A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fargo (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1996)

Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch in Fargo
Marge Gunderson: Frances McDormand
Jerry Lundegaard: William H. Macy
Carl Showalter: Steve Buscemi
Gaear Grimsrud: Peter Stormare
Wade Gustafson: Harve Presnell
Jean Lundegaard: Kristin Rudrüd
Norm Gunderson: John Carroll Lynch
Stan Grossman: Larry Brandenburg
Lou: Bruce Bohne
Mike Yanagita: Steve Park
Shep Proudfoot: Steve Reevis
Scotty Lundegaard: Tony Denman

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Production design: Rick Heinrichs
Film editing: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Music: Carter Burwell

Every time I watch Fargo, which has been a lot of times, I start out trying to figure how Joel and Ethan Coen bring off the film's unique tone, its shifts from extreme violence to almost benign humor. But then I get caught up in the film itself and forget to make notes. This time around, I found myself struck by Carter Burwell's score, which helps create the mood of the melancholy snow-swept landscape but also occasionally breaks into something like an Elizabethan mode -- think John Dowland or Thomas Tallis, for example -- which, set against the Muzak that pours from speakers in various interior scenes, makes for a strangely wistful effect. The sound ambience of Fargo -- boots crunching on snow, the pinging of open car door alerts, the whine of the wood-chipper that we hear well before we see it -- adds to the film's special capturing of a sense of place. There are a few critics who don't love Fargo, who think that it's snotty and condescending toward the people who live in places like the film's Brainerd and other outskirts of the Twin Cities -- the place where the Coens grew up -- but I think they miss the film's affection for people like the Gundersons, especially in the final scene in which Marge and Norm snuggle in bed and dream of the child they'll have in two months. This scene would be ickily sentimental in other contexts, but it feels just right: The Gundersons are survivors in a landscape that does all it can to drive people mad, a madness that manifests itself in Jerry Lundegaard's financial desperation, his father-in-law's meanness, the killers' disregard for human life, or just the sad fantasy world in which Mike Yanagita seems to exist. It takes a special kind of stoic acceptance tinged with hope to live there, which the Gundersons exhibit perfectly. 

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