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Fargo


Paul Bruening
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I just caught Fargo on Comedy Central. What a fine movie. Something I noticed on Burn After Reading is the same that I've noticed in Fargo, Big Lebowski and Oh, Brother. The Coens will expend energy on character richness. I've inherited basic notions of script writing from the overall pile and experience of movies. Like most writers I try to keep character development trim on supporting characters. I weight the larger proportion of character development onto the principles. The Coens place what could be seen as inefficient indulgence of character richness on their supporting characters. They break those standby, unwritten rules of story telling. But, boy-howdy, can they make it work. Somehow, they can enrich their characters without being distracting. Damn, I really respect those guys.

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I liked it. Anyone else find characters from the Coen brother films to be slightly, Cleudo'ish?

 

I don't know how to explain them, almost novel in a way.

 

I like that about their films. They're characters. They're not really even trying to make real people because this is more interesting.

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I like that about their films. They're characters. They're not really even trying to make real people because this is more interesting.

 

Unfortunately, I think that the actors failed to bring them to life in an honest way. With the exception of Richard Jenkins, Tilda Swinton, and J.K. Simmons, the rest of the cast are outside their characters, commenting on how stupid and ridiculous they are... even Frances McDormand, who brought so much honesty to the quirky Marge Gunderson in Fargo, is over-the-top and constantly commenting on her character.

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Unfortunately, I think that the actors failed to bring them to life in an honest way. With the exception of Richard Jenkins, Tilda Swinton, and J.K. Simmons, the rest of the cast are outside their characters, commenting on how stupid and ridiculous they are... even Frances McDormand, who brought so much honesty to the quirky Marge Gunderson in Fargo, is over-the-top and constantly commenting on her character.

 

I thought it was pretty obvious that this is all intentional, and very much part of the charm of the movie -- if you dug it that is. The word "Failed" implies that they were intending to do something different and fell short somehow, which is not the case.

 

The actors are all almost "cartoony" in a great way. Yet at the same time, there's so much being said about this certain kind of dumbed down aspect of north-american culture, which is reflected in the performances.

 

I for one thought the tone of the acting was pitch-perfect for this particular story. Fargo is a very different movie, and much more grounded in reality. Someone else put it better than me recently when they wrote the Coen's are laughing AT their characters here, instead of with them. The actors are obviously on the same page here.

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Someone else put it better than me recently when they wrote the Coen's are laughing AT their characters here, instead of with them. The actors are obviously on the same page here.

 

That is a great way to put it, and some people consider that sloppy or easy filmmaking. It's easy to make somebody to laugh at... we get it all the time in recent Will Ferrell comedies... or on YouTube. It makes for better comedy, and a better film in general, when the viewer believes that the actor believes they're normal. Stupid people don't know they're stupid. Just seems a little low for the Coen's usual standards.

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That is a great way to put it, and some people consider that sloppy or easy filmmaking. It's easy to make somebody to laugh at... we get it all the time in recent Will Ferrell comedies... or on YouTube. It makes for better comedy, and a better film in general, when the viewer believes that the actor believes they're normal. Stupid people don't know they're stupid. Just seems a little low for the Coen's usual standards.

 

I would have a hard time comparing this film to Will Ferrel or Youtube lol. It's smart and subversive, and is commenting on some pretty ridiculous aspects of North American culture. It's ambitious. Just because we're laughing at the characters, doesn't make it lazy filmmaking by default, does it? Whatever happened to Context?

 

Also, I was under the impression the characters in Burn after reading didn't know they were stupid. We know they're stupid, and the actors know they're stupid, but the characters don't. Does Pfarrer look in the mirror every morning and go "God, It's shocking how unbelievably stupid I am" ? I don't think so. He just is.

 

Anyway, point is, the films tone and performances are intentional and to a certain effect. Now it may not play to your sensibilities, but that's got little to do with how effective it is. ;)

Edited by Ayz Waraich
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Ok, you're right... I did enjoy the film. I laughed at George Clooney and Brad Pitt. So for that, I give it credit... it made me smile for 2 hours.

 

However, you state the cardinal rule for bad acting... "the actors know they're stupid". Actors are supposed to identify with their characters fully... and that means that evil characters don't see themselves as evil, stupid characters don't see themselves as stupid, annoying characters... you get the idea. I didn't invent the "rules", but I can tell when they're working for me, and that's one I've always stuck with.

 

An interviewer talking to Lee Marvin commented that it must be awful always playing bad people. Marvin responded "Me? I don't play bad people. I play people struggling to get through the day, doing the best they can with what life's given them. Others may think they're bad, but no. I never play bad people."

 

My point isn't that Burn After Reading is not a decent movie to laugh at while you're watching, but because of this awareness on the part of the actors, it will never be considered a classic like Fargo... or any of Lee Marvin's films for that matter.

 

Good discussion though... thanks.

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Agreed, good discussion.

 

Just wanted to address one more thing you mentioned:

 

However, you state the cardinal rule for bad acting... "the actors know they're stupid". Actors are supposed to identify with their characters fully... and that means that evil characters don't see themselves as evil, stupid characters don't see themselves as stupid, annoying characters... you get the idea. I didn't invent the "rules", but I can tell when they're working for me, and that's one I've always stuck with.

 

Russel Crowe once said (i'm paraphrasing) in an interview that he doesn't think actors should always indentify with their characters actions. He felt it his job as a storyteller to comment on a characters behavior or actions. I'm of a similar mind... while it's true the rule is a good one and works for the most part, some really good actors find a way to comment on the characters behaviour without making the character aware of their behaviour. If you take that idea to another level, you've got essentially what the Burn after reading esemble is doing. I think its actually quite difficult to pull off that tone where the characters are totally recognizable from real life, yet absurdly larger than life, BUT still not aware of themselves. It's one of the many reasons I really respect these performances/characters the Coens pull out every now and then. I think Raising Arizona falls in a similar territory, though a very different film.

 

but because of this awareness on the part of the actors, it will never be considered a classic like Fargo...

 

Again, Raising Arizona. Actors are very aware of themselves in the same way, and its definitely considered a classic, and gotten more attention with time. There's many other examples too.

 

But yeah, this isn't so much me debating you anymore, as it is just me thinking out loud on some of these points that you've got me thinking about. So yes, good discussion indeed. :)

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