Dispatches from the Venice Film Festival: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers return to the silver screen with an unusual Western…as if one could consider their other films conventional…
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a six-part anthology film, a collection of bittersweet tales about the American frontier, told through the facetious voice of Joel and Ethan Coen.
The stories are beautifully narrated as if they came out of a book, and that is exactly the mise-en-scéne chosen by the Coen Brothers. Each tale commences as the pages of an old book flip through the text and vintage illustrations, bringing to life every episode set in the American West.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson, Willie Watson, David Krumholtz) tells the story of a skilled shooting-songster; in Near Algodones (James Franco, Stephen Root, Ralph Ineson), a wannabe bank robber gets his due; Meal Ticket (Liam Neeson, Harry Melling) is a gothic tale about two atypical traveling performers; All Gold Canyon (Tom Waits) is a story about a prospector mining for gold; in The Gal Who Got Rattled (Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines) a woman on a wagon across the prairies, finds an unexpected love companion while confronting life’s cruel irony; and The Mortal Remains (Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Saul Rubinek, Chelcie Ross) is a jabberwocky that involves a motley crew of strangers undertaking a final carriage ride.
This is a film that was dear to the American directors, as Ethan explained: “The stories were written over a period of 25 years. We put them in a drawer but finally decided to put them all together.”
The project rides the current wave of digital platforms, since it will be available on Netflix, but will also have a theatrical release, as Joel clarified: “It’s important that people who want to see it on the big screen are able to.”