or, Javier don’t you go and cut that hair, do you think its gonna make him change…
by Harris Feinsod
Scholars of the medieval period are frequently faced with a difficult challenge when they study manuscripts. Among a proliferation of codices poorly copied by celibate but frequently drunk scribes, how can the true authorship of a text be firmly established? The Holy Grail of manuscript culture – the two million bucks in a black satchel – is the “autograph,” an original manuscript attributable directly to the hand of the master.
For Dante, none exists. For Petrarch, one was found in the Vatican library less than fifty years ago. Philologists attempt to arrive at the autograph copy by working through terms often called “text growth” and “text corruption,” which describe the errors, interpolations, and inventions frequent in the process of transcription. Philologists create working rules like “the shorter the better” and “is it better without it?” to determine whether certain phrases are later additions or part of an original text.
In our time, the proliferation of bad copy by internet and print journalists poses similar difficulties of attribution. Philological methods, after all, are intended for the entire domain of the customs and habits of a culture.
So take the classic movie review. Once a particularly apt coinage has been minted to describe a character or plot device, it generally spreads across the internet as senselessly and violently as exurban housing developments.
Six reviewers in major American newspapers have described Javier Bardem’s haircut in No Country for Old Men as a “Prince Valiant” coiffure. Only one, Stephen Hunter, crime novelist and Washington Post reviewer, refers us to Robert Wagner in the film version.
The others, it seems, have no particular referent in mind, with the exception of Keith Phipps of The Onion who specifies that all Prince Valiant cuts are after the style of the “bob” (see Portman, below). Yet Phipps, it seems, may only have Dana Stevens’ qualification of Bardem as a “bob-haired golem” in mind.
Is Phipps writing in advance of Stevens and Hunter, or fusing their insights together?
Is A.O. Scott, in deploying striking restraint with the description “deadpan sociopath with a funny haircut” oblivious of the need to pin Bardem’s character to some obscure androgynous product of a bygone culture industry, or is he consciously attempting to pull film criticism out of the fracas?
And can anyone please explain how Scott Foundas of the Village Voice came up with the Adam’s Family’s “Cousin Itt,” a creature who, path-breaking as he is, bears as much resemblance to Bardem as a mop without a handle?
“The Cold Swedish Winter” — Jens Lenkman (mp3)
Herewith are posted 21 major newspaper film critics describing the Chighur Cut, which collectively comprise the archeology of a haircut. As Pier Vittorio Tondelli wrote in 1980 to Alberto Arbasino, Italian novelist to Italian novelist, let us all experiment with “a little philology of our youth.”
Stephen Hunter, Washington Post: His main pursuer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in Robert Wagner’s haircut from “Prince Valiant”), is Death, without a pale horse.
Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: On another side of the same West Texas borderlands, a psycho with a Prince Valiant haircut and a sense of brutal irony is busy strangling a deputy sheriff, stealing his car, pulling over a driver, and blowing a hole in his head with a cattle gun.
David Edelstein, New York: No Country for Old Men is dominated by Bardem and his Prince Valiant haircut, basso-Lurch voice, and dark, freaky stare in the extended foreplay before his killings.
Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor: Bardem, with his impassive, blocklike face and Prince Valiant haircut, is a totemic bad guy, so humorless he’s humorous.
Lou Lumenick, New York Post: The killer (Bardem), who sports a Prince Valiant haircut and invites some of his victims to flip a coin to determine their fates, is dubbed a “ghost” by the baffled sheriff.
Keith Phipps, The Onion: Soon, he’s hunted by hired killer Javier Bardem, whose delicate Prince Valiant bob is more than counterbalanced by his handiness with a pneumatic slaughterhouse tool.
Dana Stevens, Slate: That’s not to say that there aren’t certain images from No Country for Old Men that will haunt you, especially those involving Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a bob-haired golem of a bad guy who lumbers through southwestern Texas amassing what may be the highest per-villain body count in any movie this year.
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: For all the compact intensity of Brolin’s vivid turn as a common scrambling man who’s not as smart as he thinks, for all Jones’ pouchy authority when it comes to embodying Texas vernacular, and especially for all Bardem’s thrilling ability to truly terrify (not just with his stun gun but with his glazed stare and baroque pageboy hairstyle), the leading character in this reverberating movie is silence, save for the sights and sounds of air and breath.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe: Bardem plays this hired assassin with a creepy page-boy haircut and the eyes of a religious fanatic.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: It’s the most ambitious and impressive Coen film in at least a decade, featuring the flat, sun-blasted landscapes of west Texas — spectacularly shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins — and an eerily memorable performance by Javier Bardem, in a Ringo Starr haircut, as a Terminator-esque hit man with a cattle-killing air gun.
Rick Groen, The Toronto Globe and Mail: His head, framed in a blunt haircut that could be the devil’s own comb-over, seems massive and, together with unblinking eyes that miss nothing, gives him the look of a pit bull with a serious IQ.
Glenn Kenny, Premiere: Chigurh, whose hobby of deciding whether or not to kill someone based on a coin flip is one of his lesser eccentricities (and whose look recalls that of Lon Chaney in London After Midnight — no, really), is of course the man with a claim on the money.
A.O. Scott, New York Times: The specter of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a deadpan sociopath with a funny haircut, will feed many a nightmare, but the most lasting impression left by this film is likely to be the deep satisfaction that comes from witnessing the nearly perfect execution of a difficult task.
Scott Foundas, Village Voice: In an early scene, we’ve seen this tall, saucer-eyed man with the Cousin Itt haircut and indeterminate accent escape from police custody by drawing a naive deputy sheriff into a choke-hold pas de deux that turns the precinct’s linoleum floor into an abstract frieze of scuff marks and sinew.
Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter: Leading the chase is Chigurh, a man of perhaps East European extraction, who carries a tank of compressed air attached to the kind of bolt gun used to slaughter cattle.
James Berardinelli, Reelviews: Javier Bardem is unforgettable with his shoulder length mane of dark hair, his remorseless expression, and his ever-present high-pressure air gun.
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: Bardem, with pale skin and the world’s worst haircut, is stupendous in the role, a monster for the ages.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: Javier Bardem, who memorably inhabits Chigurh, makes the killing device an extension of his own tetched psyche. No less strange is the character’s Dutch boy haircut, weighing down on its owner like a bad joke.
Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times: With a sickly vampire’s complexion, an unpronounceable name and an inexplicable Buster Brown hairdo, Anton Chigurh is literally a person who would as soon kill you as look at you.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: Chigurh ( Javier Bardem) is a tall, slouching man with lank, black hair and a terrifying smile, who travels through Texas carrying a tank of compressed air and killing people with a cattle stungun.
Harris Feinsod lives in San Francisco, where he is working on a Ph.D. in comparative literature. His recent work has appeared in Telos and his translations of Rodolfo Hinostroza can be found in CapGun 2. This is his first appearance in these pages.
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