Fargo [1996)

America is getting crazy.

Perhaps we’ve always been crazy.

But it seems like people are flipping out for a multitude of reasons.

Life is unpredictable.

We can only plan so much.

And then random events impress themselves upon us.

In America we had pre-election stress.

Very immense.

And now we have post-election stress.

Perhaps one half of the country was more stressed before, and the other half is more stressed now.

But the side which is stressed now (the losing side) is really pissed off.

And they are baiting.  With night crawlers.

And racing.  With illogic.

It’s a sort of contagion one must be removed from often in order just to survive.

This tension, as it turns out, is aptly symbolized by the film Fargo.

I have never reviewed a Coen brothers film on here till now.

And this is a good one.

I hesitate to call it great.

It’s a little too self-conscious to be great.

But it is a compelling watch nonetheless.

Our director is Joel Coen.  Ethan was producing.

1987.

A tangled web woven by a rather mundane fellow named Jerry Lundegaard.

Up in the Scandinavian north of the USA.

A piece of shit towing a piece of shit.

Fargo, North Dakota.

It’s a sad story.

But funny in its idiosyncrasies.

The everyday life of the Dakotas.

Minnesota.  Iota.

It’s edgy.

Murders.

But in steps the marvelous Frances McDormand.

Such a humanizing presence here.

To draw out “funny-looking”…just “funny-looking”…other than being uncircumcised?

Steve Park is excellent as Mike Yanagita…with a Minnesota accent.

We don’t think of these things as possible.

Down here in Texas.

Like getting cut shaving.

Ouch.

And then a Paul Bunyan axe.

But the bizarre calmness of William H. Macy might take the cake.

Calm until the very end.

Perhaps we would call it bourgeois denial.

And so perhaps panic is natural.

When we see a complete lack of panic replaced by the Nile.

“Funny-looking” comes back.

In several feet of snow.

It might get cold tomorrow (!)…front blowing in.

One socked foot.  Like a periscope.

The sweetest thing is the romance between McDormand and John Carroll Lynch.

At the buffet.  Smorgasbord.  The Swedish meatballs.  Watching TV in bed.

Every night.

And waking up together, every morning.

It is quaint.

It is America.

It is the electoral college.

You have 50 states to which you must appeal.  Convincingly.

Buscemi is pretty priceless.

Foulmouthed small-time criminal…in over his head pretty quick.

Peter Stormare, as it turns out, is actually Swedish.

And taciturn.

And of course we can’t forget the brief candles of José Feliciano.

Not a masterpiece, but strangely compelling.

 

-PD

The Gold Rush [1925)

Sometimes a lack of words is sadness.

Down at the dancehall.  “Auld Lang Syne”…

Old long since.

Long long ago.

“Long, Long, Long”

From Robert Burns to George Harrison.

“Standing in the Doorway”

You left me…

Bad as Me.  “New Year’s Eve”…

Yeah, someone noticed.

It’s not as entertaining as “the rolls”.

[lointain]

…wisps of music on the wind with lonely snow.

There are good people in the world.

I can attest to that.

Whether they’re joking or not.

There are little miracles.

Like “the little tramp”…

A light flickering here and there.

In Alaska.

“Caroline Says II”

It takes a long time to watch a movie like this.

It takes a lifetime.

In this fashion.

To see it once…as a kid…in high school…and swoon to the wallflower image.

And now 20 years later (at least).

This time we know “the rolls” are coming.  Buzz rolls.  Open rolls.  Double-stroke.  Scotch snaps.

“Auld Lang Syne”

It is the sentiment of Dean Wareham on that last Galaxie 500 album.

“Fourth of July”

I stayed at home…

Dog biscuit…

This Is Our Music//

like Ornette…

1960.

Ah…I’m skipping around.  Snow blind.

Lost in a flurry.  Of activity.  Or snow.

Mack Swain…Georgia Hale.

And Charlie “Charles” Chaplin.

I don’t remember what version I saw as a kid.

Today.  I learned of a new version.  New being 1942.

Voice-overs by Chaplin.  I resisted at first.

Yet, this may have been the version I saw as a kid.

I don’t remember.  Cinema was just a dream in my heart.

But now I know.

For all the outcasts and underdogs.

I was asserting my personhood.  Making my own choices.  Silent film.  What a rebellion!

And now I know.

The other side of the coin.

It takes a lifetime to watch this film.

In the dancehall.

Invisible.

Leaning on a rattan cane.

The weight.

The world is meant to squash your dreams.

Currently.

Everywhere.

Some dream of Denmark.  Sweden.  Switzerland.

But I don’t live there.

And I don’t live much at all unless I let out a love cry like Albert Ayler.

Up on “Zion Hill”…

It don’t mean a thing.

It could be called Composition No. 173 like Anthony Braxton.

It’s the only way you know you’re still alive.

The only way I know I’m still alive.

The genius of Charlie Chaplin.

We didn’t know such things could be expressed.

And we were fascinated to find that they had been expressed so well so long ago.

-PD

Ostře sledované vlaky [1966)

There is no precursor for this delicious film.

Closely watched trains…

There is no warning.  No real foreshadowing of what awaits Miloš Hrma.

And I, of course, will not give away the game.

But let me tell you about this watershed moment in cinema.

You could say Czech New Wave.  You could also say Czechoslovak New Wave.

In the case of the auteur in question, Jiří Menzel, it is the former.

The movement was already going by this point.

1966.  Almost the midpoint, if we say 1962-1972.

But none of that matters too much.

What matters is this film.

Closely Watched Trains.  Ostře sledované vlaky.

And so we started with Romania.  A new wave.  A current phenomenon.  Briefly in vogue.  And completely deserving of the praise.

And we made a point to look elsewhere.  To Iran.  Because of Kiarostami.

And now we add a much older New Wave.  It is of particular interest to our first location (Romania).

In globetrotting through movies we hit some odd, beautiful destinations.  Nations.

Czechoslovakia.  No more.  Today.  Czech Republic.  Slovakia.  And Ukraine.

But none of this matters much either.

What matters is Miloš Hrma.  The shy boy.

We know.

Intimately.

Not easy.

If the meek shall inherit the earth (Earth?), then it’s a long time in coming.

I am fond.  Quoting Neil Young.

“Vampire Blues”

“Good times are coming/But they sure coming slow”

Indeed.

That is the situation of Václav Neckář’s character Miloš.

He has the delight of love.  Snow in the air.  Smoke from a steam locomotive.  A cloud of fleeting sparks.

Our heart beats rapidly for cute Jitka Bendová.  And we think of football.  We try to ignore the Bond girl essence of her name.

Because she is one of the most poetic faces in cinema.  No Wikipedia page for her.  At least not in English.

But it is this love between Miloš and Máša which gives us hope.

An adieu from the caboose (football, football).

No doubt Wes Anderson plumbed the depths of Closely Watched Trains while searching for his own cinematic language.

In fact, the beginning of this film is very much like the beginning of every Wes Anderson film.

An exposition of characters.

Some with peg-legs.

An old crazy uncle.

A cow with too many udders.

But the most crucial is the hypnotist.

If there is a precursor to Jiří Menzel (and there must be), then it is Renoir.  Renoir meets Eisenstein.  And sex.

Did I fail to mention?

Closely Watched Trains is a sexual tension which can no longer be crystalized.

And thus history served us well by preserving this document of a different age.

It is a naughty film, but not by today’s standards.

It is sex…as directed by Hitchcock.

And for that it is sexier.  More tense.  Taut.

Consider, for instance, the stamps.  Ooh la la.

If you go ga-ga for Gyllenhaal in Secretary, then you must see the breakthrough moment.  In cinema.

Like the first kiss.  May Irwin.  Thomas Edison.  But actually William Heise.  1896.

Big black maria.  Something/Anything?

Yes, in fact.

First, and most importantly, the telegraphist (as played by Jitka Zelenohorská).  Almost like Chantal Goya in Masculin Féminin, but better.  Same year.  1966.  Maybe Menzel got an idea from Godard.  In any case, Zelenohorská gives one for the ages.  Deliciously naughty.

And lest you run off feeling less-than-substantive edification, it is political as anything.  That’s where Eisenstein comes in.  A brief moment of cinematic intercutting.

And the war.  Like Les Carabiniers.  1963.  The Rossellini inspiration via Godard, perhaps?

But really it is a new cinema.  Czech!  Mind-blowing…

Sex is more erotic with a laugh.  Surreal.  Real.  More real than real.

In a stunning final coup Menzel brought us Naďa Urbánková.

One minute you’re thinking about a girl, another you’ve been rounded up by the state security apparatus.

And then they realize you’re nuts.

And they have pity on you.

Release you into the swaying grass.

And like Chaplin you waltz off into the sunset to fulfill your destiny.

What a film!

-PD