Edwin Arnaudin: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has been available to stream on Netflix since mid-November and, just in time for the Oscars, the triple-nominee is getting a one-week run at the Fine Arts Theatre. We had the good fortune to catch this gem on the big screen for a press event last fall and, responsible critics that we are, advocate for seeing every film in that setting — but why specifically should moviegoers prioritize watching this title outside of their living rooms?
Bruce Steele: Among many reasons, two stand out for me: First, it’s a beautifully shot film, in the tradition of classic Westerns, and the sweeping vistas and Old West streets and the occasional battle just lose so much on any screen smaller than a movie house. Second, because it tells six stories related only by setting and theme, at home there might be a tendency to treat it like TV episodes, taking breaks of minutes or days in between. It really should be seen in one uninterrupted sitting. It builds and evolves as it goes on. All the pieces come together, so to speak.
Edwin: Considering the varied notes the Coens hit from one vignette to the next, it really is a remarkably cohesive work. The gorgeous visuals by the filmmakers’ Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel are a welcome constant, and the brothers’ latest batch of creative dialogue also helps unite the narratives. But yes, the flow you mention is crucial to Buster Scruggs working as a single-sitting view, and opening with Tim Blake Nelson as the titular balladeer/gunslinger wonderfully sets the film’s darkly comedic tone. Were you likewise hooked from the get-go?
Bruce: I honestly didn’t know going in it was an anthology movie, so I was a bit concerned about how goofy it seemed at the start, but that segment quickly takes some clever turns to undercut the silliness, so I was on board soon enough. It seems to me as if the movie is set up to hit a variety of notes in the first four segments, leading into the most sustained and richly developed tale, “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” with your friend Zoe Kazan. Read the full review at ashevillemovies.com
Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre