Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Collected Screenplays Vol 1 (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink) by Ethan and Joel Coen

Reading these screenplays, I felt like what I suspect people who know Shakespeare well and have seen the plays over and over again must feel when reading him on the page. I have seen all four of these movies many, many times. The Coens are my favorite filmmakers, and Miller’s Crossing is one of my very favorite movies, and the others are all beloved. What first drew stood out to me in the Coen’s work was the dialog; delightful lines that sound like no one in real life. These read nearly as well as the experience of watching the films themselves.

Having Roderick James (the pseudonym under which they collectively edit most of their films) write the introduction was a great in-joke. James tells tall tales about the tangled way that he ended up with editing credits, despite his editing decisions being ignored. He even says the scripts were better than the movies! The basis of this opinion was that it didn’t suffer from the editing that the films were after they were taken out of his hands.

Speaking of editing, it was interesting to see several scenes that were taken out of the movies. One that stood out was a scene at the end of Miller’s Crossing in which Verna tells Tom about Bernie’s funeral. It seems mainly designed to demonstrate why Verna is so angry at Tom despite knowing that he didn’t actually kill Bernie. The scene would have worked, but was condensed to one line spoken by another character in the film.

Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing would have worked just as well as crime novels. The dialog and stage directions could easily be adapted that way. In all three the dialog stands on its own. I love that Raising Arizona references both Flannery O’Connor (warthog from Hell!) and Faulkner (the Snopes brothers). All three have lines that I think about and quote regularly from having seen the films so many times. The Coens are masters at all aspects of their craft, but the writing was what drew me to them in the first place and is still my favorite aspect of their work.  I will resist typing out thirty of them now.

The scripts are Canon-Worthy, no surprise since I would consider the latter three films represented as canon.

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