The Lasting influence of 'Blood Simple'
Murder, double-crossing and Frances McDormand - three things we know Joel and Ethan Coen’s films for. The siblings' career started way back in 1984 with feature Blood Simple, a film whose influence on cinema and television is still visible to this day.
Haggard husband Marty (Dan Hedava) hires M. Emmet Walsh’s giddy private detective Visser to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz) upon his discovery of their affair. But when Visser decides to veer from the plan, events take a turn for the worst.
Blood Simple demonstrates the Coen’s early confidence in their unique style of dialogue that happily ping-pongs between their richly-drawn characters. It is imitated everywhere from the works of Wes Anderson to Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul, and is both sharp and silly in equal measure. This is best exemplified in the film’s grisly final exchange between Abby and Visser.
Blood Simple also marks the first collaboration between the pair and composer Carter Burwell, whose malevolent piano theme chills the very core of the film. This was Burwell’s first film score, and his work on Blood Simple was so influential that he, according to his website, “found [him]self with less and less time to do anything else.” Burwell has since gone on to write the soundtrack for 15 of the Coen’s movies, as well as scoring music for for films such as Anomalisa, Legend, and Carol.
Blood Simple’s cinematography has not gone unnoticed by cinematographer Michael Slovis, whose work on all five seasons of Breaking Bad was clearly influenced by Barry Sonnenfeld’s use of extreme close-ups and violent camera movement. The dramatic irony of Visser’s cigarette lighter winking at the audience from beneath Marty’s pile of fish, for example, would not look out of place upon the desk of Saul Goodman, and the sprinting camera movement across Ray’s front lawn could quite easily have taken place across that of Walter White.
The film’s influence has not escaped the later works of the Coens either: their obsession with isolated country roads was born from the climactic sequence between Ray and Marty, or arguably from the very first shot of the movie. Fargo, No Country for Old Men and 2014’s Inside Llewyn Davis all feature significant scenes based at the side of an empty country road, and they all have Blood Simple to thank for it.
With a budget of $1.5 million earned through their own style of crowd-funding (the brothers made a mock trailer for the film to show to potential investors), Blood Simple gouged a jagged hole into the American indie cinema scene - not unlike Ray’s car haphazardly carving into the rows of a neatly ploughed field. The use of crowd-funding to make up films’ budgets has grown in the last few years, notable examples include Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, illustrating Blood Simple’s financial influence on contemporary independent filmmaking as well as its revolutionary cinematic one.
From its beautiful opening chiaroscuro to the catchy harmony of The Four Tops ‘Same Old Song’, Blood Simple is an unparalleled neo noir thriller, and a classic Coen Brothers work through and through.It is no surprise then, that StudioCanal and the Independent Cinema Office have announced a brand new 4K restoration of the brothers’ iconic debut, overseen by the film’s cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld and Joel and Ethan themselves.
Blood Simple: Director’s Cut is released in cinemas on 6 October and on DVD, Blu-Ray and EST on 30 October, including brand new interviews with the Coen Brothers, M. Emmet Walsh, John Getz and Frances McDormand, as well as the investor trailer that kickstarted the whole project.