Where do we start? Following the opening sequence, let's pour the Bourbon on the rocks... Scratch that. Skip the ice, reach for a 20-year-old scotch served neat - after all, like good whisky this movie is only getting better (that is more popular) with age - give it a whirl in the tumbler, smell the aroma, sip it slowly, warm up to it, "let's do plenty"
first, we have time to "get stinko"
The aroma... Miller's Crossing
is stylized to the point of the grotesque. That's, by the way, what Ebert fails to take into account. He realizes that Leo's office is unrealistically posh, but that is exactly the point the Coen brothers are making. [Noticed the greyhound statuette behind Leo? We'll get to it later.] Compare it to Caspar's "office" - a disused, barely furnished warehouse.
Stylization in arts and crafts is akin to abstraction in thought. One concentrates on the behaviour and the relationships of those aspects of reality that are necessary for one's purposes and ignores the rest. In high art there is more: once the stylized depiction in no longer real, the artist is free to superimpose on it something that is not actually there. Hokusai's The Wave
comes to mind. It's a wave, all right, but it has a mind and a purpose. It is not just a blind force of nature like, say, in Aivazovsky's paintings.
Thus the Miller's Crossing
world is not really real, it only exhibits certain grossly morphed aspects of reality. The city where the action takes place is unmistakably the Prohibition era American, but it has no name. The gangster slang, while using meaningful English words, is totally made up - "what's the rumpus?"... " a square gee"... "She's a grifter, just like her brother"... "We only take yeggs what's been to college"... "Okay, Tom, you know the angles"... "You know Bernie's chiseling you because he's a chiseler. And you know he's a chiseler because he's chiseling you"
. Tom never sleeps - he sometimes passes out in drunken stupor, but we all know it is not the same. In a movie where no word is wasted the brothers make a point of it - twice, lest we miss it:
- Wake up, Tommy.
- I'm awake.
- You're eyes were shut.
- Who're you gonna believe?
Tom sits up, though it seems like an effort. He looks sick.
- It's funny. . . I've never even seen you sleep - though you told me once about a dream you had.
Tom is periodically subject to severe beatings (again, that point is driven home by the Dane's remark: That's brave, coming from Little Miss Punching Bag
), but suffers practically no ill effects (driven home by Tic-Tac and Frankie who do - only after one beating).
In that world there are no blacks. Sure, sure
Coen brothers' worlds are predominantly white, but there is always room for blacks in them. Notice, however, that they are mainly used for contrast
(not sure if the pun is intended): In Blood Simple
the only decent and well-balanced character is black; in Raising Arizona
the blacks are bordering-on-imbicilic inmates at the bottom of the food chain with no prospects of breaking out; and in white-dominated cut-throat business world of Hudsucker Proxy
the only black character is God for all intents and purposes. There is always a point to the brothers casting a black character. And in Miller's Crossing
there is no such point.
Finally, and rather importantly, in that world homosexuality is not real. Three out of the six main male characters in the movie are queer
. That's an awful lot for a flick that is not about gays. However, those characters do not behave in any openly gay manner, they are not ridiculed, or made fun of, or called names by the straight characters even behind their backs - while the ethnicity is subject
to such ridicule: "potato eater", "eye-tie", "sheeny"
. So really homosexuality here is a stand-in for something else, and those who make a big deal out of it in quasi-psychological publications
are far off the mark.
To summarize very briefly, stylizing allows the brothers to concentrate on the important things without being hamstrung by having to conform to reality.
Well then, I intended just to swirl and to sniff, but ended up taking a rather large sip. I have a feeling this is going to end up in a headache.
<to be continued
- Nolan, William: Miller's Crossing's Tom Reagan: "Straight as a corkscrew, Mr. inside-outsky".