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The films of JOEL and ETHAN COEN (top) grab a genre, give it a twist and make it their own.

Nigel Floyd met them to discuss screwball fantasy The Hudsucker Proxy.

I’lnt Robbins as Norville Barnes (right) trying out his new Invention - the hula-hoop

henever Joel Coen and his younger brother Ethan are asked about their close collaboration as filmmakers, they stress that, despite the nominal titles of director and producer respec- tively, the creative process is far more mix-and- match. ‘Ethan and [just talk the scene back and forth, hammer it out,’ says Joel. ‘There’s no division, no specialisation or particular contri- bution of one element, it’s more like a conversa- tion.‘ Unsurprisingly, their interviewing style has precisely that same quality. their answers often overlapping as they expand upon or reinforce each other’s comments. like one of those comedy acts where the partners continu- ally ftnish one another’s sentences.

Their latest work, The Hudsucker Proxy. is a lavish comic fable that wasjointly funded to the tune of $25 million by PolyGram and Warner Bros (through the good offices of lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver, no less). At first glance, the film seems to be a departure for the renowned independent filmmakers. Their noir- influenced debut feature, Blood Simple, was shot on a shoe-string budget, and despite their classy production values. neither Raising Arizona nor Miller's Crossing were profligatc productions. Both brothers insist, however, that despite the extra cash and a cast that includes Paul Newman and Tim Robbins, no commercial pressures were brought to bear: ‘It really

depends on what your 3‘ criteria of independence ., w” A“. are,’ explains Joel. ‘lf ‘°

it’s controlling the \ movie, we controlled 7 this in every respect that ‘1 _ we’ve controlled our other movies: script. I'N‘i casting, final cut, etc. \ a v ‘In fact, ifwe were ever independent’ 1 continues Ethan.


Jumping through hoops

‘we still are. in the sense that we didn’t make this movie differently than we have any of the others we’ve done in the past. Outwardly, it looks like a bigger movie, therefore it’s a studio movie in that sense, but in fact in terms of how it worked, and how it was structured, it was the same.’

Indeed, with its screwball plotting. cartoon- like action. baroque camera style, exaggerated architectural design and non-naturalistic acting. The Hudsucker Proxy is business as usual. The business practices it portrays, on the other hand. are anything but usual. When the chairman of Hudsucker Industries dives out of the top-floor boardroom window, ruthless executive Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman) formulates a drastic plan to keep control of the successful company. He recruits naive post-room boy Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) as the new chairman, knowing that the ensuing market panic will cause the firm’s stock price to plunge. This will discourage potential buyers and allow the board to buy back the stock at a knock-down price.

What Mussburger hasn’t reckoned with is Norville’s unexpected business sense and his brilliant idea for a novelty product that pushes Hudsucker profits through the roof. Starting life as a pencil-drawn circle on a scrap of paper, his invention is the consumer novelty of the late 505. the hula-hoop. Suddenly the muted tones of the early scenes give way to vivid colour and the circle metaphor that informs every level of the movie comes into sharp focus. But did the hula- hoop suggest the circle metaphor, or was it the other way round?

‘lt’s interesting,’ says Joel, leaning forward and warming to the subject. ‘There were certain circular elements in the movie that came before the hula-hoop the idea of the clock. the whole sort of circular structure of the story but the

idea for the hula-hoop came at the point where we had to solve the particular

14 The List 26 August-8 September 1994