Back Seat Producers Season 07 Shows

BSP Episode 218: The Man Who Wasn’t There

3rd in this series of four Modern Black & White movies

Release date:               11/2/01

USA Films

Directed, Written and Produced by:

Joel Coen

Ethan Coen


Billy Bob Thornton     Ed Crane

Frances McDormand  Doris Crane

Michael Badalucco     Frank

James Gandolfini        Big Dave Brewster


Initial comments by the hosts:

Sam thought the movie was “decidedly meh.”  Darrell thought it was pretty good.  It had a slow pace but eventually got into the story.  If you’re a film buff, you’ll really like it; he liked the cinematography.  Tony thought it was a good noir picture but the story ambled along without any deep meaning.  Sam thought that the movie meandered through the story just like Ed Crane meandered through his life.

Tony thought Billy Bob Thornton was fantastic, Frances McDormand was great (she successfully created a very unlikeable character) and he always enjoys James Gandolfini and this movie was not a letdown.  All the performances were equally solid.  Darrell talked about how every other character was over-animated against Ed Crane’s cardboard cut-out character that everything and everyone moved around.  Lena (from the chat room) thought that Ed Crane literally looked like cardboard and Darrell added how Crane’s suit was always pressed, his barber’s smock was tight and neat, adding to that appearance.  Sam loved Richard Jenkins’ Walter Abundas character.  They also talked about how the relationship between Ed Crane and Birdie Abundas seemed to be developing into something weird (romance or father/daughter or both?), until you realize that each of them has developed that into a completely different relationship than the other.

Tony enjoyed all of the performances.  Sam didn’t think McDormand was that great in this movie (or Fargo).  Lena mentioned (chatroom) how Frank (Badalucco), was more like a character in a play, and Tony added that since Ed is so quiet, the others have to have something to do or say to fill the void.  They also discussed the narration and even though not all of the hosts are fans of narration, they agreed that it was necessary in this kind of film.  Telling the story would not have been as successful without Ed Crane’s narration.

Darrell brought up the use of light and shadow.  The movie was shot in color and then transferred to black and white, and Tony questioned the intention of doing it that way.  Darrell explained how, when you shoot in color, you can then adjust all of the black and white shadow patters and you can do more with that than if you shoot in straight black and white.  It’s also more difficult to shoot in black and white.  Darrell also brought up the scene where Big Dave’s widow visits Ed Crane’s house and how, in her shots, she was in stark contrast to the darkness of then night behind her and when the shot turned back to Ed, you see all the moving shadows of the leaves.

Sam thought that, in general, the movie was a great representation of the late 40’s/early 50’s.  Tony and Darrell disagreed on the life that Crane was living.  Tony thought Ed Crane was content with his miserable life but Darrell thought that he was dying but didn’t know what to do.  Sam countered with the fact that Crane seemed to stumble through his entire life, not actually making any choices but letting the choices be made for him.  When Crane made his big “decision” in the movie, is it because he truly wanted to change his life or is it because, after finding out that his wife isn’t who he always thought she was, this was just one more decision that was placed into his lap for him to simply follow, just like everything else?  Even in the scene where Crane stabbed Big Dave, was that simply a reflex reaction of self-defense or was that Crane taking some kind of a stand with his own life?  In turning their discussion to the perspective of Big Dave, it was brought out how Ed Crane comes across almost as cold and heartless.  The argument easily goes both ways.

Tony thought that Ed Crane’s biggest failing was that he truly believed that he was invisible and that he could get away with things because he thought people didn’t notice him.  Inasmuch as he was part of the background, he was always acknowledged, he was always noticed.

Who is this movie for?  Film noir fans, Billy Bob Thornton fans, Coen brothers fans.

Joel and Ethan Coen came up with the story for The Man Who Wasn’t There while working on The Hudsucker Proxy.  During a barbershop scene, they saw a poster of 1940s haircuts and developed a story about the barber who cut the hair in the poster.

In the scene where Scarlett Johansson’s Birdy character is playing the piano for him, Thornton made it look like Ed Crane had an erection.  When the Coen Brothers later found out, they made it clear that Ed would not be aroused in the scene.

Your Producers for this episode were:

  • Tony
  • Darrell
  • Sam

This episode was recorded: 2/8/2012

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