The screen shows a flat, empty road from a very low angle, a torn tyre lying on it like a piece of junk sculpture. Then the towers of a city in the distance; then a set of ramshackle houses; a pasture and a farmhouse; the white screen of a drive-in; a field full of oil pumps. A drawling voice, all wide vowels and unclosed consonants, starts to philosophise: 'The world is full of complainers, and the fact is, nothing comes with a guarantee ... Something can always go wrong ... What I know about is Texas, and down here you're on your own.' These are the opening moments of Blood Simple, Ethan and Joel Coen's first movie, released in 1983, and they look like an agenda, an announcement of work to come. They look that way only now, though, when we have seen the later films; learned that the appearance of raw and gritty realism in that first movie was deceptive. We were never in America, only 'America', a place full of stories about itself, none the less mythological because historical reality every now and then manages to catch up with it, or incorporate a piece of its gory or flamboyant action. The 'down here' in the voice-over now sounds like a giveaway, since it implies an awareness of other places, even an anxiety about them, about the way Texas may look from a different region. Of course there's boasting in the claim too, a pride in the fact that chainsaw massacres, for instance, don't happen just anywhere.
LRB 20 June 1996 | PDF Download