10 January 2011

Thoughts On: True Grit

Plain old genre work kicks ass.  True Grit is the least self-consciously "Coen" of the Coen Brothers' movies, and I couldn't be happier.  Hey, not that their "Coen-i-ness" isn't entertaining and all.  Or maybe I'm just digging on a fresh Western, for the most part.

I don't really turn on the film school switch in my head anymore.

That's old school quirky, right there, pardner.

I feel the need to point out that True Grit isn't really a remake in the modern day spirit of the term.  To almost everybody's way of thinking these days, a remake is something cynical, designed to cash in on nostalgia.  If there's a business angle to redoing the passable but desperately unhip 1969 John Wayne western, True Grit, I'm missing it.  The original movie has zero resonance for most people under retirement age.  And those around retirement age?  Well, let's just say by 1969, the self-obsessed baby boomers and the thickening throwback John Wayne had more or less bid each other adios and ridden off into very opposite sunsets.




(Subsequent generations probably know the original film best as little more than a trivia answer.  "The one he won the Oscar for?  Oh, you know, that one with the girl with the Beatles haircut...")

But the remake thing has me thinking about "borrowing." 

I've always thought of the Coen Brothers as being from the "Reveling In It" school of film borrowing.  This school's most famous graduate is probably Quentin Tarantino, but the lineage stretches back past Brian DePalma and his schoolgirl-style Hitchcock obsession, all the way to the French New Wave and what I imagine were a lot of tedious conversations about the auteuristic merit of John Ford's jodhpurs.

The Coens started their careers joyfully excavating Preston Sturges and Frank Capra and I forget who else.  (Those were film school days for me, and I've done my best to blank them out.)  "Reveler" knock-off films can be cool, and they even can be standout achievements, but I've never fully been able to love them.  The very best Tarantino, for me, will always feel like a cool cover song played on an amplified guitar with a lot of fuzzy pedal effects.   Eric Clapton can play the hell out of a Robert Johnson song, sure.  But Johnson's recordings are the real deal.  

Sure, the Coens developed their own, true voice sometime around Fargo and left the glib knock-off stuff (mostly) behind them, but True Grit feels to me like the first time they've let a genre have an earnest controlling share of the final product.   Like if they'd let The Man Who Wasn't There be an actual Film Noir.

And to tie in the borrowing theme a little more, Carter Burwell's score is built around old-timey favourites like Leaning (On The Everlasting Arms).  A remake score for a remake.

I don't know what that means, if anything.  I'm just noting the symmetry of it in an effort to look smart.

 It impresses the chicks.

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