Today is


   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Friday, February 15, 2008


No Country for Old Men

Jim Emerson has a lovely analysis of No Country For Old Men here. (Spoilers galore.)

Emerson understands something about the oft-mentioned but dimly appreciated "technical perfection" of the Coen brothers' movies. The perfection of the movies, the beauty of the cinematography, all the elements of a movie's style, are integral to the film:

"No Country for Old Men" has been called a "perfect" film by those who love it and those who were left cold by it. Joel and Ethan Coen have been praised and condemned for their expert "craftsmanship" and their "technical" skills -- as if those skills had nothing to do with filmmaking style, or artistry; as if they existed apart from the movie itself. Oh, but the film is an example of "impeccable technique" -- you know, for "formalists." And the cinematography is "beautiful." Heck, it's even "gorgeous." ...

But what do those terms mean if they are plucked out of the movie like pickles from a cheeseburger? How is something "beautiful" apart from what it does in the film? (See uncomprehending original-release reviews of "Barry Lyndon" and "Days of Heaven," for example, in which the "beautiful" was treated as something discrete from the movie itself.) When somebody claims that a movie overemphasizes the "visual" -- whether they're talking about Stanley Kubrick or Terence Malick or the Coens -- it's a sure sign that they're not talking about cinema, but approaching film as an elementary school audio-visual aid. When critics (and viewers) refer to the filmmakers' application of "craft," "technique," and "style" (can these things be applied, casually or relentlessly, with a spatula?) without consideration of how these expressions function in the movie, we're all in trouble. A composition, a cut, a dissolve, a movement -- they're all manifestations of craft (or skill), technique (the systematic use of skill), style (artistic expression).

It's the old Cartesian schism between body and mind, only aestheticized into an illusory (and impossible) split between form and content, style and meaning, craft and art. You may as well try to take the VistaVision out of "The Searchers" and put it in a bowl, extricate the editing and hang it on the shower rod, remove the John Ford and place it over there, next to the radiator.


If you've already seen the movie, read the whole thing.

3 Comments:

Blogger stewdog said...

Again. . too many words. Can't he just say "Thumbs up" and be done with it?
Fargo was on cable the other night and I had to watch it again after No Country. God, what a fantastic movie that was. "I think I'm gonna barf".

February 16, 2008 12:34 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Thank you, Emperor Joseph II. :)

February 16, 2008 1:03 PM  
Anonymous patrick said...

just saw no country for old men, it's unassumingly unconventional yet (thankfully) never over-the-top. the Coen bros. deserve their Oscars; well done indeed.

March 12, 2008 11:20 AM  

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