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Coen Brothers (1954 - )

Related: 1954 - 1957 - American cinema - director

"It is hard to imagine the Coen brothers without James M. Cain."


Joel and Ethan Coen, commonly called The Coen Brothers in the film business, are United States directors best known for their quirky comedies like Fargo and Raising Arizona; the brothers write their own scripts and alternate top billing for the screenplay. Joel gets credit for directing the films, but the two brothers work so closely together and share such a strong vision of what their film is to be that actors report that they can approach either brother with a question and get the same answer. The brothers are known in the film business as "the two-headed director."

Joel Coen was born November 29, 1954, and has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984; they have an adopted baby named Pedro.

Ethan Coen was born September 21, 1957, and is married to film editor Tricia Cooke. Both are frequently credited in their own films as editor under the name "Roderick Jaynes." The Coen Brothers grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Their parents were both professors, with their father's specialty in Economics, and their mother's in Art History. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_and_Ethan_Coen [Feb 2005]

Blood and guts in Coens' films

The Coens also show a fascination with both blood and vomit; Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, and Blood Simple all show elaborate puddles of blood, whereas in Fargo it's a wide spray in the snow coming from a wood chipper; Tom vomits in Miller's Crossing once off-screen at his house and once on-screen in the crossing itself; Marty vomits in Ray's yard in Blood Simple, and then vomits again on the floor later (but this time it's a torrent of blood); Charlie vomits off-screen in Barton Fink; and Marge bends over to vomit but doesn't in Fargo.


  1. Blood Simple - Coen Brothers [Amazon US]
    The debut film of director Joel Coen and his brother-producer Ethan Coen, 1983's Blood Simple is grisly comic noir that marries the feverish toughness of pulp thrillers with the ghoulishness of even pulpier horror. (Imagine the novels of Jim Thompson somehow fused with the comic tabloid Weird Tales, and you get the idea.) The story concerns a Texas bar owner (Dan Hedaya) who hires a seedy private detective (M. Emmett Walsh) to follow his cheating wife (Frances McDormand in her first film appearance), and then kill her and her lover (John Getz). The gumshoe turns the tables on his client, and suddenly a bad situation gets much, much worse, with some violent goings-on that are as elemental as they are shocking. (A scene in which a character who has been buried alive suddenly emerges from his own grave instantly becomes an archetypal nightmare.) Shot by Barry Sonnenfeld before he became an A-list director in Hollywood, Blood Simple established the hyperreal look and feel of the Coens' productions (undoubtedly inspired a bit by filmmaker Sam Raimi, whose The Evil Dead had just been coedited by Joel). Sections of the film have proved to be an endurance test for art-house movie fans, particularly an extended climax that involves one shock after another but ends with a laugh at the absurdity of criminal ambition. This is definitely one of the triumphs of the 1980s and the American independent film scene in general. --Tom Keogh

  2. Raising Arizona (1987) - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen [Amazon US]
    Blood Simple made it clear that the cinematically precocious Coen brothers (writer-director Joel and writer-producer Ethan) were gifted filmmakers to watch out for. But it was the outrageously farcical Raising Arizona that announced the Coens' darkly comedic audacity to the world. It wasn't widely seen when released in 1987, but its modest audience was vocally supportive, and this hyperactive comedy has since developed a large and loyal following. It's the story of "Ed" (for Edwina, played by Holly Hunter), a policewoman who falls in love with "Hi" (for H.I. McDonnough, played by Nicolas Cage) while she's taking his mug shots. She's infertile and he's a habitual robber of convenience stores, and their folksy marital bliss depends on settling down with a rug rat. Unable to conceive, they kidnap one of the newsworthy quintuplets born to an unpainted-furniture huckster named Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), who quickly hires a Harley-riding mercenary (Randall "Tex" Cobb) to track the baby's whereabouts. What follows is a full-throttle comedy that defies description, fueled by the Coens' lyrical redneck dialogue, the manic camerawork of future director Barry Sonnenfeld, and some of the most inventively comedic chase scenes ever filmed. Some will dismiss the comedy for being recklessly over-the-top; others will love it for its clever mix of slapstick action, surreal fantasy, and homespun family values. One thing's for sure--this is a Coen movie from start to finish, and that makes it undeniably unique. --Jeff Shannon for amazon.com

  3. Fargo (1996) - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Leave it to the wildly inventive Coen brothers (Joel directs, Ethan produces, they both write) to concoct a fiendishly clever kidnap caper that's simultaneously a comedy of errors, a Midwestern satire, a taut suspense thriller, and a violent tale of criminal misfortune. It all begins when a hapless car salesman (played to perfection by William H. Macy) ineptly orchestrates the kidnapping of his own wife. The plan goes horribly awry in the hands of bumbling bad guys Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare (one of them being described by a local girl as "kinda funny lookin'" and "not circumcised"), and the pregnant sheriff of Brainerd, Minnesota, (played exquisitely by Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) is suddenly faced with a case of multiple murders. Her investigation is laced with offbeat observations about life in the rural hinterland of Minnesota and North Dakota, and Fargo embraces its local yokels with affectionate humor. At times shocking and hilarious, Fargo is utterly unique and distinctly American, bearing the unmistakable stamp of its inspired creators. --Jeff Shannon for amazon.com

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