"Though they are habitually described as snotty formalists with nothing on their minds but cinematic gamesmanship, the Coens' body of work is one of the most sneakily moralistic in recent American cinema." -Matt Zoller Seitz, http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2007/11/point-blank-no-country-for-old-men/
Matt Zoller Seitz has been one of my favorite film critics since I discovered his work in 2007.
I think that it was one of his early New World posts that first brought him to my attention earlier in 2007, but it was the post that I link to above that made me take notice. I've been following his work ever since, though I miss a lot of it now because I'm not online as much as I used to be and because he always seems to be writing (and doing video projects) at 4 or 5 places at once.
"I find it interesting, John, that you frame so much of your movie watching in moral terms."
Yeah, guilty as charged. I can't help myself.
If my posts about the Coens in particular tend toward "moralizing," it is because the "moralistic" is ever-present in their work.
I just finished watching the Hathaway/Wayne True Grit. Like you, only in reverse, I'm too close to the other True Grit adaptation to give it a fair shake. I liked it, but kept comparing and contrasting in a distracting way.
What is interesting to me is that, at every opportunity, the Coens chose to make their film more moral than the Hathaway adaptation.
Though I differ in a few particulars, I agree with Stanley Fish's summing up of things:
The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.
I'm not just talking about the narrative trappings of the film either, but the entire construction of it. I'm not willing to put in the work to show that how the film is constructed validates my gut feeling that the film is "a truly religious movie," but I essentially agree with Godard's playful statement that "tracking shots are a question of morality" or Moullet's "morality is a question of tracking shots."
Rohmer: And on the grounds that I found some elements in Hiroshima less seductive than others, I reserve judgment. There was something in the first few frames that irritated me. Then the film very soon made me lose this feeling of irritation. But I can understand how one could like and admire Hiroshima and at the same time find it quite jarring in places.
Doniol-Valcroze: Morally or aesthetically?
Godard: It's the same thing. Tracking shots are a question of
I know I like the Coens True Grit more than most. I have a feeling that if I live to make another "best of the decade" list in 2020, True Grit will still be hanging around. I like it at least as much as any of my favorite films of the last ten years.
Godard has also been quoted (but I haven't seen the source) as saying that "All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun." He's probably right, but I'm always personally more satisfied if a movie has a girl, a gun, and a God.
Put that in your snuff film box and smoke it.