Bob McCabe discovers that the Coen brothers
The sand is the same. The sun is the same. The guy wandering along the
beach with the Palme D‘Or under his
arm is the same. But the absence of Madonna says it all — Brighton is a long way from Cannes. Flushed with the success ofhaving just picked up not only the Palme D‘Or but also awards for Best Director (Joel Coen) and Best Actor (John Tuturro) for their latest movie Barton Fink. the writing-producing-directing double act that is the Coen Brothers decided to stop by brieﬂy at another Film Festival. a mere jump across the channel. Bob McCabe was there.
There‘s something almost frighteningly ordinary about the Coens when you compare them to their wonderful off-beat movies. Sitting side by side. Joel (writer-director) is distinguished from Ethan (writer-producer) by the length ofhis hair and the fact that he only occasionally says ‘oh geez'. not in answer to every question. As they speak. sentences pass from one mouth to another in mid phrase. it‘s almost creepy. lfJoel and Ethan had been child actors they most certainly would have been cast in ‘Children of the Damned'.
At Cannes. apparently. they arrived. picked up their passes and headed straight for the most down-market flea pits they could find. checking out the B through Z grade movies. all but ignoring the A list they came to dominate. They‘ve often been termed ‘film nerds‘. it‘s an apt description.
Although Barton Fink — a comedy set in the 40s with a young successful Broadway writer coming to Hollywood — was always going to be one ofthe year‘s hot contenders at Cannes. the Coens didn't think they were in with a chance. ‘Actually. they told me it was quite unlikely that an American movie would win the Cannes prize for the third year running. (sex. lies and videotape won in 1989. and WildAt Heart last year). so we actully expected not to win.‘ says Joel as Ethan elaborates. ‘The purpose of the festival as a whole is to focus attention on your film. And that‘s why we went there with the film. Winning the prizes there I think helps focus the attention further and more intensely. so we're happy this happenedf
Like many of the filmmakers of their generation — Scorsese and Spielberg. for example — the Coen brothers‘ best friend was their television. Here was where they found their love ofcinema. and developed their great knowledge of movie style. ‘There was a local sort
It Joel and Ethan had been child
actors they most certainly would have been cast in ‘Children at the Damned’.
' ofhuckster in Minneapolis named
Mel Jazz. and he had this thing called Mel Jazz‘ Matinee Movie. He was quite an original programmer because he had La Dolce Vita' on one day at 5pm. and the next day he 'd have The Sons“ ( )f Hercules. I always like to talk about The School Of Mel Jazz in terms ofour work.‘
In college Ethan studied philosophy. while Joel attended film
. school in New York. eventually
i finding work as an editor before the two ofthem got back together and
. began making an independent
thriller called Blood Simple.
‘We were writing for other
producers and through doing this we 1 came across several people who‘d
managed to produce films through
. going to individual investors. and in
a sense we copied what they did.‘ Blood Simple made a healthy
‘ million dollars. and instantly
established the pair as exciting. innovative filmmakers. a reputation they quickly consolidated with the off centre comedy Raising Arizona and the ganster movie sophistication of this year‘s Miller's Crossing. As a partnership. both in family and in work. it‘s been a great success. and
one. so far. that seems remarkably free ofsibling rivalry. ‘We sit in a room essentially and split up work. One person does one scene and one person does another.‘ says Joel. ‘We work through the essentials together and the directing ofthe film is really just an extension of that. Having gone through the writing together it’s not difficult to direct a movie together. Directing on set is essentially answering a lot of questions. dealing with people‘s ideas. and informing them with a specific point ofview. So that becomes a natural thing and it needs very little power on the set. We sort ofsettle on what we want to bring to it during the writing.‘
Typically when the Coens do get round to discussing Barton Fink they say little. and reveal even less. ‘There are two characters in Barton Fink. ()ne ofthem is superficially based on Clifford Odets and the other is superficially based on William Faulkner. The characters aren‘t really meant to resemble either Odets or Faulkner except in the respect that one ofthem is a New York playwright from a group theatre background. and the other is a Southern novelist with a drinking problem.”
For now. the ever-so-normal brothers Coen are content to carry on working as they did when they made super-8 movies as children. ‘It‘s still a surprise that others take it seriously and actually see this as an ordinary movie as opposed to the home movie that it is.‘ (Bob McCabe)
Barton Fink, Cameo l . Sun 25 Aug. 9pm.
Trevor Johnston zooms in on the best of this week's ottertngs at the Fllm Festival.
I Bill Douglas Tribute The gifted Scottish filmmaker. who passed away recently. is remembered with his remarkable Trilogy
(Film/louse 1. 514/125 A 14g. 9am) and his last feature. the TUIplldd/F .‘Wartyrs' chronicle ( 'omrades. film/rouse 1. Sun 25 A ug. 5 . 30pm.
I Barton Fink The Coen Brothers went through a serious writers' block during the scripting of Miller's Crossing. so they wrote a movie about writers‘ block to get them through the other side. John Turturro and John (ioodman star as the headscratching hacks. See also preview. Sunday‘s Closing (iala is already sold out. extra screening: Film/louse 1 . Sat 24 A ug. 4.30pm.
I City at Hope Replacing v the advertised TV pilot of| Shannon '5 Heal. the word. from Cannes on John Sayles's latest offering. an intimate epic of modern American metropolitan experience. already rates it the top American independent‘s best film to date. Bit ofan annoying
clash with the above
Cameo 1. .S'at24 A ug. 4.30pm.
I Homicide Playwright turned movie director
opener has the excellent
Joe Mantegna as a city cop
beginningto realise his identityasaJewinthe
midst of all the racism that surrounds him. Film/rouse I. Sat 24 A ug. 9pm.
I Surprise Film Ifit'swhat we think it is. thenit should be well worth catching. Noclues at all.
q u ick l y. Cameo 1. Fri 23 A ug. 9pm.
l > 1 Escape lrom l istreet theatre — into the twilight world otthe butt: Not really, the Film Festival .has summat tor gall.
= l ‘—I'
the List 1L :9 August 199157