Browsing through the massive amount of daily mondo cinema linkage over at the always fabulous GreenCine Daily, one thing that popped out was that The New Yorker recently put up Pauline Kael‘s original review of Blood Simple written at the time of the Coens‘ film debut, February 1985. It’s a fascinating read, one because the length of the review is about 3-4 times longer than most press and/or magazine film reviews these days (Kael can and does get into some of the minutiae of the films matter) and and two because she seems to totally nail the foundation of the Coens‘ idiom, yet fails to actually get (or what she does get, rubs her the wrong way) what makes them so damn enjoyable as filmmakers. I offer you some excerpts below, but encourage any film fan to read the full review (HERE – be sure to scroll down, unless you are interested on what she has to say about Peter Weir‘s Witness).
“But [they don't] seem to know what to do with the actors; they give their words too much deliberation and weight, and they always look primed for the camera. So they come across as amateurs.”
“[Blood Simple] works best when someone misinterprets who the enemy is but has the right response anyway. (It’s like a bedroom farce, except that the people sneaking into each other’s homes have vicious rather than amorous intentions.)”
“Coen’s style is deadpan and klutzy, and he uses the klutziness as his trump card. It’s how he gets his laughs.”
“Blood Simple is that kind of student film on a larger scale. It isn’t really about anything except making a commercial narrative movie outside the industry. ”
“The reviewers who hail the film as a great début and rank the Coens with Welles, Spielberg, Hitchcock, and Sergio Leone may be transported by seeing so many tricks and flourishes from sources they’re familiar with. But the reason the camera whoop-de-do is so noticeable is that there’s nothing else going on.”
Now the Coens‘ filmography does indeed read like a tacky tourist trip through many of the classic genres of cinema (Screwball Comedy, Noir, Gangster, Slacker Comedy), and they’ve certainly managed at least one great American classic (That’d be Fargo, although many would also argue No Country For Old Men, or perhaps Barton Fink). Ms. Kael’s initial write-off seems a bit harsh, perhaps a backlash to the brothers coming so quick out of the gate into high falutin’ cinema circles. Over their 23 year career (Oi, Ethan was only 26 when this film was made) They have married successfully comedy to pathos, style to substance and most importantly, art-film to pop-entertainment. No small feat that.