September 4th, 2013: Blood Simple (1984)

blood simple

Cast and Crew:   Barry Sonenfeld (Cinematography); Holly Hunter

What It’s About: Bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) hires a private eye (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) and her boyfriend Ray (John Getz), one of Marty’s bartenders.  Of course, lack of trust, double crosses and each characters actions combine to make a mess of what begins as a simple, if bloody, plan…

Why Watch it Today?:  The Four Tops “It’s the Same Old Songpeaked for the last time at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart today in 1965.  Why is this significant?  It illustrates how even a simple soundtrack change can effect a movie.  When Blood Simple, the Cohen Brothers first feature film, was released, the classic song was used in a scene when Marty’s other bartender at his shit-kicker bar, Meurice (Samm-Art Williams) hops over the bar, walks over to the jukebox, and walks back as the Four Tops upbeat by lyrically melancholy song plays.  Blood Simple was an independent film that only made a modest profit, so when it was released to video the song in this scene was changed to a more economical version of “I’m a Believer” covered by Neil Diamond.  The change effects the scene-for one thing, it seems incongruous that Meurice is a real big Neil Diamond fan, but, more importantly, the choice of the song itself, which originally emphasized what happened in the previous scene as well as the changing relationships of several characters, is lost, and we’re left with a song clearly chosen as a non-country song with a nostalgic edge that was cheap, rather than appropriate for events of the film.  Oh, the tyranny of song rights!

The scene as it originally played (if you go earlier in the scene you can get a better idea of why the song was chosen, though it is slightly spoilerific).  I wasn’t able to find a similar clip of the scene with “I’m a Believer”, but just imagine it.

The Coens restored the original song for their (edited) re-release to art houses in 1998, so you’re unlikely to see the terrible Neil Diamond version of this scene unless you really dig around.  Blood Simple is a rough early effort from the filmmakers that gives hints of the films they would go on to make, while simultaneously settling in the darkest regions of their filmmaking, producing a Neo Noir whose thriller elements occasionally verge on horror territory (no doubt helped by their association at the time with fellow enfant terrible Sam Raimi).

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