Monday, 28 March 2011
DVD: 10 DAYS OF JOEL & ETHAN COHEN: DAY 1 - BLOOD SIMPLE
Just arrived from Amazon and for the bargain price of £11.69 is a 7-disc set of movies from the writer/director team of Joel & Ethan Cohen. Although one is credited with writing and the other directing, this is a legal convenience and they actually share both duties. This has recently been discarded. I came across them in 1983 with their first movie Blood Simple and followed them for a while, seeing three of those included in this collection and two of the three on another collection I ordered at the same time. What I plan to do is watch each of these movies and write a review of them. Just don't expect one a day for the next ten days. Now the obvious way to do this would be in chronological order so I can assess how they develop as film makers but I can't be bothered with that. Instead I'm going to watch them in the order they are in the box and I started from the back which, coincidentally, is their first film Blood Simple (1983) which will be followed by Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and it's difficult to imagine two more contrasting movies.
I hadn't seen Blood Simple in about 25 years but it still holds up pretty well and my memories of it proved surprisingly accurate. From the very beginning it's obvious that the film makers knew what they were doing and were prepared to be bold about it. A man and a woman are driving down dark Texas roads and talking but at first we only see the backs of their heads. Gradually we begin to learn something about their situation.
The plot is straightforward. Bar owner (Dan Hedaya) has employed a sleazy private eye (M.Emmett Walsh and nobody does sleazy like M.Emmett) to spy on his wife (Frances McDormand). Having proof she's having an affair with one of his staff (John Getz) he tells the private eye to kill her. Instead, having got his hands on the money, Walsh shoots him with his wife's gun and leaves it laying around. The lover arrives, assumes McDormand has killed her husband and decides to hide the body. However, as the viewer knows from the constant dripping of blood, Hedaya isn't dead. This leads to an extremely harrowing scene where the lover tries to bury him alive (see the German poster above). The things get worse but in case you haven't seen it I won't say how.
One of the clever things about this film is that you the viewer knows what's going on all the time but none of the participants and that is what leads to them dying. Film noir has never really been successfully revived as a genre, though there has been the occasional success. Blood Simple is emphatically one of them.
McDormand must have had a good time making the movie as she married Joel Coen shortly afterwards and we'll be meeting her again in some of the Coen movies.
Their next movie was scripted by them and directed by Sam Raimi. While not without certain pleasures, Crimewave isn't the three men's finest hour by a long long way.