Blood Simple

Blood Simple (1984)
Universal Home Video
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Filmmakers Notes

Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have spent the last seventeen years flaunting traditional movie storytelling with such quirky fare as ’Raising Arizona, ’ the Oscar-winning ’Fargo’ and ’O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ ’Blood Simple, ’ the 1984 film that put the writer/director siblings on Hollywood’s radar, goes digital with Universal Home Video’s new DVD edition.

The film concerns Texas bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), stewing over the recently discovered infidelity of his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) with bartender Ray (John Getz). Stung by the explicit photographic proof supplied by sleazy private investigator Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh, superb here), Marty retains Loren for yet another task, one that will end the affair permanently. Any further discussion of the plot would be futile. From that point, predictability and formula violently acquiesce to the Coens’ patented genre-bending style.

While the Coens dazzle with inventive camera movements and a clever script, I found it difficult to feel for the characters. First we side with Abby and Ray, supposedly innocent lovers inadvertently snared in a web of deceit. The next moment we see how chance eats away their fragile bond. We even sympathize with Marty in one particularly gruesome scene. Maybe it’s me, but the Coens’ skewed use of genre stereotypes, whether in screwball comedies (’The Hudsucker Proxy,’ ’O Brother’), gangster melodramas (’Miller’s Crossing’) or even buddy films (’The Big Lebowski’), alienates the audience from any emotional connection with the characters. ’Blood Simple’ almost reaches that point for me but I know I am in a critical minority.

To my recollection, the DVD marks the first widescreen video release of ’Blood Simple.’ The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite good, with solid colors and excellent detail delineation, right down to the elaborate etchings on Loren’s cigarette lighter. The image exhibits solid black levels and stable contrast, allowing details to come through in dark scenes. Grain crops up intermittently, but it could have been a lot worse. (Credit cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld there.) Fleshtones are natural looking and the source print shows no blemishes. Some edge enhancement is evident, but otherwise I found no digital or compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital stereo surround packs a decent punch with balanced levels, clean dialogue and a surprising amount of rear channel activity. For a matrixed soundtrack, the surrounds sounded quite separate, almost like discrete multi-channel audio. Low frequency enhancement is sparse, save for a few bolsters to Carter Burwell’s score and beefing up a few sound effects.

The supplements revolve around the restoration efforts of fictitious Forever Young Films. A filmed prologue by film preservationist Mortimer Young explains how ’Blood Simple’ was ’digitally swabbed’ and ’the boring parts taken out.’ I almost bought it until he cites the ’Ultra, Ultra sound, a Lucas process.’ The joke continues with the screen-specific commentary by Kenneth Loring, another Forever Young representative. Whether discussing the difficulties of actors emoting ’right side up’ or advising viewers to speed past the ’talking parts,’ the earnestness of the mock track offers a few chuckles. Like cream cheese on a bagel, it only works in limited doses. A full-screen theatrical trailer and fairly informative cast and production notes offer some historical background, as well as explain the title. Like the film itself, it’s a leap.