Michael C. here to drop off your regularly scheduled Monday Monologue
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Coen brothers' screwball, baby-knapping comedy Raising Arizona. Rewatching the film it is striking just how distant the rowdy hayseed comedy feels from cool control of the brothers' recent output. This isn't meant as an accusation that they have gone soft in their middle age. Quite the contrary. But even as they have produced a handful of unequivocal masterpieces I still harbor a soft spot for their wild younger days, much the way a Woody Allen fan can't help but pine for the anarchic spirit of Bananas no matter how much he appreciates the cinematic mastery of Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Take the scene where a premonition of doom visits Cage's H.I. soon after swiping one of the "Arizona Quints" to complete his family unit with Holly Hunter's Ed:
That night, I had a dream. I drifted off thinking about happiness, birth and new life, But now I was haunted by a vision of... He was horrible. The lone biker of apocalypse. A man with all the powers of Hell at his command. He could turn turn the day into night and lay to waste everything in his path.
He was especially hard on little things-the helpless and the gentle creatures. He left a scorched earth in his wake befouling even the sweet desert breeze that whipped across his brow. I didn't know where he came from or why. I didn't know if he was dream or vision. But I feared that I myself had unleashed him. For he was the fury that would be as soon as Florence Arizona found her little Nathan gone.
The characters are both beloved Coen brother templates. The Biker (memorably embodied by former pro boxer Randall "Tex" Cobb) is one in a long line of remorseless heavies that reached their apex in Anton Chirgurh, while Cage's H.I is in the grand tradition of Coen brothers morons that continued through the escaped bumpkins of O Brother right up to the glorious idiocy of Brad Pitt's Chad Feldheimer.
Likewise giving even their most dimwitted characters memorable turns of phrase like "befouling the sweet desert breeze" is an unmistakable Coens trademark. See: Lebowski, Big.
What stands apart is the wild, improvised feel of the sequence. The series of gags that introduce the Biker - including the grenading of a cute, fluffy bunny - would be right at home in a Road Runner cartoon. The capper on the whole sequence is a doozy of a shot where the camera, which we had assumed to be the Biker's POV, goes unexpectedly airborne and flies right through a window landing in the open mouth of Mrs. Arizona as she screams. The moment can't help but bring to mind the fluid insanity of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series.
When Joel and Ethan have returned to screwball material in flicks like Burn After Reading the execution more closely resembles the deliberate style of Arizona's follow-up, Miller's Crossing. And while I repeat this is neither good nor bad, and that all great artists evolve, I can't deny I would kill to see what some meticulously controlled later day title like, say, A Serious Man would look like if it was made with the same unhinged, shoot from the hip style the Coens brought to Raising Arizona a quarter century ago.
"My name is Charlene" -Missi Pyle in Spring Break
Megan and the Dolphins - Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids