Page 1

THE

2-HEADED DIRECTOR

JOEL & ETHAN COEN


One of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat.

There needs to be two of us. Otherwise he’s gotta type one–handed. That’s how you collaborate with someone else

ETHAN COEN


JOEL

&

ETHAN

THE

COEN

BROS


JOEL DAVID COEN & ETHAN JESSE COEN, known together professionally as the Coen brothers, are American filmmakers. The brothers write, direct and produce their films jointly, although until recently Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing. They often alternate top billing for their screenplays while sharing film credits for editor under the alias Roderick Jaynes. They are known in the film business as “the two-headed director�, as they share a similar vision of their films. It is said that actors can approach either brother with a question and get the same answer.


Joel David Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957), grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, in a Jewish household. Their parents, Edward and Rena Coen, were professors, their father an economist at the University of Minnesota and their mother an art historian at St. Cloud State University. When they were children, Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivitar Super 8 camera. Together, the brothers remade movies they saw on television with a neighborhood kid, Mark Zimering (“Zeimers”), as the star. Their first attempt was a romp titled, Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go. Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey (1966) became their Zeimers in Zambia, which also featured Ethan as a native with a spear. The brothers graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1973 and 1976. They both also graduated from Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Joel then spent four years in the undergraduate film program at New York University where he made a 30-minute thesis film called Soundings. The film depicted a woman engaged in sex with her deaf boyfriend while verbally fantasizing about having sex with her boyfriend’s best friend, who is listening in the next room. Ethan went on to Princeton University and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1979. His senior thesis was a 41-page essay, “Two Views of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy”. ABOVE Ethan (left) and Joel BELOW Frances McDormand (Joel’s wife)

In the late 1970s, both brothers lived in the Weinstein dormitory at 5-11 University Place, an NYU dorm noted for housing such creatives as Ralph Bakshi, Rick Rubin, actor/writer Jonathan Schmock, and film makers Chris Columbus and Dan Goldman. Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984. They adopted a son from Paraguay, named Pedro McDormand Coen (Frances and all her siblings were adopted themselves). McDormand has acted in six of the Coen Brothers’ films, including a minor appearance in Miller’s Crossing a supporting role in Raising Arizona, lead roles in Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn’t There, her Academy Award winning role in Fargo, and her latest starring role in Burn After Reading. She also did a voiceover in Barton Fink. Ethan is married to film editor Tricia Cooke. Both couples live in New York City.


MILLER’S CROSSING (1990) Miller’s Crossing is a 1990 American gangster film by the Coen brothers and starring Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito and John Turturro. The plot concerns a power struggle between two rival gangs and how the protagonist (Byrne) plays both sides off each other.

“THEY ARE ACTING PRECISELY LIKE THE COPS THAT WE’RE DEPICTING IN THE MOVIE, AND THEY DON’T EVEN CARE!”

JOEL In 2005, Time magazine chose Miller’s Crossing as one of the 100 greatest films made since the inception of the periodical. Time critic Richard Corliss called it a “noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the Frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest.” Miller’s Crossing contains references to many other gangster films and film noir. Many of its situations, characters and dialogue are derived from the work of Dashiell Hammett, especially his 1931 novel The Glass Key and the 1942 film that was adapted from it. Though several important plot points are different, there are significant parallels between the two stories, and many scenes


INSET John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum

and lines are culled directly from Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Another important source was Hammett’s novel Red Harvest (1929), which details the story of a violent internecine gang war in a corrupt American city, a gang war initiated by the secret machinations of the main character. However, the film contains no actual scenes, characters, or dialogue from Red Harvest, whereas it follows the plot and major characters of The Glass Key fairly closely. The city in which the film takes place is unidentified, but the film was shot in New Orleans because they were attracted to its look. Ethan Coen commented in an interview, “There are whole neighborhoods here of nothing but 1929 architecture. There’s a lot of architecture that hasn’t been touched, store-front windows that haven’t been replaced in the last sixty years.” During filming, the New Orleans police would arrive semi-regularly to assess fines for permits the film crew had already procured. Joel Coen commented to Premiere during shooting, “They are acting precisely like the cops that we’re depicting in the movie, and they don’t even care!”

LOOK INTO YOUR HEART!

Miller’s Crossing was a box-office failure at the time, making slightly more than $5 million of the $14 million budget. However, it has made a great deal of revenue in video and DVD sales. The film was critically acclaimed, and has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 66 on Metacritic (as of 2010).


THE MOVIE PEOPLE LET

OF THE SANDBOX AN

WE’RE HAP


US PLAY IN THE CORNER

ND LEAVE US ALONE.

PPY HERE.


FARGO (1996) Fargo stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant police chief who investigates a series of homicides, William H. Macy as a car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the criminals, and Harve Presnell as the salesman’s father-in-law. The film earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for the Coens and Best Actress in a Leading Role for McDormand. It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. It was inducted into the United States National Film Registry in 2006; it is currently the most recently made film in the Registry. Fargo opens with the following text: THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred. Although the film itself is completely fictional, the Coen brothers claim that many of the events that take place in the movie were actually based on true events from other cases that they threw together to make one story. Joel Coen noted: “We weren’t interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined...If an audience believes that something’s based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.”

INSET William H. Macy THIS PAGE Frances McDormand OPPOSITE (L2R) Peter Stormare as Gaear Grimsrud; Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter


“IF AN AUDIENCE BELIEVES THAT SOMETHING’S BASED ON A REAL EVENT, IT GIVES YOU PERMISSION TO DO THINGS THEY MIGHT OTHERWISE NOT ACCEPT.”

JOEL

The Coens claim the actual murders took place, but not in Minnesota. The main reason for the film’s setting is the fact that the Coens were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis. On the special edition DVD’s trivia track for Fargo, it is revealed that the main case for the movie’s real world inspiration was based on the infamous 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who killed her and disposed of her body through a wood chipper.


NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American crime thriller film adapted for the screen from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name. The title of McCarthy's novel comes from the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. Set along the United States–Mexico border in 1980, the story concerns an illicit drug deal gone wrong in a remote desert location. The film, directed by the Coen brothers, stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. The plot follows the interweaving paths of the three central characters (Ed Tom Bell, Anton Chigurh, and Llewelyn Moss) set in motion by events related to a drug deal gone bad near the Mexican-American border in southwest Texas in Terrell County. No Country for Old Men tells the story of an ordinary man to whom chance delivers a fortune that is not his, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama, as the three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas. The film examines the themes of fate and circumstance the Coen brothers have previously explored in Blood Simple and Fargo.

OPPOSITE (T2B) Woody Harrelson Josh Brolin Tommy Lee Jones Javier Bardem


No Country for Old Men has been highly praised by critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers...have ever made." The Guardian journalist John Patterson said the film proved "that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based Western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors." The film was honored with numerous awards, garnering three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).

“THE DIALOGUE IS TAKEN PRETTY MUCH ENTIRELY FROM THE BOOK. THERE’S A FORMALITY TO IT. AND NOONE USES CONTRACTIONS.”

ETHAN


THE

ACADEMY AWARDS AKA. THE OSCARS BARTON FINK (1991)

FARGO (1996)

NO COUNTRY FOR

Academy Award Winner Academy Award Nominee


The films of the Coen brothers have garnered 23 Academy Award nominations. Both Ethan and Joel have been nominated for ten Oscars (twice under their alias Roderick Jaynes) and have won two Oscars for screenwriting (original screenplay for Fargo and adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men). They received their first awards for Best Achievement in Directing and Best Picture for No Country for Old Men.

O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? (2000)

A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

OLD MEN (2007)

“THE AWARDS PUT A MOVIE ON PEOPLE’S RADARS. FESTIVALS ARE GOOD, EVEN THOUGH THE IDEA OF PUTTING MOVIES IN COMPETITIONS — THIS ONE IS THE BEST THIS, THIS ONE IS THE BEST THAT — IS RIDICULOUS”

ETHAN


the 2-Headed Director: the Coen Brothers  

a zine about hollywood filmmakers Joel & Ethan Coen

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