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Episode 109 - Raising Arizona (w/ Ira Madison III)

Should "Raising Arizona" be entered into The Canon?  

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  1. 1. Should "Raising Arizona" be entered into The Canon?



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Entertainment reporter for The Daily Beast Ira Madison III joins Amy this week to discuss the 1987 Coen Brothers film “Raising Arizona.” They each make their case for why “Raising Arizona” should or shouldn’t enter The Canon, noting what the film says about people born “on the wrong foot,” how the Coen Brothers deliberately lean into cartoonishness, and the impressive structuring of dialogue.

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Early in the podcast it seems like you guys are confusing the characters being sympathetic with the film believing they are good people. In the context of movies you can sympathize with and even like characters without the movie actually thinking these characters are good people. You come closer to the point when you point out that the Cage character is an unreliable narrator.

 

I also think that you are falling for a trick if you think there is significance to the fact that the two characters have the same tattoo in any practical sense. It's meant to be a spoof of that sort of scene. The tattoo is meaningless. That's the point. (Also, that's not the roadrunner at all, certainly not the Warner Brothers roadrunner)

 

Like Amy, this was my first Coen brothers movie. I saw it with my brother in the theater on its initial release and have mostly liked their movies ever since, but only a few others are in the same range as my love for Raising Arizona (The Big Lebowski, Inside Llewyn Davis, Fargo, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink). It definitely belongs in the Canon. Everybody should vote in favor of it.

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I appreciated the counterarguments, but Raising Arizona is definitely a yes for the Canon. While Burn After Reading might be the purest distillation of the Coens' comedic sensibility (dumb people believe they are smart///in the end nothing matters and everything is pointless), Raising Arizona is both funnier and better constructed. While Burn After Reading's nihilism is hilarious, Raising Arizona is supported by H.I.'s earnestness (even if that is paired with his delusional worldview) which makes the absurdity of the plot go down easier.

 

As for the Coens and diversity, I can't speak on their work as a whole, but in regards to Raising Arizona, I view it as a "Sun Belt working class white people" film. The film lampoons a specific Eisenhower/Reagan conception of (white) family and fatherhood (especially in H.I.'s fantasies) that is constantly being undermined by the poverty, idiocy and criminality of real life. I have met a lot of people like Glen in my life (moronic bigots who are absolutely certain in their own importance and privilege and who don't know when to stop talking, but aren't waving the Confederate flag around or attending alt-right rallies) and his characterization is a lot truer to reality than the over-the-top racists or sentimental, lovable yokels one usually finds in representations of working class white folk. I think Raising Arizona does a far better job of criticizing the white middle class American dream than most other 'Keeping up with the Joneses'-type films.

 

Of course, that's only one reading, and I can definitely understand the criticism of setting a film in the southwest and somehow not including a single black or Latino character (a point which isn't helped by No Country For Old Men using all its Latino characters as unnamed cannon fodder for Javier Bardem).

 

But as a whole, I think this is all subtext and what really matters is that Raising Arizona is a funny film whose structure and technical bravado is far above most American comedies, especially of the era.

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Burn After Reading is also my favourite Coen comedy, but Raising Arizona is clearly the Coen comedy to represent them in the Canon. To be honest, there are few Coen films that I wouldn't vote yes on. They're my favourite directors and I think it's important to put early works like this in along with their later offerings. Also, Raising Arizona is just so fucking good, man!

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I would probably put something like 10 Coen films in the Canon, so arguments about which Coen comedies might be better don't sway me much.

 

I'd also personally have this lower on my list of personal favorite Coen comedies (I laugh at The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? more), but it's still really good, and I give it extra points for coming so early in their careers and being so tight and well-made. I also feel like the lead characters + the evil biker have managed to enter the cultural lexicon in some way, as instantly recognizable figures in cinematic history. Perhaps they are not as pervasive as the characters in Lebowski, but as Coen comedies go this is probably the next most famous. I vote yes!

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Ha, fun episode. Big yes on Raising Arizona, my absolute favorite Coen bros movie! Lebowski is great and has the bigger cultural impact on its side (and both Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar are underrated), but I gotta give the edge to Arizona for the tightness of script and vision. That, and it just makes me laugh more. All this, assuming there's only room for one Coen comedy - I'm a fan of a "big" Canon though, so I'm all in either way.

 

Also, permit me an indulgent shout-out to a podcast I've here plugged before - Blank Check with Griffin & David - who's latest episode: Christopher Nolan's "Memento", guest stars none other than Amy Nicholson! That's right, the daughter of Jack Nicholson herself. Listen, won't you? Or not. But I mean... it's a pretty fun podcast.

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This one was too easy. I mean, who hates RAISING ARIZONA? (well, now we know.) This probably is in my Top 10 favorite comedies, and my second favorite Coen Brothers movie. This should be entered into The Canon based on the opening ten minutes alone. In only those ten minutes they were able to condense an entire first act worth of set up and exposition into a wonderful little short. Just based on some of the modern comedies this summer, (Rough Night, Snatched, Baywatch), it typically takes a minimum of 45 minutes of picking around before the introduction of the actual "plot." Raising Arizona is so gloriously brisk and richly detailed. There are so many Coen movies that belong in the Canon, (i'm actually not sure if O' Brother Where Art Thou is one of them, but it's already there), but this is close to the top of my list of essentials. For the record, I too think Burn After Reading (and parts of Intolerable Cruelty) are very underrated as well. Probably not Canon worthy, but this certainly is.

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I said it a week ago, this is one of the easiest votes I've ever had here. POSSIBLY my favorite comedy of the 80s. Certainly one of my favorite Coens (along with Barton Fink, and Miller's Crossing was pretty damn good too, so how's that for a run?).

 

I feel bad that Ira Whatshisname III didn't care for it, but I know what it's like to feel underwhelmed by a supposed classic. Ira's Raising Arizona is my Trading Places, I guess.

 

This film just feels so perfect from beginning to end. There's absolutely nothing in it I don't like. It's pure cinematic joy. And if you don't agree, well, it's a comedy. That's how it goes. You like it or you don't, and there's really nothing to argue over.

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I examined whether my bias is the reason why I voted yes in favor of Raising Arizona to be in the Canon, it being the first Coen brothers film I ever watched. However, recent viewings have confirmed that this isn't only the best of the Coens, but one of the best comedies/films in the history of cinema. The camera work, as Amy mentioned, is exceptional. The zaniness of the film and the performances are comical, but never over the top. Also, I have to call bullshit on Ira's claim that he's a Coen brothers fan. Raising Arizona is quintessential Coen's. If you don't like this film, you can't be a true Coen brothers fan.

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I'll go against the grain here and declare that I'm not really a big fan of most of the Coens' output in the last ~15 years. Raising Arizona has always been and remains my favorite Coen brothers movie. They nailed the characters so precisely (I particularly agree with nakedbrunch's point about Glen) . This is an easy yes vote for me.

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Of course this is a "yes." However, if this had been a versus with Burn After Reading, it would be a much tougher decision.

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Not my favorite Coen Brothers movie (I rank my 5 faves below), but of course RAISING ARIZONA is worthy of The Canon. Side note: I am getting a little weary of all the identity politics discussion in arts and pop culture. It is an important conversation to have (full disclosure I'm an African-American man), but I don't know that it is the appropriate lens through which to properly evaluate all movies.

 

MY 5 FAVORITE COEN BROTHERS FILMS:

1. Fargo

2. Miller's Crossing

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

4. No Country for Old Men

5. The Man Who Wasn't There

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I hadn't seen Raising Arizona nor thought about it much for a long time before listening to this show and there are certainly other Coen brothers films I would think to add to the Canon ahead of it, but I was sold as soon as Amy mentioned that it's just one of those movies that was on HBO a lot at a certain point. This was how I first encountered the film as an unsupervised preteen with premium cable at my disposal and I now think that watching it introduced me to the idea that movies could be more than mindless entertainment. If that doesn't make it Canon-worthy, I don't know what will.

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For whatever it's worth, I used to work in a video store (back when they existed) and whenever I recommended Raising Arizona to anybody, they ALWAYS fell in love with it. Whenever I recommended Big Lebowski, the majority of people didn't like it. (Granted, this was several years before it became such a ubiquitous presence in nerd culture.) Anyway, easy yes for Raising Arizona.

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For whatever it's worth, I used to work in a video store (back when they existed) and whenever I recommended Raising Arizona to anybody, they ALWAYS fell in love with it. Whenever I recommended Big Lebowski, the majority of people didn't like it. (Granted, this was several years before it became such a ubiquitous presence in nerd culture.) Anyway, easy yes for Raising Arizona.

 

The Big Lebowski takes at least two viewings to see the genius.

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There are several Coen films that are more worthy of Canon status than this one. It is no doubt a great film, but I was hoping Miller's Crossing would get the recognition from this podcast that it so richly deserves.

 

Top 5 Coen Brothers:

Miller's Crossing

No Country

Fargo

Blood Simple

Big Lebowski

 

I wish I could get into Barton Fink but it just didn't work for me, aside from John Goodman and Michael Lerner.

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This will get in easily, and maybe it should, but I really agreed strongly with Ira's points on it. Perhaps it's because I saw their later films first, but for whatever reason, Raising Arizona never resonated with me. I'm voting no, but I realize that it won't matter.

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This was my first Coens movie, saw it in the 80s, loved it, my dad loved it, it was a whole household thing, and yet I agree with Ira - we can't put every Coens movie in there, and this isn't as good as at least 50% of them. I rewatched it about 10 years ago and thought it didn't hold up as well as I expected it to.

 

I'm not a huge Coens fan in general. I actively hate O BROTHER, I didn't like HAIL, CAESAR, I think BLOOD SIMPLE is solid but overvalued, I don't get BIG LEBOWSKI at all, but when they work (BURN AFTER READING, A SERIOUS MAN, and a few others) they are perfect. RAISING ARIZONA is in the upper-middle, but not worthy of the Canon.

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"Her womb was a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." is probably my favorite comedic line in any script I've ever read/seen. And the shot of the camera zooming over the car, through the yard and up the ladder into Mrs. Arizona's screaming mouth is one of the greatest shots ever. For those two things alone this movie is Canon-worthy, but there is so much more. The script is so quotable ("I don't know... Yoda's and shit!"), the set pieces are nuts at times, but still grounded in character, the score is iconic (the music queue to the yodel at the main title makes me smile every time I see it) and although everyone is somewhat despicable I still appreciate the hopefulness at the end rather than the nihilism of something like Burn After Reading (which I do enjoy).

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For how much I love both Amy and Ira's writing, and this movie, I was surprised that the combination led to a dissenting argument that was mostly 'I see why others like it but I'm just not into it.' Still cool hearing two voices I like talk about Raising Arizona for an hour, but it seems like it's been a while since the show attempted a really thorough critique of some sacred cow. Kind of miss it, even the ones going after movies I love!

 

Anyway, I'm definitely voting yes. Raising Arizona feels in the lineage of a Duck Soup or Bringing Up Baby, as relentless and inventive in its screwball antics for 1987 as those were in their day. I also love how linked it is to previous Canon-inductee Evil Dead 2.. released the same year, they seem like they're in competition for crazy camera setups (Raising Arizona even seems to homage Evil Dead with that racing-over-the-ground POV tracking shot) and I recently found out that the Coens, Holly Hunter, Frances McDormand and Sam Raimi all lived together for a time leading up to these films, which just sounds like the coolest incubator of cinematic excitement ever.

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If we're only allowed to pick one Coen comedy, then it's got to be Lebowski. Since that's not the case, 100% Raising Arizona should be in. I think of The Canon more as "The 1,000 films to see before you die". With that idea in mind I'd put 6-8 of them in!

 

Every time Amy's dislike of Goodfellas gets brought up my blood pressure rises. :)

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HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS!! :wub: :wub: Not mad at Ira Madison III for that. I'd also put Jesus' Son in the running for the best Holly Hunter role.

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