Ethan Diversifies: The younger Coen makes high art of raunchy poetry
By Pamela Zoslov
The book is the newest entry in a literary career that began, Ethan says, shortly after he and Joel made their first film, the clever noir send-up Blood Simple. “I was a kid then, 25,” he says. Now he is 44, and the brothers have made nine films together. Their skewed, idiosyncratic worldview and astonishing technical virtuosity have made them legends to film cultists, critics and, since the commercially successful Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, general audiences as well. Between movies, Ethan has made his mark as a writer of wry, offbeat fiction: his 1998 short-story collection, Gates of Eden, which showcased his talent for absurd, sardonic dialogue, was a bestseller.
The Coens take traditional cinematic forms — gangster melodrama, screwball comedy, film noir — and twist them into eccentric postmodern shapes. Ethan’s poetry does something similar, enlisting standard verse forms — quatrains, limericks, Poe-style balladry — to mock the literary conventions themselves. These are dirty poems, to be sure, but don’t they also represent a marriage of the sacred and profane? “Where’s the sacred?” he responds dryly. Okay, does he have any literary models? He says he doesn’t. How about
With the Coens, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overanalysis. They long ago confessed their infatuation with the novels of James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett, but Ethan says critics overestimate their literary influences. “They read too much into it,” he says. “We’re presumably these movie brats. They mention movies that we’re supposed to be influenced by — which we haven’t seen." No doubt that’s because the Coens’ movies revisit and reinterpret a wide range of popular film styles. “To be fair, we seem to invite that kind of exegesis, especially with Barton Fink. But you do stuff because it feels good for the story. There’s no code."
What will the Coens’ next movie be? “It’s gonna be a contemporary romantic comedy set in
So does this mean we won’t be seeing The Bob Crane Story, the movie the Coens wanted to make about the former Hogan’s Heroes star who became a sex-and-pornography addict who was bludgeoned to death with a camera tripod?
“That was our dream project for years,” he says ruefully. “Someone else is already making it. Someone’s gonna beat us to the punch.”
Shooting on the Clooney vehicle won’t begin for a while, because the Coens have to wait for the in-demand star to become available. A romantic comedy from the Coens, whose movies never feature so much as a kiss?
“Well, we’re selling out,” Coen says. “It’s going to be a big, dumb studio movie. It’ll be big and dumb.”