Fargo warms to its fame
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