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The Serious Coens

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Mark Kermode | 11:48 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

They've worked with some of the biggest stars on the planet including Brad Pitt and George Clooney. They've earned Academy approval for their stunning visualisation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. As they release their new movie, A Serious Man, is it now fair to say that the brothers who began their movie career with blackly comic noir homage and late night cult favourite Blood Simple, and then later created a genuine cult hero alter ego for Jeff Bridges with The Big Lebowski, finally joined the mainstream?

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Doctor K,

    I love how you call The Big Lebowski overly quirky while you're a big fan of 'oh my blog, hamburger phone' Juno, a film specifically made for the hipster audience.

    How can you love one film for it's quirkiness yet dislike another for the same thing?

  • Comment number 2.

    In terms of success the Coens have "joined the mainstream" purely because they've made films that have been critically lauded whilst also returning a healthy profit. However, I would agree with the Dr that they do only make films they want to make. They aren't producing the kind of mainstream drivel the likes of Michael Bay et al spew out, they still make well thought out, cleverly written & excellently directed films with their own distinct style. Again using the Dr's argument about Terry Gillam, even though he may make a film that disappoints you still have to appreciate that he is committed to creating a quality piece of art not looking to fill the coffers of studios & distributors.

    Someone I personally would accuse of "going mainstream" is Tim Burton. I enjoy most of his early work & still have a great fondness for both his Batman films - even though they were huge blockbusters they still appeared to be very much Tim Burton following through his vision of how a story should be told. The last of his films I took pleasure in viewing was Sleepy Hollow, which is one of his least successful commercially but an exceellent retelling of a classic myth. However after that we see the mainstream influence kick in, with the pointless, stale, god-awful remake of Planet of the Apes & the equally horrible Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Whether consciously or not he appears to have become a shadow of his former self making films that have the Tim Burton hallmarks & look, but seemingly without the passion or feeling that came through in the likes of Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. The distributors can chuck the newer films out into cinemas with the Tim Burton name on them & watch the money roll in regardless of quality.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think it's a great argument you put forward and I love the Coens as much as the next person but the two flaws in that argument I think are Intolerable Cruelty and that terrible remake of the Ladykillers, which both prove how mainstream and perfunctory their work can be. However because in their back catalogue they have No Country, Fargo and now A Serious Man I believe they will always manage to make films which keep that independant spirit and in these times where studios are cutting back on production and limiting budget, keeping the indie circuit alive and trying to keep their work unique and original I think they are wonderful.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think the most mainstream film that the Coens made that I have seen is "Fargo" which was 10+ years earlier than "No Country for Old Rope".
    I didnt see Ladykillers but anything starring Tom Hanks that is a remake of a classic comedy is likely to be mainstream.

    Serious Man reminds me of Barton Fink even the appearance of the main character is somewhat Finkish. It should come with a Jewish glossary for "goys".

  • Comment number 5.

    Surely Michael Bay is making films for himself too? Vacuous, soulless, flim-flam, all mouth and no-trousers, etc etc. It's what he wants to see.

  • Comment number 6.

    Does it really matter if the Coens are "mainstream" or "indie" or whatever? Surely what matters is the quality of their films? I don't like everything they've made (I'm with Dr K here, The Big Lebowski just doesn't do it for me at all), but they do make quality films that offer a unique vision. Sometimes it strikes a chord with people and sometimes it doesn't.

    Mainstream or not? Who cares.

  • Comment number 7.

    As with a lot of film directors they have attempted in their careers to strike a balance between commercialism to fund the project and the artistic integrity of their 'vision'. The Cohen brothers have managed this to varying degrees of success. To say they have become mainstream is IMO jumping the gun.

    As many directors get older and have more influence, financing and power you would imagine they would be better at it but it is not always the case. George Lucas is the best example of this.

    No doubt the Cohen Brothers will make many more films of varying quality and commercial success. I look forward to seeing them all, including a Serious Man. However quirky or mainstream.


    - Stuart

    http://stewzer.com

  • Comment number 8.

    Yeah there will always be a self-indulgent edge to the Coens as cinema is a very personal thing to them PERIOD!

    A Serious Man is a deeply niche movie that when I went to see it there was clearly a large Jewish audience present who seem to get things that I didn't or couldn't (whichever). For me, the character of Si is straight out of the Coens world in that he is completely idiosyncratic to their universe.

    With No Country which is my favourite Coens movie, they were serving the material first and then they were indulging themselves which is why I think that movie was the one to get the Oscar.

    That said, being 'The Establishment' could be labelled on anybody who makes a good living from the film industry nowadays. I think now that the film industry is more open than it was back in the day (the success of Colin at Cannes) we should see 'The Establishment ' differently.

    It should be YES they are now in the mainstream BUT are they still going to deliver work that is of the level of their previous efforts. If being financially successful changes them then we can say the enrollment of the Coens to 'The Establishment' was a bad thing. But if they churn out more great movies they have still kept their artistic integrity (which is the whole point in the first place).

  • Comment number 9.

    "Fargo" is by far the best film they will ever do, it's pure genius, absolutely flawless, everything in that films is perfect.

    "The Big Lebowski" I don't find to be super "quirky" it's just a really funny film noir film, it's just Phillip Marlowe as a burnt out hippie trying to solve a mystery, I love it.

    In my humble opinion I found "Burn after Reading" absolutely hilarious, it's just a fun flick.

    Top 5 Coen Brothers film...
    1. Fargo
    2. The Big Lebowski
    3. The Man who Wasn't There
    4. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    5. No Country for Old Men

    I've never been able to understand the greatness of "Blood Simple", it's good but it's not great.

  • Comment number 10.

    oh and special nod to "The Hudsucker Proxy", very underrated flick.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think the Coen brothers are the best film makers working today.

  • Comment number 12.

    For me The Big Lebowski is the only great 'stoner film' ever made. Its a well worn theme of a lazy stoner who just wants to sit around and do nothing but can't because he gets caught up in events he really does not want to be involved in.

    Most recently Seth Rogan tried and failed to make this kind of film with Pineapple Express. It didn't work because they forgot what makes Lebowski or any good film great, character and story.

    Lebowski is genius because of the brilliant array of classic Coen characters that are thrown in Jeff Bridges way to help/hinder him on his journey. Coupled of course with a terrific and endlessly quotable script.

  • Comment number 13.

    THE BIG LEBOWSKI i would say is the best Coen Brothers film.

    Best certainly in terms of...
    their funniest, their most enjoyable, and their most rewatchable.

  • Comment number 14.

    Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were two Hollywood productions they walked into, starting out by doing a rewrite and then eventually taking over the director's chairs. No surprise, then, that those films are awful. Burn After Reading may be a self-indulgent guest list but at least it's entertaining unlike those two.

    But overall I agree with you. The Coen Brothers can be compared to Woody Allen in that their in the unique position of being able to make films for themselves and get funding automatically because their work has such a long shelf life.

  • Comment number 15.

    I must say I loathe the term "quirky".
    It says absolutely nothing, and gets tacked onto all manner of films which either;

    a) Dare deviate from normative cinema.
    or/and
    b) Divulge in utterly incongruous eccentricities.

    In the case of the Coen brothers, they've always had this peculiar trend of "call and response".
    After each Blood Simple there's a Raising Arizona.
    And I agree with the good doctor in that, for all their flirtations with commercial cinema, their work always sports a certain panache and obvious affection for film as a medium which is impossible to ignore even in the muddled context of blockbuster success.
    This could also be applied to directors such as Guillermo del Toro, Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; all filmmakers with a keen eye for their craft but with enough savvy to make it both in the arts and in the industry.

    P.S
    For the record, Juno was a "b)".
    Tripe. Pure and simple.
    I don't know about you, but I'm not familiar with that many teenage pregnancies that end up in wealthy yuppie homes.
    D.S

  • Comment number 16.

    the Big Liebowski is one the best films of all time. A truly wonderful film, hilarious, endlessly rewatchable, superb performances, a pretty insightful piece on both sides of the divide in America. As great a take on the whole Marlowe/film noir genre as Altman's the Long Goodbye. It's also has a wonderful take on human nature; just notice how characters' repeat what they've heard from other characters. Superb production design, gorgeous cinematography and a fantastic soundtrack.

    Barton Fink, Fargo, Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn't There are all amazing films. The rest I could leave to be honest.

    As for whether they've become more mainstream or not, well I would have looked at it from another angle, suspecting that mainstream audiences have become more alternative and have caught up with the Coens.

    But then you just have to look at their box office numbers, and they're pretty poor, though they've been steadily increasing. Their biggest hit was their oscar winner No Country For Old Men at 74 million in the US. next up is Burn After Reading, which had a smattering of big stars, at 60 mill. Then they have 3 or 4 films that made between 30 and 45 million dollars, made with well known stars, but had mixed reviews at best, eg. Intolerable Cruelty, Ladykillers etc. The earlier ones didn't even break the 10 million mark but are critically acclaimed.

    So I think the Coen Bros rule is: the fewer the stars the better the film.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Coen Brothers for me always split into three catagories: the good, the bland and the ugly.

    It goes as follows-

    The Good: Barton Fink, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller's Crossing

    The Bland: No Country For Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Serious Men, Burn After Reading

    The Ugly: Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers

    I'm sorry but i did not think No Country For Old Men was the masterpiece it was touted as and when reviewing A Serious Man i was unbelievably bored in that screening room.

    The best Coen Brothers film hands down is Barton Fink.

  • Comment number 18.

    They may be making movies for themselves, but for A Serious Man they've also made one of the most irritating trailers of all time.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree completely. I think the mainstream has finally joined the Coen brothers, not the other way around.

  • Comment number 20.

    'kermode i'm going to cut off your johnson'

    get it re-watched

  • Comment number 21.

    I would like to respond to the good doctor's latest video by asking, what is wrong with self-indulgent film making? If a film maker is not developing something for themselves then they are usually working to satisfy their fans or their accountants, neither of which is ideal. For starters, fans are generally fickle, unreasonably demanding and (to quote another favorate critic of mine) will never be happy with any concession you make. Before I sound any more like the misanthropic shut-in that I am, I feel I should clarify my point with an example. In spider-man 3, Sam Raimi was forced to include venom as one of the latest villians to the series, despite openly admitting his dislike of the character, because that's what the fans demanded. As a result the character felt crowbarred in and the film suffered from a major case of over-crowding. As for making film's for the accountents (the Michael Bay technique), this almost always leads to soulless compilations of tedious cliche's and worn out gimmicks that have proved profitable in the past, as we have recently witnessed in 2012, or most family orientated sequels for that matter.

    As soon as film-makers (or any form of artist) shut out the demanding voices of fans and money-men, and start making films that they want to see, we witness a new level of passion come through in the final product. Guillermo Del Torro is such a wonderful film maker because he has a genuine interest in his country's history and mythology and makes films that allow him to explore it. Directors like kubrick or Carpenter, who have made films across various genres, rather than sticking to the same old thing, seem to have done so in order to challenge themselves. It is my opinion that the best creators in any medium are the ones who are motivated to satisfy their own desires over anyone elses. It is true enough that the quality of a film will always be defined by the talent of those involved in it's production, however as long as the coens continue to produce films that they want to see, without compromising their ideas to satisfy anyone else, then their films will always appeal to audiences with similar tastes.

  • Comment number 22.

    I always thought Blood Simple was one of their quirky comedies; when the character played by Frances McDormand says to her lover, "I aint done nothing funny" in her dumb way, inadvertently validating what her sleazy husband told the lover she'd say to cover her lies, or one realizes in the end that she simply has no idea what's going on, I always giggle much more than in films like Raising Arizona. For the most part I agree with you about the brothers Coen, that they tend to make films that follow their own attenuated vision of cinema as stylizedly enervated. With one, possibly two exceptions. Clearly The Hudsucker Proxy really was a cynical exercise on their part. They obviously did sit down with that movie and think: we can make the this so that it appeals to people who like knowing, postmodern films with tons of in-jokes and big Brazil sets, and also pull in the dumb lugs who want plenty of rich, creamed Forrest Gump-like smarm; no one will know the difference. Actually, I believe I heard the brothers saying almost as much in an interview in the nineties: they had been surprised that this dreadful movie had flopped.

    Why do you like Barton Fink the best? While the weird hotel is quite wonderful, and judy Davis, and her fate, is interesting, the parody of Hollywood seemed sort of cliche to me, and the big firey climax with Goodman screaming "I'll show you the life of the mind!" as he rushes down a hall being consumed with improbably symmetrical flames struck me as woefully overscaled for the sort of film it was. Why the image of the woman on the beach, and the gag with the bird? Visually it's interesting, but if it's just meant to crap exclamationally on Barton's naif idealism, it was a little superfluous. I'm much more concerned with what was finally was in that box. The movie's like a chilled out mainstreamed David Lynch with a couple Hitchcock flourishes. Why not just watch Psycho or Blue Velvet instead?

  • Comment number 23.

    So they make films for themselves rather than some titular audience - I'm sure the same thing applies to most decent film makers, poets, artists, authors, musicians, etc. etc. I'm not denying your point, just suggesting that it's not as portentous as your blog post makes it out to be. In a nice way, obviously.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm willing to bet the Good Doctor a pint of his favourite tipple that, if he watches The Big Lebowski again, he'll get the Dude bug.

    But, in relation to what you talk about in your video blog: there has always been this snobbish attitude amongst the arts - especially in music and film - where, when someone finally "makes it" and the rest of the world catches up to how good that someone is, the immediate reaction is to brand them a sell-out.

    It's almost as if liking a band, actor, or director that's become "mainstream" carries some sort of weird disease that those who like to think they're "in the know" don't want to catch.

    In some cases, hitting the mainstream does result in selling out, sure, but there is this stink of elitism that wafts through the air whenever people start to brand their former heroes as sell-outs, or spit the word "mainstream" as if it's a dirty word.

    There's always this romantic notion that true art has to be someone toiling away in obscurity until they die, appreciated by only a select few, and then the rest of the world wakes up.

    That says more about those who want to be the select few than it does about reality.

    Fact is, films are about entertainment. That entertainment has become a big business. This ends up with the situation where some make films in order for them to entertain, while others make films to make money by entertaining.

    The Cohens make fantastic, entertaining films. I suspect that they make these films to entertain themselves first and foremost, because the reality is that if you can't be entertained by it yourself, then what's the point?

    I can only hope and pray that the Cohens have become mainstream, because that bodes well for the future. Maybe it means that the "Bride Wars Top 10" lists of the future are going to be whittled down to nothing, because people appreciate good entertainment. I'm being overly hopeful, but still ... it's nice to dream.

    Well done, the Cohen brothers. They deserve all the applause they can get for creating some of the most memorable films I've ever seen.

  • Comment number 25.

    I just wanted to say that the Coen Brothers film I liked the least was "Miller's Crossing", mainly because it tried to alternate between "quirky" and "realistic" in a way that just felt... really off. Half the time, I just didn't believe any of the characters could exist in the real world, but as soon as I told myself that hey, it doesn't really matter - it's the Coens! - Gabriel Byrne turned up and went all Stanislavski on the audience.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Mark , have always respected your views but was surprised to hear you didnt enjoy Lebowski. there arent many films that make me laugh but lebowski for me was a riot from start to finish. could it be that your overly pre-occupied with dissecting the movie and missing out on the magic? the plot is irrelevant. once you understand the humour everything else falls into place - even the nonchalant flabbiness which for me echoed the central character beautifully.

  • Comment number 27.

    If the Coen's were truly mainstream I would go to the movies more often. Compared to the truly overwhelming pile of dreck that has been put out this year they bring a genuine vison to even their lesser films. As for the Big Lebowski the combination of a perfect cast and truly odd take on the classic PI genre never fails to make me laugh.

  • Comment number 28.

    The Dude Abides? More's the pity. I'm personally pleased to see a little bit of a Lebowski backlash, as I hated The Big Lebowski from start to finish. It's easily the worst film they've made so far and that obviously includes Raising Arizona which I thought was annoying more than anything else. (I haven't seen Intolerable Cruelty yet; it may be worse but I think it's unlikely.) On the other side of the fence is The Ladykillers which wasn't great, but occasionally rather fun; as I have no particular love of, or loyalty to, the Ealing version I can't see it as a desecration of a masterpiece.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm going to be the cat among the pigeons, but here goes:

    I hate the Coen Brothers.

    I'm not going to go so far as to compare them to Michael Bay - don't let me overstate my case - but it seems to me that every single one of their films are completely INCONSEQUENTIAL. They are no interesting characters, all of them are archetypes, stereotypes or stand-ins for the Coens themselves. Most of their films have exactly the same dull plot - there's some money, it falls into the wrong hands and bad stuff happens. That's the plot of Fargo, of No Country and to a certain extent Burn After Reading.

    I saw both The Big Lebowski and Fargo during my time as a student. I watched the former in a room full of other students my age, and I was the only one not laughing constantly. I found the whole thing to be an unfunny, inconsequential, plotless, lifeless mess. All the characters are played on one note, they never develop or go anywhere, and what was the point of Sam Elliot's character?! Fargo was a little bit better, but it was ponderously slow, Frances McDormand and William H. Macy were annoying for the whole film and the scenes with the wood chipper weren't horrifying at all because the film hadn't built up the characters enough to make me care at all.

    I would liken the Coens to Michael Cimino. I know that Mark hates The Dark Hunter and I wouldn't go that far, but they have a similar approach, namely shooting a lot of simple and meaningless scenes with the intention of passing them off as deeply nuanced and meaningful. Mark's talked before about watching No Country, you're not sure whether to laugh, cry or wince: my experience with Fargo was more a choice between leaving and throwing stuff at the screen.

    On the subject of Tim Burton - Burton has NOT got mainstream. Sure, he's made bad films in a bid for mainstream appeal - I still haven't recovered from Mars Attacks!. But he's still an auteur at heart. At the moment he's making his best films because the visual effects and cinematography have finally caught up with his rampant imagination. Big Fish is brilliant, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is great after a couple of viewings (first time out the ending is jarring) and Sweeney Todd is on a par with Ed Wood as his masterpiece. I'm not convinced his Alice in Wonderland will be improved by putting in 3D, but if it's anything like Todd or Fish it'll be one of the films of the year. Burton's films are genuine artistic visions: the Coens are brainless hacks.

  • Comment number 30.

    Mars Attacks! is fun.

  • Comment number 31.

    It's a terrible film - not funny, badly directed, the homages to 1950s B-movies are buried under too much CGI, the cast are all playing themselves, none of the characters are developed and it's far too long.

  • Comment number 32.

    I agree with Keir's point about Juno (pandering, self-indulgent, quirky for quirky's sake), but still don't like Big Lebowski. In fact I either walked away or turned it off the few times I tried watching it. Maybe I'll make like the good doctor and give it one last try.

    I appreciate the Coen Brothers for the fact that their films are so polarizing. I fell asleep during The Man Who Wasn't There, I didn't understand Fargo, I hated O'Brother Where Art Thou, and Ladykillers is a bunch of old toss, but I DID really like Barton Fink, No Country For Old Men, and Burn After Reading. I can't think of any other directors who have a body of work that I can see I've loved and loathed as much. So I have to respect them for that.

  • Comment number 33.

    Daniel Mumby wrote:
    It's a terrible film - not funny, badly directed, the homages to 1950s B-movies are buried under too much CGI, the cast are all playing themselves, none of the characters are developed and it's far too long.
    Your arguments are not arguments at all, just pure opinions. Now look at this:
    It's a wonderful film - funny, well directed, the homages to 1950s B-movies are clearly visible regardless of CGI, the cast are all playing very well, all characters are well developed and it's as long necessary to tell the story.

    As for the Coens, I like most of their movies, and enjoy watching even those that I don’t like so much, because even when they fail, it’s an interesting failure.

  • Comment number 34.

    Seen as one of the main trends on this topic is “the big lebowski” I will firstly admit that I love the film, so much so that I have “the dude abides” tattooed on my shoulder. it’s a great film because of its stupid simplicity so much happens to the hero while at the same time nothing really seems to change him there is no message in the film.

    Along with David Lynch and Tarantino the Coen brothers are the only filmmakers who I really look forward to whatever they are going to do next, because as with Lynch you never really know what’s going to come next. Will it be a quirky comedy or a modern noir film who knows.

    I think that most real filmmakers make films for themselves because they have to invest themselves in the film to leave there creative in-print and if they were doing this only for the studios then it will show.

    I am surprised that “The man who wasn’t there” and “Millers crossing” have had little mention as I thought they were both great films, Not there best but both have there merits as does all Coen work.

    I look forward to seeing “A serious man” and anything else they do because even a bad Coen movie is still better than most can manage, but that’s the problem everybody expects a tense masterpiece every time and that’s not the Coen style.

  • Comment number 35.

    I would like to agree with Doctor K on one thing and disagree on another...Juno is a truly self indulgent, self serving piece of wannabe hipster tripe. What i do agree with is that Barton Fink is without doubt the greatest Coen Brothers film.

    For me it does something akin to the great John Hughes film Planes, Trains and Automobiles in that behind the facade of comedy (or in Barton Fink's case, a surreal Hollywood satire) there is a great human story, something we only really see in the best of the Coen's work, most exemplified in Fargo. Barton Fink i think does the same as John Hughes's film in that it takes two characters from different sides of the fence and puts them together in order to shine the light the uncomfortableness of the higher minded one over the lowly working man. Barton is an almost elitist playwright who likes to think he speaks for the working class in his plays and then you have Charlie who is actually one of the proletariat working stiffs that Barton is trying to write about, but once faced with talking to one his so-called "people" he can't bare it, he seems to have little time for interaction with the people he so seemingly wants to champion in his work. Charlie has a wealth of stories from the everyday grind which Barton could inject into his own writings to make more genuine but when confronted with somebody like Charlie he simply has no time for him.

    Like Steve Martin's Neil Page in Planes Trains and Automobiles, Barton is essentially an intolerant person who recoils when faced with an oafish but humble working class guy...John Candy in Hughes's film and John Goodman here. Of course the films go in different directions in the end, i just found Barton Fink to be my choice for the best Coen Brothers film because it is many things, a satire on the other side of Hollywood during Golden Age, showcasing the making of B-pictures and the once-hopefuls who came to Hollywood with a dream but are now merely hacks grinding out B Movies just to exist out there. There is also murder mystery, a surreal and almost ghostly hotel which is as much a character in the film as any of the main players, but most of all it is a film which takes a swipe at a man who claims be a "man of the people" but at the end of the day he is as fearful and ignorant of the working class as any out and out snob.

    That's just my assessment of the film and why i think it is the Coen's best, I'm not sure if Mark would agree with it but at least we recognize something in Barton Fink that makes it a truly great film for us.

  • Comment number 36.

    Going to have to agree with the general sentiment about Juno, it tried so hard and gets nowhere near Little Miss Sunshine or even Napoleon.

    Mark, glad your giving Big Lebowski another shot, I too could not get on with it on first watch, even back when I was a prime target spotted metaller youth. A few years on though and its a firm favourite, perhaps mainly for Jeff n Johns interaction. And definately for the Jesus' ball rubbing.

  • Comment number 37.

    A word in defence of Juno - it does have hipsterish problems, not limited to overly self-aware dialogue and a smug opening credit sequence, but the story's solid, the characters have depth and the performances from all concerned are rather good. Compared to some of the other humourless hipster mumblecore efforts out there, I think it stands up pretty well.

    That conclude the case for the defence. You may now throw stones...

  • Comment number 38.

    @ MarcinD:

    I'd be happy to flesh out my views on Mars Attacks! further, but perhaps if I did it here that would take us off-topic

  • Comment number 39.

    Even Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, Mark? They both felt like hugely sanitised versions of Coen films.

  • Comment number 40.

    I recall a very early interview with the Coens, which probably means little now, where they said they wanted to do a film in every genre or as many as they would be allowed. Whilst i don't feel this is strictly true they certainly do push and pull boundaries and that means they flip from what some consider mainstream to offbeat and art house fluently and with out blinking, it doesn't mean anything to them.

    Whether they are planning it or not they are leaving a legacy of great films that is pleasing them now and will be revered in many years to come, they probably don't care how they are received in this current time period, like a Hitchcock or John Houston canon but even more diverse.

    By the way Mark have you checked out this site, not connected to me in anyway, flickchartdotcom, but could consume your life, which is the better film, Wizard of Oz or the Exorcist?

  • Comment number 41.

    Overly quirky has always been their way, sometimes it goes a bit over board but when you look at Raising Arizona, you see that these films are not the contrived "quirkiness" of, say, Nacho Libre.

    Personally I'd rate Hudsucker and Fargo above Barton Fink.

  • Comment number 42.

    So I just came back from seeing A Serious Man and I'm almost fairly sure I really really enjoyed it. However after I watched it I got the thought I often get after watching a Coen Brother's movie for the first time and that is; I really want to see it again because I'm not enitrly sure if I'll like it as much the second time. Coen Brother's movies, more than any other movies I know of, often swing violently in terms of your reaction the second time in relation to your original viewing.

    For instance Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy and Oh Brother Where Art Tho I thought were all really funny, left field comedies the first time watching. However the second time, even though I was still often captured by the production design or the look of the film, all the characters seemed to fall flat, have no personalitie or require any empathy from the viewer and none of the gags were as funny (and the stopping time part in Hudsucker infuriated me. Horrible lampshading from a script that doesn't know how to resolve itself).

    However with The Big Lebowski, Fargo and especially Barton Fink my appreciation of the films grew and grew with each watch and all three I have now watched about ten times or more each.
    The one film that didn't do this to me was No Country for Old Men which I loved when I first saw it (and considered it the best film they've ever made) and loved it just as much the second time I saw it (and I've now decided it's probably my favourite film of the decade: http://zumtream.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html that's my list for anyone that cares).

    As for A Serious Man, only time will tell before I really know what I think of it.

    And regarding film makers selling out, becoming mainstream, etc. I don't care as long as they're still making great films.

  • Comment number 43.

    I don't think the Coens see any difference between films like Barton Fink or Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty and the Ladykillers, in much the same way as David Lynch sees no difference between Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway or Fire Walk With Me, and The Straight Story or The Elephant Man. To them it's just a different way of telling a story. We the audience impose tags like "mainstream" on to them, I don't think they really see it that way, or even care. And neither do I.

  • Comment number 44.

    I've seen Big Lebowski a few times now.. and i still find it ridiculous and crass (not that i don't like 'ridiculous and crass' when it's appropriate as i love 'Crimewave' which isn't a coens brother film proper but one of them was involved and things like the camera tracking the plate throwing scenes were revolutionary and as a whole it's a great romp). Big Lebowski tries to marry the ridiculous with some sort of deeper truth which just is muddled and unclear of what it wants to be.
    check the dude abides website (a dude philosophy website.. i kid you not) to see the kind of brains that support this hockum.

    I don't really care whether the coens are seen as mainstream because everyone has a different idea of what that means.. but to my mind if 'Blood Simple' made it to new zealand on it's first release i couldn't call that underground.. they have always been mainstream to me but stopped being interesting after 'Barton Fink'.. occassionally entertaining ('Fargo' and 'No Country for Old Men') but whatever edge they had is now lost to some kind of snake eating it's own tail self congratulatory cycle of scene by numbers.

  • Comment number 45.

    whoops.. i forget to mention that the idea that the Big Lebowski is some kind of updated noir is quite laughable
    yes the 'dude' does some scooby do investigation but it's on the par of noir as Magnum PI..as in not at all

  • Comment number 46.

    Daniel Mumby wrote:
    Most of their films have exactly the same dull plot - there's some money, it falls into the wrong hands and bad stuff happens.

    Sounds like THE metanarrative to me!

  • Comment number 47.

    While the Coen's have always made films with a distinctive style there is only one filmmaker working in Hollywood today who has had a consistency of vision throughout all of their films, not once pandering to big stars, big budgets or compromising their work in any way: and that is David Cronenberg.

    I haven't seen M Butterfly or Fast Company (apparently two of the less impressive Cronenberg features) but out of all the others there isn’t one which didn't feel completely his own and not even slightly compromised for mass appeal. Even The Fly and A History of Violence, two of his more financially successful films, are perhaps some of his most difficult and complex pieces of work, with a depth and vision that most films lack. They may appeal to a larger audience but they certainly don’t feel like they should.

    Also Dead Ringers, which is arguably his most emotional and heart-breaking film and one which made by a lesser director would have been a typical Oscar baiting film, is probably his hardest film is grasp and ends up being just as uncompromising as the rest of his work. The dream sequence is particular is very hard to stomach.

    Unlike the Coens, who seem to the independent darlings of Hollywood, Cronenberg is the real outsider in the industry and it’s a place I hope he stays.

  • Comment number 48.

    I love the Coen Brothers style. I love that they don't care about the audience too much. I enjoyed A Serious Man upon reflection, it's quite a philosophical film. It's only self-indulgent filmmaking if you look at it that way. How can an iconic brand of cinema NOT be 'self-indulgent'? They need to leave their mark somewhere! Much like David Fincher/Wes Anderson/Michel Gondry/even M Night Shyamalan.

    I wonder, did you see The Man Who Wasn't There? Quite an interesting turn for the Coens, what do you think of it Mark?

  • Comment number 49.

    Miller's Crossing seems to be their most overlooked film (possibly along with Hudsucker). Coincidentally, these two were my introduction to the Coens, and I still think that Miller's Crossing is my favourite Coen film. I think that their films maintain their innate 'Coen-ness', like all truly great visionary directors (Gilliam et al)they can put a certain stamp on their work, regardless of the source material. I put it to you that the fact that they are becoming more popular (does popular= mainstream? Another discussion, maybe) is down to the fact that not all movie-goers are willing to be spoonfed the usual bilge just because the studios tell us to (this may be partly thanks to people like you, Herr Doktor). To bastardise Hudsucker, Coen films are 'You know, for filmies'

  • Comment number 50.

    Does it really matter if the Coens are "mainstream" or "indie" or whatever? Surely what matters is the quality of their films? I don't like everything they've made (I'm with Dr K here, The Big Lebowski just doesn't do it for me at all),macys coupons but they do make quality films that offer a unique vision. Sometimes it strikes a chord with people and sometimes it doesn't.

    Mainstream or not? Who cares.

 

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