starsky-score-8

Blood Simple (1984)

by Not Friends Cinema Club

Dear Frances,โฃ
โฃ
What do you ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ you werenโ€™t aware I was in the midst of a Coen Brothers retrospective series? Did I not make that abundantly clear? No? Crikey, I let go of the baton on that one. Apologies. Anyway, now that weโ€™re all on the same page I thought it would be an appropriate time to set aside the Coenโ€™s modern, polished works, and head back to the beginning: their debut, ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ (๐Ÿท๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿบ).

As a standalone film, ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ epitomises neo-noir in all its self-encaging torment with a nod to 1970/80s slasher flicks, but retrospectively when attributing it to the genre-manipulating brothers, the mechanisms and oddities which they imitate from noir and slasher films are the same which guided their current, undefinable style into fruition. Stylistically, ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ is the immature and unrefined origin of what would eventually become the duos trademarks. โฃ

๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ follows Julian (Dan Hedaya), a married man so defeated by jealousy over his wife Abbyโ€™s (Frances McDormand) adultery that he pays P.I. Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to have her and her lover, Ray (John Getz), killed. What ensues can be summarised by the metaphor of Julianโ€™s dead fish: โฃwe are all doomed by our desires.โฃ

The film is a peculiar concoction of the brothers’ influences. ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ bolsters low-synths, heavy sound effects, and pacey-camerawork, tilting a blood-stained hat to Sam Raimiโ€™s ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Œ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ญ ๐˜‹๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ (๐Ÿท๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿท) (which Joel helped edit), whilst obsessively convoluting itself as if being the offspring of noir-classics ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ช๐˜จ ๐˜š๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฑ (๐Ÿท๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿผ) and ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฏ (๐Ÿท๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿฟ). The youthfulness of these homages would mature into the idiosyncrasies theyโ€™re known for, such as the paranoia of footsteps in ๐˜•๐˜ฐ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜บ (๐Ÿธ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿฝ) and ๐˜‰๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ง๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ (๐Ÿธ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿถ๐Ÿพ), and the latter film’s bizarre web of misunderstandings.โฃ

But where ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ flourishes is in its course and unrefined tendency; the insanity of a slasher nightmare ruining the romanticism of infidelity. The blend of genre is less fluid and more sudden than their modern worksโ€” the edges of the duoโ€™s hybridity not yet bevelledโ€” but the conflation of style is still balanced and never out of place. A large part of this must be credited to Barry Sonnenfeldโ€™s camerawork, which is versatile enough to be labelled innately nomadic; always wandering, never settling. โฃ

The use of horror tactics creates a sickly sense of dread throughout the film, further aggravated by the characters who are literally dripping with sweat even amidst the cold. The feeling of being trapped in a moment in time isnโ€™t a stylistic trope, but a mechanism that explains the purgatories of self-sabotage. Julian himself is aware of this, stating โ€œIโ€™m staying right here in Hellโ€ before embarking on a quest of self-destruction. And what better way to do this than be accompanied by the Devil himself? In ๐˜– ๐˜‰๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ itโ€™s Sheriff Cooley; in ๐˜•๐˜ฐ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜บ itโ€™s Chigurh; in ๐˜‰๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ itโ€™s Charlie; and in ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ itโ€™s Visser. For the Coenโ€™s, the devil has a creased face and lives in the South.

โฃAlthough retrospective series can fall victim to repetitive elaborations, the Coen Brothers berserk hybridity and iconoclasticism disallows their filmography to be a boxset of similarities. ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ (๐Ÿท๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿพ๐Ÿบ) is unpolished and therefore unwillingly helpful in somewhat understanding their methods and the origins of, but by the same account, it almost distances our understanding by showing us how dense their repertoire is and how much more they appropriate. A definition is impossible. Itโ€™s endless. And Iโ€™m tired. But as I walk to bed Iโ€™ll remember what ๐˜‰๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜š๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ did teach me:โฃ
โฃ
When you hear footsteps, be sure theyโ€™re not your own. โฃ
โฃ
Until next time.โฃ
โฃ
Warm regards,โฃ
โฃ
M.โฃ