Thursday, September 4, 2008

Coens' part 1: Biology and the Prejudices of Others . . .

Raising Arizona (1987)

Is there a more perfect comedy? I don't know that there is. Endlessly quotable, precise in its observation but still very affectionate to the subject of its ridicule. You can tell that the Coen's really care about H.I. and Ed (Short of Edwina. Turn to the right!).

There is a rhythm to the dialogue that takes a little time to appreciate, so multiple viewings are mandatory. Here's a fun fact about me. In 1999, I logged on to the internet for the first time. A little late, I know. I was on a mission for the previous two years. Anyway, with this newfangled tool to explore the collective knowledge of mankind, do you know the first thing I searched for on Netscape Navigator? "Raising Arizona screenplay". To my joy, I found it and printed off all 30 pages of it. I then annotated the hell out of that thing. It is a very worthy piece of literature. Here's a link. Iihii looohove it sohoo muuuch! (can't really spell it the way Ed says it, but you get the idea)

I don't want to break the whole thing down here, so I'll be brief. What makes Raising Arizona such an impressive movie are two primary characteristics that are often not found in mainstream comedies. It's a very high quality film, regardless of it humor. And as funny as it is, it is almost entirely a wholesome comedy. Let me explain.

Outside of being funny, it is still very good. That can't be said for most comedies. Austin Powers is a very funny movie. But it is not a good movie by any stretch. Which is fine, it isn't trying to be a good movie. But if you adjusted the acting and the dialogue of Raising Arizona, and made it into a film about two desperate people trying to find happiness, this would be a compelling drama that wrestles with themes of moral justification, personal duality and fate. Instead, they went the screwball route. They kept all of the substance but disguised it with a zany stylization that disarms the viewer. You can watch this movie several times without ever knowing how brilliant it really is.

There's some serious symbolism of the lone biker. There's a reason he has the same tattoo as H.I., there's a reason he dreampt of the biker before he saw him. There's a meaning to the song Ed sings when H.I. wakes up from his nightmare. If you give it some thought, there's some serious meat to this film. But if a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass a hoppin'.

I also mentioned wholesome humor. This movie don't know a cuss word from Shinola. Look, I have nothing against profanity laced filth. I’m all for it and so are the Coens as any Big Lebowski fan will attest. But there are is something to be said for a comedy that abstains from excessive vulgarity and sex jokes for its humor (with the exception of the "as in to swing" conversation and the unfortunate f word in the following clip). It relies on wit, verses audacity to get a laugh. It’s a more difficult path to travel.

Finally, this movie contains the greatest final line in the history of cinema. H.I. reflecting on a hopeful future: "And it seemed like, well... our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away, where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all the children are happy and beloved. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah." Thanks for the love, H.I.

The following is a clip of the first ten minutes of the movie. I tried to get the entire prologue but it isn't easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. It cuts off right at "Unpainted Arizona! To get the finest seIectionin fixtures and appointments for your bathroom, bedroom, boudoir!" Don't bother asking about the southern accents in Arizona. Just enjoy it. I especially love the banjo music. Ode To Joy never sounded so good.

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