Today in the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, I’m delighted to welcome the contribution of Mark from Marked Movies. This was one of the first blogs I followed and I’ve never been less than mightily impressed by his output. Mark’s reviews set a high standard, while his great features, such as ‘Classic Scene’, are great fun to read. Here Mark covers Joel ‘Coen Brother’ Coen’s celebrated first feature Blood Simple. In case you haven’t already signed up to Marked Movies, do so now. You won’t regret it.
Blood Simple (1984)
Having cut his teeth as Assistant Editor on director Sam Raimi’s cult classic The Evil Dead in 1981, Joel Coen went on to become a fully fledged director himself with his debut Blood Simple in 1984.
On the advice of Raimi, Joel and his brother Ethan (whom it has always been said, actually shared directorial duties) went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make, which resulted in them raising $750,000 and just enough to begin production of their movie. It was at this point that two of cinema’s most consistent and original talents had arrived.
In West Texas, saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Marty then hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), a private detective, to investigate. Once Marty gains proof of the adulterous affair, he pays Visser to kill them. However, Visser is a very unscrupulous type and has plans of his own.
When you comb through the filmography of the Coen’s, three renowned and highly respected crime writers will inevitably surface. They are: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. However, it’s their debut Blood Simple that fully harks back to the hard boiled noirs of the 1940′s, namely The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity – both of which are written by Cain and the latter, in fact, co-scripted by Chandler when it made it the screen.
Hammett was also a contemporary of these writers and wrote the novel Red Harvest, which actually coined the term “blood simple”. It is described as “the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations”. This very description sums the movie up perfectly. It’s a homage to these great writers and the genre they excelled in. Also, like their stories, once the characters and their motivations are established, there is no going back.
Although this was their debut, labyrinthine plots and double-crosses would become a staple of the Coens’ work that followed. Give or take the odd zany comedy, their filmography largely consists of these writers; Miller’s Crossing was heavily influenced by Hammett’s The Glass Key, while The Big Lebowski loosely took its structure from the work of Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain would resurface in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Even the Oscar-winning Fargo and No Country For Old Men could be seen as riffs on Blood Simple itself. The thing that’s most apparent about this debut from the Coen’s, though, is that their stylistic approach is plain to see. It cast the mould from which we have witnessed their serpentine abilities in storytelling and hugely inventive directorial flourishes.
Much has been said about the cinematography on the Coens’ output. This has largely been due to the work of their regular collaborator Roger Deakins. However, it was Barry Sonnenfeld who worked on the first three Coen’s movies and you’d be hard pushed to notice much of a difference between them. This simply comes down to them translating exactly the vision that the brothers had. That’s not to take away from the work of Deakins or, in this case, Sonnenfeld as their cinematography has always been sublime but ultimately it comes down to the Coens’ inventively keen eye for a shot.
They are known for being sticklers for detail, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how it should look and working from a shoestring budget doesn’t prevent them from realising their Hitchcockian melee of passion, bloodshed and suspense. If anything, their limited budget shows how artistic and creative they really are and they’re not without (or what would become) their trademark moments of irony.
The Coen Brothers have gone on to become two of the most respected filmmakers in the business, and rightfully so. With many classics – cult and mainstream – under their belts already, there’s really no end to what they’re capable of. That being said, it’s always a pleasure to return to their roots and see where it all began.
Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Alex from And So It Begins… writes about David Gordon Green’s much-loved debut George Washington. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.
Next up, it’s the turn of Ruth from the awesome FlixChatter. Ruth will be covering Ben Affleck’s first feature Gone Baby Gone. Looking forward to this; see you then.
Brilliant work Mark. I, like most people, love the Coen’s so to go back to where it all started is a real joy. Thanks for taking part buddy.
Thanks for the very kind introduction there, Mark. It’s a real pleasure to be involved. It’s been a great Blogathon all in and I was honoured to get the chance to pick my favourite director(s).
Great stuff Mark. I really like The Coens’ stuff but haven’t seen this one. Cheers for getting involved buddy!
Cheers Chris. Thanks for having me. As a fan of the Coen’s, you should really check this out. It’s slightly dated but the strong material and delivery out-way any shortcomings it may have – which aren’t many, I might add.
Reblogged this on Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop.
Good review. 🙂 I never did watch this one…
Thanks! You should check it. If you’re a fan of the Coens that is. Me? I can’t get enough of those guys.
An excellent movie and an excellent piece of work here, great job, Mucker!!
Cheers Amigo! Glad to hear you’re a fan.
Good review. This movie’s a twisted one, but that’s what the Coens specialize in, which makes it even better to see where they got their start and such.
Cheers Dan. Yeah, it’s the perfect introduction to what would become their idiosyncratic style. Tight and twisted little film.
GREAT pick Mark! This is one I’ve missed out on from the Coens but I’ve heard great things about it so obviously I should see it! I always like a good noir and Roger Deakins’ cinematography surely is one to behold!
Thanks Ruth. The Coens are my personal favourites so to nab this one was a real stroke of luck. I didn’t come into the Blogathon till the last minute and when I noticed that this hadn’t been taken, I had to get involved. Brilliant little movie and easy to see why the Coens have the reputation that they do.
Awesome, glad you’re able to take part in this exclusive blogathon! I definitely need to check this out. As a Minnesotan I should get into more of the Coens’ work, definitely intrigued to see their first film!
Btw, hope you check out my entry tomorrow on Gone Baby Gone 😀
I half remember you saying a while ago that you didn’t fully take to the Coens’ style? Still, you should give this a go. See where it takes you.
I’ll definitely be popping by to check out your post 2moro. Wouldn’t miss it!
Wonderful write up, Mark. They are true artists 🙂
Thanks Cindy. They are indeed true artists. They have been my favourite directors for a very long time now. In all honesty, I don’t see anyone dethroning them any time soon.
Hi, Mark and Terry:
Excellent choice for a debut effort!
A cast of then nobodies swinging for the fences in their own rights in a gritty, sweaty Texas Noir that set the standard for others thereafter. Superb abusive husband and bad guy in Dan Hedaya, perhaps the slowest dying man in cinema. With M. Emmett Walsh rarely slimier as Dan’s hired private eye and “fixer”, Visser. Frances McDormand stuns slowly with clever and savvy saved up for the final showdown.
Very. Very good work, indeed, Mark!
Thanks Jack. That means a lot coming from yourself. I was hoping I’d do this justice. It’s such a fantastic little film that I will, quite simply, never forget the first time I seen it. Straight after it, I checked out Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing and from that moment on… the Coens had me. They’ve been my favourites for a very long time now.
Great review. I always love going back to films like this, after watching a lot of the other stuff of a particular film-makers filmography. So much of what the Coen Brothers use is evident in Blood Simple and it’s no doubt this is where it all began.
Cheers Nick. Absolutely agree, man. If you watch Blood Simple, it’s easy to see where the Coens were headed. Most of there films since have proven their style and abilities.
Nice review. The Coens are two of my all-time favorite directors and this is one of the few films by them I haven’t seen. I’ve heard a lot of connections between this and No Country For Old Men and Fargo, so I’ll have to check it out.
Thanks man! As a fan, it would serve you well to check it out. It’s clear from the offset where the Coen’s were going. Great little film and a very impressive debut.
Good stuff Mark, excellent write up as always. Im ashamed to admit I havent seen this one, will have to try dig it out and rectify that.
You must rectify that asap. Like I’ve said earlier, though. It has aged very well but the story and construction are still top class! Cheers Tyson!
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