John McFetridge and I take down the Coens and steal Jay Stringer's lunch money
|Don't shoot me; my cultural|
references are my art.
John McFetridge: I want to like this many, many times, Peter.
P.R.: Say the word, and I'll post it again.
J.McF.: I think when it comes to the Coens (much like when it comes to Quentin Tarantino), it's best to keep any comments other than unqualified praise to ourselves.
P.R.: No, occasional criticism of Tarantino is permitted. The thing about criticizing the Coens is that it amounts to criticizing their culture and, hence, their fans. I think they appeal to an audience that is nervous that it won't get the joke, so must be told "Hey, this is just a joke!" even as it is told the joke.
Jay Stringer: I'm happy to hear the criticism. I disagree with it, but I like to hear the other side in things because I'm never afraid to change my mind
P.R.: The Coens and Tarantino are also brilliant visual stylists, which probably helps, even if the visual style is occasionally cringe-makingly arty and referential. That way, people who don't get the reference can enjoy the visual feast, and people who do get it can congratulate themselves for getting it.
J.McF.: I think there's also a fair amount of making fun of hicks in the Coens' movies. I suppose some pushback against the aw-shucks, wise man (I blame Will Rogers) is needed, but I don't like what I see.
J.S.: I wouldn't lump those two (well, three) artists together. Unless it's maybe as opposite ends of something. I think Tarantino has a conscious effort to be cool. I think the Coens have a conscious effort to be uncool. Whilst both are making that conscious effort, I think the latter leaves more room for interesting characters, stories, and, observations, whereas as 'cool' will always get in the way.
J.McF.: No, I don't think the movies have anything in common, I just find that both filmmakers have fans the way boy bands have fans. Which is fine, of course. I've come to accept that when it comes to art and culture I am pretty much universally wrong.
J.S.: John, I can agree with you on that. I see far less of that behavior among Coen fans, but then, I would, because I'm one of them.
P.R.: What about that nonsense with the hat blowing along the ground in, I think, Miller's Crossing? I think you may be right about the cool/uncool, Tarantino/Coen split. The key word in the case of both is "conscious," because it's a tiny leap from "conscious" to "forced."
J.S.: Peter, you're right, it's a very small leap from one to the other. And sometimes I think the Coens have taken that leap and made a mess (just as I think Tarantino has made one brilliant film, where he took enough of a step back) but I think they've stayed on the right side of that line for many great films
P.R.: You could be right, though I'm skeptical. I've seen just a few of their movies, but those include some that have been highly praised. Still, I don't pretend to be able to offer anything like an assessment of their career.
J.McF.: Remember your comments about "The River"? I think much of that applies here.
P.R.: When I have time, I may post later about George Clooney's performance in "O, Brother ... " Though the performance is enough to make me cringe, I can't fault Clooney because he was obviously performing in a style that had been dictated or at least indulged by the Coens, so I blame them.
J.S.: John, I should clarify, the behavior I was saying I could see was the more 'fan' culture. But as for your point about them making fun of certain groups, I hadn't seen it, but maybe it's a fair point I can look for it in future.
J.S.: I think maybe for me, it's usually come down to it not sticking out that they single out one group, because so often EVERYONE in the film is an idiot. Burn After Reading did that (and was one of their most criticized films, but I loved it); the film is full of idiots.
J.McF.: It's probably me. People often told me the Coen brothers' movies were smart (or even that they were "for" smart people). So I probably approached them defensively (I used to struggle, being one of the least smart people in any room I was in, it doesn't bother me so much anymore), but there always seemed to be some winking about the idiots in the films. Sure, most of the characters are idiots, but we're not meant to empathize with them at all, we're meant to laugh at them.
J.S.: Oh I'd agree if that's how the films were being sold to you. Hate that in any field. "For smart people" is just another form of exclusivity to art. It's utter crap.
J.S.: But take Fargo as an example. I think what we're really being asked to laugh at in that film is pride. Ego. Self-delusion. That cuts across class and social barriers. Everyone loses in that film out of stupidity driven by one of those traits, and the only character who really has it screwed on is the down-to-earth, working, married mother-to-be.
P.R.: In re making fun of hicks, I liked Fargo, and I think most people did. One criticism I heard was from somebody from that part of the county who said the accents in the movie were bad, that people don't talk the way the Coens had them talk.
J.McF.: I think the exaggerated accents are part of it. Like George Clooney's performance in O Brother, it's an artistic decision I don't understand. I suppose it simply goes over my head, but to me the exaggerated accents draw attention to and isolate the characters, making them more other and less likely for much of the audience to relate to them. And make them easy to make fun of. Of course, maybe going through those emotions while watching is supposed to make us in the audience (who think those things) uncomfortable with our own preconceived notions and with ourselves. I'm totally in favor.
|Visual nonsense from Miller's|
J.S.: I can certainly empathize with locals who don't like the Fargo accents. I get it every time I watch Peaky Blinders. That's set in my patch, where my Miller books are set, and those weird accents drive me NUTS.
P.R.: I should make it clear that I don't remember noticing a problem with the accents; I've never been to that part of the United States. But I, in turn, can empathize with someone from Glasgow or Ireland being impatient with bad accents, since those are the sources of what are probably the most widely and badly imitated of accents in English.
P.R.: What bugged me about Clooney's performance in O, Brother... was that tag line that the Coens had him deliver throughout, something like: "Boy, that really hits the spot!" The Coens had him deliver the line in obvious imitation of a bad ham actor. If the idea was to show that George Clooney, sex symbol, was capable of light comedy, why not just have him do light comedy instead of imitating someone trying to imitate comedy? It's just one more bit of Coenish meta.
J.McF.: Like Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy repeating, "You know, for kids."
J.S.: Can't argue. It's a fair criticism of writing being a little on the nose.
P.R.: Also in re making fun of hicks, remember those funny names that people on social media would make up about those Oregon folks who took over the wildlife refuge? The names included "Y'all-Qaeda" and "Yee-hadies" and such. Now, why is Southern speech used to mock an action led by two brothers from Oregon whose father was from Nebraska? No need to look far for an answer to that question. Vanilla ISIS is pretty funny, though.
J.S.: Yeah I didn't really like the way those people were/are turned into a joke. Not because I don't find them preposterous, but because I don't think it's the right way to address the issues. And I don't want to make jokes out of those guys, while being complicit in a media that in turn makes poor city street kids into villains and heroes.
"Peter, John & Jay discuss stuff." Should be a panel somewhere.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015