New York Film Festival Premieres The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BY DEAN MOSES

We have expectations from film genres. Take westerns for instance, if we sit down to view a horse opera it is typically safe to say our prospects will be pretty close to the final product, which is by no means a bad thing. However, it is equally nice to be surprised every now and then. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs debuted at the 56th New York Film Festival and is now currently available to stream on Netflix. The film is indeed a western, but this western requires you to check your expectations at the door.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology piece made up of six vastly different short films all beginning and ending with the turning of pages from an ancient leather-bound book, which gives viewers the sense we are being told stories that have been handed down from generation to generation, providing an almost fiery tale impression before each one commences. While these shorts take place under the western umbrella, each flick is in a diverse sub-genre, from laugh-out-loud comedy, drama, and tearjerker, to an Edgar Alan Poe-esque dark tale. There is something for everyone, this means it could equally indicate there is something you may not enjoy in there as well—a frequent problem with anthology films. Yet the six movies were so well-made that you have to respect the stories they tell, even if it is not your own cup of tea.

Written and directed by the Coen brothers of Fargo and No Country for Old Men, fame and jam-packed with renowned stars such as James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and many more, this star-studded cast ensures each film is well acted. And although the six films are somewhat short, each actor does a fantastic job of sucking the audience in, even if the character development is superior in some shorts more than others. And while each of The Balled of Buster Scruggs’ six narratives are directed by the same individuals, they appropriately feel different in tone. Whichever piece speaks to you most all depends on your personality, and which sub-genre you are drawn to. Nevertheless, enjoyment can be found throughout no matter your preference. Take the title character and initial short, Buster Scruggs is a comical romp that will have fans of Blazing Saddles squirting milk from their nose. With that being said, the finale is a dark tale that will have you wondering what is coming next.  

At least one of The Balled of Buster Scruggs’ films will stick with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Whether it is a hilarious, dramatic, or poignant moment, you will most likely remember this movie for a long time to come. Best of all is when going in to see the film for the very first time, you won’t know what to expect.
The Spring Creek Sun was on hand at the film’s press screening, and the subsequent press conference, which saw actors Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, and Bill Heck who accompanied writers-directors Joel and Ethan Coen.

“We all got to read the entire script before we shot our individual parts, unrelated to the others. I think as actors we all felt a reasonability to toward the genre of each film in which we appear, because what is astonishing about this is it’s six different movies in the western genre but then each one is in the vernacular of a sub-genre in and of itself. At least with my, and I am pretty sure with the other actors, just underscored one’s responsibility to fit indelibly within the genre in which you appear,” said Tim Blake Nelson.

Photos by Dean Moses