In 1994, after a string of commercial and critical hits on the indie circuit, Joel and Ethan Coen had the biggest flop of their careers with The Hudsucker Proxy, a $25 million dollar fantasy that only made back about a tenth of what it cost. Their next film was critical. In his book The Big Lebowski: The Making Of A Coen Brothers Film, William Preston Robertson remembers begging the Coens not to make Fargo, a quirky crime film largely set in their native Minnesota, thinking it would be career suicide. “It’s the weirdest, most bizarre, most inaccessible of all of the things you’ve written!” he said at the time. Debuting on March 8, 1996, Fargo turned out to be the Coens’ best-received film to date, nabbing Oscars for its screenplay and for lead actress Frances McDormand and inspiring a critically-beloved FX series.
As the film turns 20, it’s the perfect time to indulge in some Fargo-related ephemera. A good place to start might be the original review of the film by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. It is fair to say that much of America was introduced to Fargo from this very segment. The Chicago critics are both bowled over by the film, and they clearly relish the opportunity to talk about it in detail.
The trivia whizzes at CineFix are marking the occasion with an informative little video called “7 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Fargo.” Here, fans will encounter a treasury of behind-the-scenes tidbits about the making of the film, such as the fact that it was shot during an unseasonably warm Minnesota winter and required plenty of artificial snow to create the story’s bleak winterscapes. Also: McDormand’s hair? Totally a wig.
One of the most remarked-upon aspects of the film is its heavy use of Minnesota accents and idioms. That lends an extra level of interest to this ESL Notes guide to Fargo prepared especially for those learning English as a second language. As they have done with a wide variety of other popular films, the creators of this guide combed through the entire script of Fargo and pointed out any moments they thought might create comprehension problems for non-native speakers. In its own way, this makes for some fascinating reading.
Taking a completely different approach to the film, a YouTube account called Movie Body Counts simply focuses on what to them is truly important: the death scenes. Fargo has plenty of them, as its central kidnapping scheme gets wildly out of control and leads to plenty of shootings and one memorable axing. Surprisingly, though, the overall body count remains in the single digits.
Seemingly everything else in the realm of popular culture has been granted its own Lego reenactment, so there’s no reason for Fargo to be left out in the cold, so to speak. YouTuber Brian Anderson used digitally animated Lego minifigs to stage some of the many tense moments between bumbling kidnappers Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi, including the aforementioned ax murder and the subsequent wood chippering.
And no survey of Fargo ephemera would be complete without at least one mock trailer. The original film has plenty of gallows humor on its own, but Bailey Kretz transforms Fargo into a full-on farce. The soundtrack helps sell the central conceit here. In the original 1996 film, the most prominently used songs are probably “Let’s Find Each Other Tonight” by Jose Feliciano and “Big City“ by Merle Haggard, neither one exactly a laugh riot. But Kretz’s version uses “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow. Only the utter grimness of Roger Deakins’ cinematography belies the lighthearted tone.
And for any completist fans curious about the abandoned 1997 pilot for a Fargo television series with Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson, YouTube has a copy of that, too. Interestingly, actor Bruce Bohne reprises his role from the movie as slow-witted Officer Lou, the one who thought “DLR” indicated a personalized license plate rather than a dealer plate. Had this version of Fargo gone to series, Bohne would have been the Gary “Radar” Burghoff of the franchise—the only one recreating his movie role in the TV version. Other tidbits: Fargo‘s pilot was directed by Kathy Bates with a story co-written by Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth.