The Coen Brothers: Interviews

By Osborne, Tony | Film & History, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Coen Brothers: Interviews


Osborne, Tony, Film & History


THE COEN BROTHERS: INTERVIEWS William Rodney Allen, editor. University Press of Mississippi, 2006. 208 pages; $20.00

AMUSE THEMSELVES

Critics are wont to see a great deal of coded meaning in Ethan and Joel Coen's meticulously framed films. In The Big Lebowski (1998), The Guardian took the madcap troupe of German pornographers in black trench coats as a comment on fascism. In Miller's Crossing (1990), the hat blowing in the wind signified a deep recurrent theme for Positif, whose interviewer pressed the Coen brothers for an explanation. They readily assented that the image represents a hat blown by the wind. That it obliged their aesthetic sensibilities explains any deeper significance. Nothing more.

The Coens are decidedly not purveyors of political commentary or hidden meaning. They simply seek to amuse themselves. They made Fargo (1996) thinking that "about three people will end up seeing it, but it'll be fun for us," said Joel. As The Coen Brothers: Interviews makes plain, fun, for the Coens, means never making the same picture twice as they allude to their favorite writers and movies in outlandishly idiosyncratic ways. For Miller's Crossing, which they termed a "shameless rip-off of Dashiell Hammett, they created the "Thompson jitterbug" montage, a danse macabre propelled by a submachine gun to the strains of "Danny Boy." The choreographed Klan dance in O Brother, Where Art Thou ? (2000) was a mélange of The Wizard of Oz, Busby Berkeley and a Nuremberg rally. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) was printed in black and white to evoke the mood and feel of early 1950s science fiction movies and the nuclear anxiety that engulfed suburbia.

. . . Interviews is a volume in the Conversations with Filmmakers Series. Arranged chronologically, they span the Coen's first picture, Blood Simple (1985), through their tenth (as both writers and directors), The Ladykillers (2004). As is de rigueur in the series, the interviews are presented in their original form, unedited. Far from producing a numbing redundancy, the repetition of questions and answers in shifting contexts is precisely what informs this useful and interesting volume. In essence, these interviews represent the least enjoyable aspect of filmmaking for the Coens-publicizing their movies. As such, . . . Interviews is also a document about the constraints of journalism; how, willingly or unwillingly, celebrities are created and typecast in bouts of forensic sparring. After all those rounds the adjectives leave their marks: "low-budget," "highbrow," "noir," "grotesque," "subversive," "violent," "borderline-tasteless," "tight-lipped," "absurd. …

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