”Making a film in Eden Prairie has its pluses,” says Jim Mallon, the producer and director of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. ”For one thing, you’re not up on the politics of Hollywood, like who’s in rehab or who’s making what film just to pay off his house.”
That’s because Eden Prairie is a suburb of Minneapolis, which is in my home state of Minnesota, which is, suddenly, the new New Hollywood. As MST3K was premiering in Minneapolis last month, two other films were starting production in the Twin Cities: the holiday comedy Jingle All the Way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Overnight Delivery, identified in the local papers simply as ”the flick that isn’t Arnold’s.” (It’s really a comedy cowritten by Kevin Smith, who also did Mallrats in Minnesota.) ”What’s Arnold’s catchphrase going to be?” wondered Mike McCollow, a 30-year-old Minneapolitan extra on Jingle. ”Uff da la vista, baby?”
Uff da, for the unenlightened, is Norwegian for oy vey and is a common expression in Minnesotese. This singular dialect is just one of the regional peculiarities currently on display in Fargo, the Coen brothers’ celebration/denigration of all things Minnesotan, from our officially sanctioned conviviality (”Minnesota Nice” is the state’s propagandistic motto) to our unhealthy twin obsessions (live bait and buffets, often served by the same hands).
Why are the makers of so many movies — from Beautiful Girls to the forthcoming Grumpiest Old Men, which has mercifully exhausted its adjectival intensifiers — feeling Minnesota of late? And why, for that matter, is there an oxymoronically titled film called Feeling Minnesota coming out in September, with Keanu Reeves, Cameron Diaz, and Courtney Love?
Randy Adamsick, executive director of the Minnesota Film Board, points to two local film studios, a thriving theater scene, a local pool of some 1,200 professional actors, and the state’s status as the fourth-largest producer of TV commercials and corporate videos as reasons that nine features were made in Minnesota in 1995 alone.
What’s more, the movies are becoming more twisted and thus more authentically Minnesotan. ”Parts of Fargo are really profound,” says Adamsick. ”The William H. Macy character demands $1 million, and he’s willing to share $40,000 of it. It says we’re generous people in Minnesota, and at the same time we’re incredibly cheap. There’s also this striking juxtaposition between the make-believe ‘Minnesota Nice’ world, in which everyone says ‘Youbetcha,’ and this incredible violence.”
Indeed, the only thing growing faster than the film industry in Minnesota is the crime rate. In Minneapolis, homicides rose 56 percent — from 62 in 1994 to 97 in 1995 — according to the FBI. If a 1995 CBS Evening News report is to be believed, the city is known to drug dealers as Money-apolis, since crack reportedly brings higher prices there than elsewhere.
Guns, drugs, and Courtney Love! Call it Minnesota Phat. ”The films have definitely increased our hipness quotient,” says Adamsick. But not too much. After all, Minnesotans have aspired to an L.A. chic that we never get quite right. Ask Minnesota resident Mallon, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, as he unconvincingly drops phrases like on-screen average. ”I’m trying to use the right terminology out here,” he explains.
Signing off, the auteur hits his full Hollywood stride. ”Gotta run,” he says via cellular. ”Love you, love your work.” Uff da.