The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The latest from the Coen Brothers is part of a Western anthology coming to Netflix. Twenty-five years in, the Brothers’ irreverent wit and playful humour shows no signs of abating. Premiering at the Venice International Film Festival, the second trailer for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs recently dropped. The first episode in the six-part series, it promises to be a mix of comedy and violence, not unlike the previous Coen classic Burn After Reading, or more directly, the other Coen takes on the Western True Grit (2010) and, of course, No Country for Old Men (2007). With star power like James Franco and Tom Waits in the wings, Buster Scruggs and the attendant anthology promise to follow well in the previous Westerns’ footsteps.

The trailer opens with an original trailer theme replete with whistling and rollicking open chord guitar strumming as we flip through an array of talking heads, the montage casually introducing us to the intriguing cast of this first entry in the anthology. From 0:42 to 0:48 the transition from the theme, fading out, to the next song coincides with the change in tone in the dialogue onscreen, leading into a stylized studio (Netflix) logo at 0:51.

The second part of the trailer features the Link Wray song “Fire and Brimstone,” a 1971 record that was at the time a comeback of sorts for a legend of guitar music in the 1950s and ‘60s. Wray was considered a pioneer of rock and roll music, and a central figure in country rock; as such, it’s a wholly unsurprising and sensible choice for Buster Scruggs, and stylistically allusive as a ballad of sorts. The stars’ title cards are easily synchronized to the downbeat of each measure in the music, providing a natural way to present a cavalcade of star actors in quick succession.

Notice how at 1:25 there is a (very in vogue in contemporary trailers) ticking motif, and how the cards for critical praise enter in even quicker success, in double time, to elevate excitement and anticipation. At 1:28-1:32 there is a cleverly cut assemblage of footage to make a few characters perform a rhythmic fill as an ensemble, which is a fascinating way to show how the characters’ stories are tightly interwoven without words, as they are in the work of the Coen Brothers. This last sequence immediately precedes the main title card, and the final scene following this offers one last shot (pun intended) at the dry, black humour that the trailer promises for the film to deliver.

As part of a burgeoning strategy by Netflix to attain mindshare and prestige (e.g., Academy Award eligibility), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs commences a limited theatrical run on November 8th, to be followed by the network’s requisite Internet release November 16th.

– Curtis Perry