“The Coen’s are clever directors who know too much about movies and too little about real life.” – Emanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders<br />A film making duo who have been labelled ‘postmodern auteurs1’.<br />Known mostly for quirky dark comedies, including Raising Arizona (1987), Fargo (1996) and The Ladykillers(2004).<br />Their first film together was Blood Simple (1984) and was a critical success that set them on the path of big Hollywood producers.<br />Joel is often credited as the director while Ethan the producer, but they share the roles in writing and editing. <br />1 A film maker who has a personal style and keeps creative control over his or her works<br />
The Coen Brothers Awards<br />In total, Ethan and Joel have...<br />Been nominated for 10 Academy Awards (twice under their alias Roderick Jaynes1) <br />Won two Oscars for screenwriting (original screenplay for Fargo and adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men).<br />Received their first awards for Best Achievement in Directing and Best Picture for No Country for Old Men.<br />1 Their joint pseudonym<br />
Coen Brothers and Postmodernism<br /> “The term postmodern is often used to describe the work of the Coen Brothers. This is a term which has no easy definition. Their telling of stories which comment on the nature of stories and of storytelling, their reaction against classic genres, their turning over and examination of genre stereotypes and conventions from within their films, are all part of what is being referred to when they are said to be postmodern.” - Levan<br />
Coen Brothers and Postmodernism cont.<br />Carolyn Russell argues that, “the Coen’s make films that are highly self-conscious of their relationship to pre-existing film forms. Their movies rely upon a base of knowledge, cultural and film historical that is presumed to be shared between themselves and their viewers.”<br />‘Pre-existing film forms’ could be relating to science fiction and film noir which combine to make postmodernism.<br />They assert the very important manner by which postmodern representations call upon the reader/viewer to complete the text. The role of memory, reception and intertextuality are crucial to the design in the Coen Brothers’ films. By engaging the texts of the past, directors are able to challenge and critique history through the agency of parody, irony and self-reflexivity.<br />‘reader view to complete the text’ suggests they have to use their imagination – this is often linked to hyperreality1 where they are given the name of a well known setting but it is contrasted in visuals.<br />‘parody, irony and self-reflexivity’ - also sets into the concept of hyperreality and being transported out of this world.<br />1 A place which is at the same time a real, physical space, but also clearly a fictional representational world.<br />
Coen Brothers and Postmodernism cont.<br />Intertextuality1 describes the way that our knowledge of other media texts cannot be ‘unknown’ when we respond to a film, so we are deliberately referred to other texts and the meaning on the screen is dependent on this cultural know-how, or there is an option to pick up invited intertextual cues. <br />Intertextuality is prominent in their postmodern film Fargo, as the Coen’s create a pastiche2 of the film-noir3 genre, but displace this idea by surrounding the characters with snow, whereas in film noir they are half-lit in shadows and live nocturnally. At the same time, the title of this film refers to a lot of Western films which lends a hybrid element. <br />1 The shaping of one media by other forms of the same media<br />2 A work that combines themes and style from various sources in such a way to appear obviously derivative.<br />3 A movie marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, menace and cynical characters. Popular in 1920s Hollywood.<br />
Study into The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)<br />Synopsis:<br />When Waring Hudsucker, head of hugely successful Hudsucker Industries, commits suicide, his board of directors, led by Sidney Mussberger, comes up with a brilliant plan to make a lot of money: appoint a moron to run the company. When the stock falls low enough, Sidney and friends can buy it up for pennies on the dollar, take over the company and restore the fortunes. They choose idealistic Norville Barnes, who just started in the mail room. Norville is whacky enough to drive any company to ruin, but soon, tough reporter Amy Archer smells a rat and begins an undercover investigation industries.<br />
Study in to The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) cont.<br />Postmodern Characteristics:<br />References to popular culture1 (intertextuality again) override any sense of ‘pure reality’.<br />Existing material and ideas are remixed and played with <br />A love/ hate relationship with the audience – those that are disturbed by this playfulness criticise the Coens for lacking originality or authenticity. This arguably leads to the creation of one dimensional characters2 with no depth, since the characters are merely reworked constructions of other characters – links to Baudrillard’s work on the dominance of simulation3.<br />Todd McCarthy argues, with respect to The Hudsucker Proxy, that “rehashes of old movies, no matter how inspired, are almost by definition synthetic, and the fact is that nearly all the characters are constructs rather than human beings with who the viewer can connect.”<br />1 The media that ordinary people access in large numbers.<br />2 A character who lacks depth and never seems to learn how to grow.<br />3 In the world of hyperreality, the lines between dominance and resistance are collapsing.<br />
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