Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Brothers were headed to Netflix with their anthology series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which was set to tell six Western stories in six episodes. Now, things have changed. Buster Scruggs will still hit Netflix, but the Coens have re-edited the series into a feature film instead, just in time to premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

Variety (and others) are reporting the news that the Coen Brothers TV show is now a movie, and I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m always up for a new Coen Brothers movie. And yet, I was looking forward to the idea of a Coen Brothers TV series (no, Fargo doesn’t count). It’s worth noting that when Buster Scruggs was announced over a year ago, it wasn’t officially referred to as a “TV show.” Instead, it had the very classy-sounding distinction of a “feature-length omnibus consisting of six separate stories.” Still, the original plan was for those six stories to be spread out over six episodes. Here’s the original breakdown of the stories, as reported last year.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is about a singing cowboy.

“Near Algodones” is about a high-plains drifter whose own fecklessness dogs his attempts at bank robbery and cattle driving.

The third story, “Meal Ticket,” follows an actor and impresario of a traveling show.

The fourth, “All Gold Canyon,” is about a prospector who happily finds a gold seam but then unhappily finds an evil encroacher.

The fifth, “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” follows two trail bosses on the Oregon Trail and a woman on the wagon train who needs the help of one of them and who might be a marriage prospect for the other.

Lastly, “The Mortal Remains,” about the five very different passengers on a stagecoach of mysterious destination.

The newly edited version of Buster Scruggs will still maintain an anthology format, but it’s not clear just how much of the original form the Coens have cut. All we can confirm is that the final film will feature Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson and Tom Waits. The Coens have gone back and reworked their material before. In 2001, the brothers released a new directors cut of their debut film Blood Simple. Rather than be longer, with additional scenes, like most directors cuts, the Blood Simple directors cut was actually slightly shorter, and made the film tighter overall.

The Coen Brothers released the following statement regarding The Ballad of Buster Scruggs:

“We’ve always loved anthology movies, especially those films made in Italy in the Sixties which set side-by-side the work of different directors on a common theme…Having written an anthology of Western stories we attempted to do the same, hoping to enlist the best directors working today. It was our great fortune that they both agreed to participate.”

Again, this is great – a new Coen Brothers movie! But a part of me hopes the Coens will eventually release the original version of the series in its TV series format. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival before debuting on Netflix at the end of the year.

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