Blood Simple – Barton Fink – tape 2411

A Channel 4 Double Bill of Coen Brothers films on this tape.

First is their debut film, Blood Simple. Right from the start you could tell these were filmmakers to watch. Their first film is a noirish thriller about adultery, jealousy, double-crossing and revenge, and features enough twists and surprises for half a dozen films. It’s beautifully written, with a terse dialogue style, and the performances of Dan Hedaya as the cuckolded husband, and M Emmet Walshe as the sleazy private detective (who never gets a name) are superb. Longtime Coen composer Carter Burwell supplies a memorable score, and the cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld, who would go on to be a director himself, is beautiful. There’s some arresting images here.

Sparky pictures

Right from the beginning, the Coens show they are smart filmmakers. The title sequence takes place in a car. We see the backs of our two protagonists’ heads, John Getz and Frances McDormand (wife of Joel Coen) as they drive through a heavy rainstorm. The simple dialogue sets out the situation. The Coens make the most of their low budget by post-syncing the dialogue. In fact, the entire scene might well have been played out with the car stationary – all we see are lights approaching occasionally.

Following this is a later effort, Barton Fink. Now, I like this movie a lot. It’s brilliantly designed, has more superb performances, particularly Michael Lerner as the studio head who wants ‘that Barton Fink feeling’ and is so surreal that frankly, it allows almost any reading you like. No wonder the arthouse critics fell in love with it. When all it basically is is an exercise to overcome writers block.

Director of Photography here was Roger Deakins, who became a Coen regular when Sonnenfeld pursued his directing career, and this movie is another impeccably photographed film. There’s some great sound design, too, like the bell at the front desk that continues sounding for far longer than it really should, and the sound of the mosquito that plagues Barton.

Anther thing to like about this movie is that the lead is not particularly likeable. He’s a pompous, self-important pseudo-intellectual who thinks he’s doing great work for the working man, but he’s just another puffed-up poseur, with less artistic integrity than the plain-speaking studio chief he’s enslaved by.

The whole movie feels damp. From the slimy, peeling wallpaper, the unaired sheets on the bed, John Goodman’s infected ear, this is not a clean movie, and you feel like you’re itching as you watch it.

One thing I’d really like to know is whether the very last shot, of the sea bird diving into the water, was planned, or whether it just happened at the time they were shooting and they decided to use it?

Diving bird

Following the films, the start of The Puppet Master, and the tape stops a few minutes into this.

Adverts: Trails:

  • Goldfish credit card – Billy Connolly
  • Boots Multivitamins
  • Royal Mail
  • Cellnet
  • Toyota Corolla
  • trail: Equinox – Science Beyond the Horizon
  • Vauxhall Vectra
  • Sanyo Digicam
  • Air Canada – Mike McShane
  • Prudential
  • The Times
  • General Accident
  • Guinness
  • American Express
  • XFM
  • Cheltenham & Gloucester
  • Foster’s Ice
  • Boots
  • Renault Scenic
  • Eurostar
  • Cheltenham & Gloucester
  • Spawn  in cinemas (or as the voiceover guy pronounces it, “Sparn”
  • Quattro
  • Army
  • BT ISDN
  • B&Q
  • DHL
  • Lloyds & TSB
  • trail: Raising Arizona
  • trail: A Dance to the Music of Stars
  • Eurostar
  • Vision Express
  • BT ISDN
  • The Times
  • VW Polo
  • CK One
  • Pantene
  • Carlsberg
  • trail: Marc Bolan: Dandy in the Underworld
  • Minidisk
  • Aero
  • Pedigree Chum
  • Carlsberg
  • Gay Chat
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Army
  • Pantene
  • Twix
  • Clearasil
  • Concern for Comfort
  • Chatline
  • Boots Vitamins
  • trail: Raising Arizona
  • Australia
  • Anglian
  • Vanish Liquid
  • Lotus – Denis Leary

  • The Times
  • Golden Wedding Anniversary Coin
  • Gay Chatline
  • Inland Revenue
  • Singles Network
  • Listerine – Keith Allen as the Tooth Fairy
  • Weetabix
  • trail: Out of Africa
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