Sunday, April 29, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Raising Arizona

The Set-Up:  This scene occurs immediately after this one.

I once had visions of putting this one up on Father's Day, but I've found a better idea for that. Meanwhile, this scene from Raising Arizona shows what makes the Coen Brothers one of the most unique and gifted filmmakers: it is a dense hyper-kinetic scene with overlapping dialogue, simultaneous actions, resulting confusion, and everybody's got a job to do while colliding with each other. 

But the focus of the scene is the father of the abducted Arizona quint, Nathan Arizona played by the great character actor Trey Wilson, whose career was too short, but blazed brightly while he was performing.  In this scene he is quicksilver fast, the hub of the swirl of activity at the scene of the crime besieged by reporters, local police, FBI, and forensics experts.  He's the guy in control with no control and the dawning realization that he might be the only one focused on the problem at hand, and, finally, he loses it and goes into a tirade that is both hilarious and heartfelt. Yeah, he's a blowhard, but justified, and ends the scene evoking sympathy for a character who could dismissed as merely clownish. It's acting with depth that crosses the line back and forth between comedy and tragedy, the real estate constantly tread by the Coen Brothers, even if you never are really sure what side of the line you're on.

Trey Wilson died of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 16, 1989. Director Jonathan Demme (who had cast Wilson in Married to the Mob) dedicated The Silence of the Lambs to him.

The Story: H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) and wife Edwina (Holly Hunter) have found a unique solution to their "family unit" problem: they've kidnapped one of the "Arizona quintuplets" for their own. While "Ed" enjoys being a mother hen, "Hi" has nightmares that his return to a life of crime will have catastrophic effects for his family.  Meanwhile, Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) is dealing with the fall-out from the kidnapping.


At the cut the rumble of the sun is snapped off by the high-pitched ba-WEEEEeeee . . . of a strobe going off as a flash picture is taken: We are looking over NATHAN SR.'S shoulder as he stands at his open front door, facing a battery of press people who stand out on the porch. An obie light over a local TV news camera glares in at us; various flashbulbs pop.
NATHAN: -No, the missus and the rest of the kids've left town...
NATHAN: I ain't sayin' where. They'll be back here when we're a nuclear fam'ly again.
VOICE: Mr. Arizona, which tot was abducted?
NATHAN: Yeah. Nathan Jr., I think.
VOICE: Do you have anything to say to the kidnappers?
NATHAN: Watch yer butts.
VOICE: Sir, it's been rumored that your son was abducted by UFOS.
VOICE: Would you care to comment?
NATHAN (sadly): Now don't print that, son. If his mama reads that she's just gonna lose all hope.
A POLICEMAN from inside the house is taking NATHAN by the elbow.
POLICEMAN: ...We really have to ask you some more questions.
As NATHAN allows himself to be led back into the house he calls back over his shoulder:
NATHAN: But remember, it's still business as usual at Unpainted Arizona...
NATHAN: ...and if you can find lower prices anywhere my name still ain't Nathan Arizona!
We are following the two, hand-held, as the Police leads NATHAN toward the living room.
The room is filled with policemen milling about in several different uniforms: local police, state troopers, plainclothes detectives. The original POLICEMAN is leading NATHAN to a table
where a white-smocked technician is preparing inkpad and exemplar sheets. The dialogue is urgent, rapid-fire and overlapping.
POLICEMAN: Mr. Byrum here can...
POLICEMAN: ...take your exemplars while you talk.
Mr. Byrum has taken NATHAN's right hand and is rolling its fingers onto the inkpad.
BYRUM: Just let your hand relax; I'll do the work.
NATHAN jerks his hand away.
NATHAN: What is this?! I didn't steal the damn kid!
Two men in conservative suits are approaching.
POLICEMAN: Sir, these men are from the FBI-
NATHAN (bewildered): Are you boys crazy?! Alls I know is I wake up this morning with my wife screaming-
BYRUM (patiently): We just need to distinguish...
BYRUM: ...your prints...
BYRUM: ...from the perpetrators', if they left any.
Giving his hand back:
NATHAN: Course! I know that!
FBI 1: Sir, we have an indication you were born Nathan Huffhines; is this correct?
NATHAN: Yeah, I changed m'name; what of it?
FBI 2: Could you give us an indication why?
NATHAN: Yeah, would you buy furniture at a store called Unpainted Huffhines?
FBI 1: All right, I'll get to the point-
UNIFORMED COP: Was the child wearing anything when he was abducted?
NATHAN: No one sleeps nekkid in this house, boy! He was wear-
FBI 1: I'm asking the questions here, officer.
COP: If we're gonna put out an APB we need a description of the-
NATHAN: He was wearin' his-
FBI 2: It's just that we're better trained to intervene in crisis situations.
FBI 2: (to NATHAN) What was he wearing?
NATHAN: A dinner jacket! Wuddya think, he was wearing his damn jammies!
FBI 2 (to cop): The child was wearing his jammies. Are you happy?
FBI 1: Do you have any disgruntled employees?
NATHAN: Hell, they're all disgruntled! I ain't runnin' a damn daisy farm!
COP: What did the pyjamas-
NATHAN: My motto is do it my way or watch your butt!
COP: What did the pyjamas-
FBI 1: So you think it might have been an employee?
NATHAN: Don't make me laugh. Without my say-so they don't piss with their pants on fire.
COP: What did the pyjamas look like?
FBI 1: (pained): Officer-
NATHAN (bellowing): I dunno, they were jammies! They had Yodas'n shit on 'em!
BELLOWING VOICE OFFSCREEN: Would ya mind, I'm trying to set up a Command Post here!
NATHAN bellows back:
NATHAN: Get your feet off m'damn coffee table!
Also raising his voice at the offscreen bellower:
FBI 1: Ron, you're upsetting the victim.
NATHAN is getting worked up.
NATHAN: Damnit, are you boys gonna go chase down your leads or are you gonna sit drinkin' coffee in the one house in the state where I know my boy ain't at?!
FBI 2: Sir, there aren't any "leads" yet, aside from this coat-
NATHAN: Gimme that!
He grabs the overcoat being displayed by FBI 2.
NATHAN: That's a five-hundred-dollar camel's hair-
BYRUM: Sir...
BYRUM: Sir, you might want to wash your hands at this point.
NATHAN realizes that he's gotten ink from his fingerprinting all over the coat.
NATHAN: Well god-
NATHAN: -damnit!
He is rising to his feet and hurling the coat to the floor.
NATHAN: ... No leads?!
He furiously kicks the coat.
NATHAN: ... Everyone leaves microbes'n whatnot!
Throughout the speech NATHAN stalks the room, working himself into a frenzy, furiously putting coffee cups onto coasters, generally cleaning up, hectoring the police, and swiping their feet off his firniture.
NATHAN: ...Hell, that's your forte...
NATHAN: ...trackin' down them microbes...
NATHAN: ...left by criminals 'n commies 'n shit!
NATHAN: That's yer whole damn raison d'etre! No leads?!
NATHAN: I want Nathan Jr. back...
NATHAN: ...or whichever the hell one they took!
NATHAN: He's out there somewhere! Somethin' leads to him!
NATHAN: And anyone can find him knows the difference between a lead and a hole in the ground!!

Raising Arizona

Words by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Pictures by Barry Sonnenfeld and Joel Cohen

Raising Arizona is available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.