Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Coens Part 3: The Stylized and Quirky

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Fight on, fight on, dear old Muncie
Fight on, hoist the gold and blue
You'll be tattered, torn, and hurten
Once the Munce is done with you
Go... Eagles!

The Coens are clearly in love with mid 20th century America. They often embed their stories in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s music, fashion, slang and overall zeitgeist. I hate that word, by the way. Such a stupid college term paper word.

This movie is rich with detail. The board room, the mail room, the coffee shop, the news room are all overflowing with exaggerated style that reinforces every notion I have of what life was like 20 years before I was born. I also love the razor sharp dialogue. I really wish people actually talked like this all the time. Wouldn’t life be more interesting?

In the Hudsucker Proxy we see the Art Deco world of 1950’s New York. This hyper-reality tells the story of a rube from Muncie, Indiana named Norville Barnes (Tim Robins). Norville comes to town with his degree from the Muncie School of Business to make it big in the corporate excess of the post war boom with a million dollar idea that would bring people together even though it keeps them apart, spatially. You know, for kids. He gets swept up in the diabolical plan of one Sidney Mussberger (Yeah yeah, sure sure) played by Paul Newman. That’s right, Paul Freaking Newman. Second only to Steve McQueen on the all time list of movie badasses.

The clip below sets up the general premise of the movie. Nothing bores me more than writing or reading a synopsis. So I’m done.

Norville’s first day at work in the Hudsucker Mail Room.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

If you told me in 1999 that in a year I would fall in love with a Three Stooges musical, set in 1930’s Mississippi, based on a Greek poem, starring Georg Clooney, I think would have been a little skeptical. But Joel and Ethan pulled it off. Seriously, the premise of this movie seems like a joke. Like one of their friends dared them to take the most difficult, ridiculous idea and make it into an Oscar nominated hit. When taking the scale of difficulty into account, this may be their best film.

Much like Hudsucker, O, Brother is overflowing with art design details and fast pitch dialogue. Set in the rural south during the depression this movie is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. I emphasize the word loosely. If you are familiar with the original story, don’t get hung up on it. They don’t make too big of an effort in staying true to it.

“Pete, the personal rancor reflected in that remark I don't intend to dignify with comment. But I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativism. Consider the lilies of the goddamn field or... hell! Take at look at Delmar here as your paradigm of hope.”

Seriously, why don’t people really talk like this? Here’s a link to a pretty long list of worthy quotes from this movie. Worthy but no where near complete.

One more thing. The music of O, Brother is its defining feature. As a result of this movie and its soundtrack, I have developed a great love of Bluegrass music. Man I love the sound of a good Dobro. O, Brother is a musical. You don’t know it’s a musical while you watch it but most of the songs you hear are being performed by the actors within the story. The chain gang, the Christian congregation, The Soggy Bottom Boys, the sirens, The Wharvey Gals, The KKK, the gravediggers all create the music we hear on screen.

As a general rule, I hate musicals. Next time you see me, ask me what I think of Grease. Actually, don’t. I will unleash a tirade of hateful venom that no one needs to hear. But if Grease featured a gopher eating, lovable dimwit named Delmar, I just might love it. But it doesn’t, so I don’t. Grease sucks. I just offended every female reading this blog. Part of me is proud of that. There’s a reason I’m not married, I just ain't bonafide.


Gregg said...

Sorry, but Paul Neumann is 3rd on the list of movie badasses. One is McQueen, I'll give you that, but #2is Lando Calrissian

cool_guy said...

I have often aspired to be more like Delmer...

He has a certain peacefullness in his life view that I find reassuring in these troubled times...