by the Coens, a satire of the American Dream in which an innocent young man from the countryside arrives in New York and is soon placed at the top of a large company by cynical boardmembers who want the company to go bankrupt, so they can by up it’s stock cheap. They didn’t count on him inventing the Hula Hoop. The meticulously scripted film is one of the Coens visually most arresting ones, and also one of their funniest. No Coen regulars were cast as main characters, but Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Paul Newman are all wonderful, and enough Coen cronies turn up in small supporting roles. Works great as a hommage to old screwball comedies in some parts and to Capraesque drama in others, and is delightful in all.

  2. Welcome back from writers’ block Hedwig and once again welcome to WordPress.

    I saw Blood Simple later on video, but Raising Arizona was my very first Coen movie and for that it will always have a soft spot in my heart. It gets better with repeated viewings I think. Most of the humor for me is just in the way people talk. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’ll have a better crack at it when I finally get to my own Coen retrospective (I should say “if”).

    Hmm…blurbing Hudsucker…I’ll have to think about that one.

  3. sarcastig said

    @Kaj: I’ll let you know which movies I’ll end up doing, and where it’ll be. A friend who was also there yesterday offered his big-ass TV. I do think it’ll probably end up being Miller’s Crossing/Hudsucker though, and I’ll watch Barton Fink by myself beforehand. Miller’s Crossing/Barton Fink might be a bit on the heavy side, and I don’t want to scare people off too much. Thanks for the blurb, in any case! It’s certainly made me feel like watching the movie. Oh, and the reason your comment didn’t show up is that everyone’s first one has to be approved. So from now on, your comments should appear right away.

    @Craig: I can imagine Raising Arizona growing on you. And you’re right a lot of humor comes from the way people talk – in fact, I think that’s the main source of humor in all the Coens’ films, comedies and thrillers alike. I noticed it in Blood Simple, too, and of course then there’s the Stranger and Walter in Lebowski, Freddy Riedenschneider, Ulysses Everett McGill… They have a great ear for dialogue and the rhythms of language.

  4. Kaj said

    Cool. I really, really want to see Fink again, though. 🙂

  5. sarcastig said

    You can borrow it, if you like. I have it on DVD, and I’m sure that after I watch it I won’t feel like it for a while. That truly is a disturbing, disturbing film.

  6. Sabrine said

    That blood simple film was f***ing scary! I like the Raising Arizona film better – very funny and you’re right, the way the people talk in the two films is similar, maybe that’s part of the funnyness as well as the way the people are so simple in it.

  7. sarcastig said

    Hehe, yeah, Blood Simple was a lot scarier than I remembered. Don’t worry, next time, Miller’s Crossing isn’t by far as tense. At least, I don’t remember it was 😉 And once again, we’ll follow up with a nice comedy.

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