Debuts Blogathon: Joel Coen – Blood Simple (1984)
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.