No matter the visionary filmmaker, every director is fallible even if the mistakes they perceive to be self-evident do not translate to general audiences. From Woody Allen’s Annie Hall to Steven Soderbergh’s The Underneath, filmmakers have denounced their own work with critical vigour throughout cinema history.
Famously, even the visionary Stanley Kubrick disliked one of his own movies. The anti-war movie Fear and Desire was Kubrick’s first feature film project, after an early career in documentary filmmaking, following four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines who are forced to confront their own morality to escape to safety. The production team was small, made up of just fifteen people, including leading cast member Paul Mazursky who would later comment about Kubrick that, “I thought he was a crazy guy with black eyes”.
Eventually, Stanley Kubrick’s debut film was completed, much to the dismay of the director himself, who denounced his work as “a bumbling amateur film exercise” and a “completely inept oddity”. Kubrick even went to the extent that he compared Fear and Desire to “a child’s drawing on a fridge”, disowning the film soon after its release whilst trying to prevent any future re-releases. So hated was his creation, that according to Paul Mazursky, “Stanley tried to have the negative burned. He hated the movie. Hated it”.
Whilst they may not hate their film with the same fire and fury of Stanley Kubrick, the Coen brothers are frequently critical of their debut film Blood Simple, despite it being their very first film project. Starring Frances McDormand in the lead role, the film follows the owner of a seedy Texas bar who discovers one of his employees is having an affair with his wife, kicking off a chaotic tale of lies and deceit as he organises the man to be killed.
With no previous experience in the industry, Blood Simple is a remarkable debut picture that was only funded after they filmed a preemptive theatrical trailer for investors that depicted the basics of the film’s atmosphere and bizarrely starred Bruce Campbell. It was in the book My First Movie, however, that they criticised their debut feature film, noting, “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan Coen said.
Ethan’s brother, Joel, replies to this, saying, “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience”. Continuing, he states, “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”.
A few years back, in celebration of Blood Simple’s inauguration into the Criterion Collection, photographer Grant Delin created a video essay that included the Coen Brothers, Frances McDormand and Barry Sonnenfeld to offer a fascinating glimpse into the early ideas surrounding the project. “Even if I never see them [storyboards], to know that a director is thinking about how it’s going to be edited, that’s what I learned from Joel and Ethan,” actress McDormand explains.
Whatever the Coen brothers think, we believe Blood Simple is a masterpiece.