Thursday Morning Rant: From Film Scores to Coen Brothers’ New ‘Fargo’ TV Series

Coen brothers, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Fargo film, Fargo TV Series, FX Fargo, film scores, film music, movie scores, William H. Macy, indie films
Fargo (1996)

All films should be silent. A glaucomic spinster with a perm can play the piano, popcorns, nachos and other loud snacks are welcome, and the Forest Gump sitting behind me can keep laughing at the wrong jokes. I’ve watched films during family dinners, airplane turbulences, in crowded bars, even at my 14th birthday party-Marty had just crashed the Delorean as my friends were about to cut the pink Barbie cake. The bottom line is-I’ve been successfully immunized against outside noises. What I can’t stand are those shoved into my ears by film composers, hijacking my endocrine system, talking my rapidly aging synapses into collaboration, commanding me to feel sad, scared or simply overwhelmed. By the time my brain puts on a bathrobe and figures out what’s happening, all systems are under siege and fully obedient. Film music is a superpower. It needs to be tamed and controlled, otherwise it can do more damage than good.

In preparation for the upcoming premiere of FX’s limited series Fargo, scheduled for next Tuesday, I decided to revisit the 1996 film and reevaluate my expectations. Fargo’s opening sequence reminded me of the unprecedented humor and intelligence with which the Coens use musical scores. The “homespun murder story” starts with a shot of headlights set against the frozen, white-washed landscape of the Upper Midwest. A car is being towed, accompanied by soaring, almost processional orchestral score (composed by Carter Burwell) meant to announce the true-crime drama to follow. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), covered head to toe in winter gear, enters a local pub. As he stamps his feet to get the snow off, a cheesy country song comes into the foreground:”…And keep your retirement and your, so-called social security…big city, turn me loose and set me free.” The musical juxtaposition of exaggerated seriousness and sets the tone (pun intended) for the absurdist morality tale of horrific violence played out by buffoons and flat-accented small-timers. The music continues the delicate balance between suspense and dark humor throughout the film, and creates an uneasiness of having to deal with non-prescribed meanings. All films should be either silent or directed by the Coen brothers.

Coen brothers, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Fargo film, Fargo TV Series, FX Fargo, film scores, film music, movie scores, William H. Macy, indie films
Fargo (1996)

Amidst the ongoing flood of Hollywood remakes, reboots, redos and never-ending iterations of old concepts, fans of the original Fargo might feel suspicious toward its television adaptation. Written and executive produced by the Ethan and Joel Coen, the series is loosely based on the film and, by the look of the first teaser trailer, has similar (hopefully not overexploited) icy ambiance, lots of yodeling accents and tongue-in-cheek sequences. The character played by Willam H. Macy is substituted with small town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) who, under the Mephistophelean influence of a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), sets on a path of destruction. The first episode, directed by Adam Bernstein of Breaking Bad airs next Tuesday at 10pm EST on FX. Plenty of time to fine-tune all our senses (ears included) and welcome the brothers with an almighty “Aw jeez, here we go again.”

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