Fargo warms to its fame

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY -

ASK folks in Fargo, in North Dakota on the Min­nesota bor­der, what they first thought about the 1996 movie that made their city fa­mous and some will say they were not fans.

Some ini­tially didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the Coen broth­ers’ dark hu­mour or were of­fended by the ex­treme vi­o­lence and those heavy Min­nesota ac­cents on ‘‘you betcha’’ and ‘‘ya sure’’.

But the fame and cash it brought Fargo even­tu­ally brought the city around. Now, 16 years later, Fargo awaits the de­but of a new ca­ble tele­vi­sion show by the same name, and many res­i­dents are less ap­pre­hen­sive about how their home town will be por­trayed this time around. Just ask Kristin Ru­drud.

‘‘Any­thing the Coen broth­ers are go­ing to be in­volved in is go­ing to be bril­liant,’’ says Ru­drud, 57, who played a sup­port­ing role in the movie. ‘‘And they love Fargo. They love this area. So it will be done in a very fun and lov­ing way.’’

The Os­car-win­ning film starred Frances McDor­mand as Marge Gun­der­son, a preg­nant po­lice chief who in­ves­ti­gates a se­ries of mur­ders, and Wil­liam H. Macy as a car sales­man who hires two crim­i­nals, played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stor­mare, to kid­nap his wife. In one of the fi­nal scenes, Stor­mare feeds Buscemi’s body into a wood­chip­per.

Though the movie made the city known around the world, it wasn’t a sure bet when it pre­miered at the Fargo the­atre in 1996. The cinema was quiet and some who saw it were of­fended, says Margie Bailly, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the the­atre at the time. Some walked out.

‘‘Those of us who were laugh­ing were a lit­tle lonely,’’ she says.

But lo­cals later warmed up as the film was nom­i­nated for seven Academy Awards, and Fargo started to see the ben­e­fits from all the pub­lic­ity. The the­atre hosted a free Os­car party with a polka band and Jell-O treats that En­ter­tain­ment Weekly billed as one of the top soirees of the evening.

That event was pub­li­cised in sev­eral coun­tries and Fargo cashed in. Do­na­tions flowed for the the­atre’s restora­tion, which dove­tailed with plans to re­vi­talise the city’s down­town.

Six­teen years later, trav­ellers look­ing to see the real Fargo still swing through, with many flock­ing to take a pic­ture next to the iconic wood­chip­per, au­to­graphed on the chute by the Coen broth­ers and dis­played at the city’s tourism cen­tre. Tourism staff hand out ear-flap hats to tourists and take pic­tures of them stuff­ing the leg of a man­nequin into the Yard Shark.

‘‘A good ma­jor­ity of peo­ple come in here just look­ing for the wood­chip­per,’’ says cen­tre worker Jayne Ri­eth. She didn’t like the movie on the big screen but watched it at home re­cently so she could be bet­ter in­formed at work. And the tourism cen­tre and shops around town sell plenty of wood­chip­per T-shirts, shot glasses, koozies, mugs and – of course – ice scrap­ers.

Res­i­dents hope the TV show, pro­duced by Min­nesota-born film­mak­ers, Joel and Ethan Coen, will add to the no­to­ri­ety. No time­line has been an­nounced.

‘‘I don’t know how it can be a bad thing for us,’’ says Charley John­son, boss of the vis­i­tors’ bureau. ‘‘Peo­ple still talk about the movie all the time.’’

Re­tired health in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive Larry Gau­per also thinks most peo­ple are look­ing for­ward to the show. ‘‘There are some peo­ple who don’t like us sort of be­ing mocked, but most peo­ple re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the at­ten­tion,’’ Gau­per says.

But Fargo movie fan Marnie Piehl won­ders if the city has changed too much – thanks to pop­u­la­tion growth and a re­vi­talised down­town with high-end restau­rants and bars serv­ing craft beer and or­ganic veg­eta­bles – that it no longer makes sense to sit­u­ate the TV show here. McDor­mand’s char­ac­ter would have left Fargo years ago, Piehl says.

‘‘It just doesn’t fit for me any more,’’ she says. ‘‘The North Dakota story is not the Marge Gun­der­son story any more.’’

And al­though Ru­drud’s char­ac­ter, Macy’s wife, was killed off in the movie, she joked there still might be room for her. ‘‘Well, I haven’t been chopped up – there’s al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity,’’ she says. Frances McDor­mand in

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