Opening Shots: Joel and Ethan Coen in Conversation with Noah Baumbauch
Francesca Beal Theatre, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Film Society of Lincoln Center
June 10, 2011, 7:30pm

(L-R) Noah Baumbauch, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Brother filmmakers Coen meet June 10, 2011 on the stage of the spanking new Francesca Beale Theatre amidst the delightful, streamlined, comfortable screening facilities run by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  Their theme on this opening weekend of the new facilities: opening sequences of their films.  Images, inspirations, allusions.  We in the audience are all a-twitter (some perhaps quite literally a-Twittering).  We know that we are the first ticketed audience to sit in this space — we’re told it several times while in line and as we wait for the conversation to begin.  I claim a set front row center, the better to gaze upon the guest artists (see image above for my point of view) and to be overwhelmed-by-choice by the projected film images.

The brothers Coen speak in an easy shared banter style — never interrupting but often following immediately upon each other’s thoughts.  Sometimes continuing the idea, sometimes providing another shading or starting a new topic altogether.  I am enchanted by their easy rapport and deep and funny knowledge of their craft.  As with the CromerHalberstam conversation I reported on about a month ago (see, these self-effacing Midwesterners take their craft seriously but not themselves. So gentle humor is often close at hand, while serious points are articulated about craft, and shot selection, and honoring figures from the past.

As all these filmmakers speak I am struck by how many of the movies on which they have had guiding hands have shaped my theatre time, film-wise, in recent decades.  From Blood Simple to Barton Fink to the recent True Grit remake to No Country for Old Men to The Big Lebowski to Brother Where Art Thou? and others for the Coens, and Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale for Baumbauch.  And wait a moment and they’ll mention another. The balance of this entry will provide quotations that entertained me.

  • Joel Coen: “After making films for 25 years you have the horrifying realization of how much you repeat yourself.”
  • Noah Baumbauch on LA as film setting: “You’re trying to make a city out of a place you use functionally.”
  • Baumbauch to Coens about No Country for Old Men: “I felt anything could happen at any point, but I was totally in good hands.”
  • Ethan Coen on their Burn After Reading: “It’s Tony Scott [-like] but the people are knuckleheads.  On set we would ask each other all the time ‘What Would Tony Do?'”
  • Baumbauch asks the brothers about their favorite opening sequences in films by other artists. They reply: Once Upon A Time in the West, The Long Good-bye (the Elliott Gould version, the sequence with the cat), and Doc about Doc Holliday ( with Stacy Keach), and Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (also with Stacy Keach).  The list keeps growing — note the number of quirky westerns!

[The Film Society blog entry on the event, complete with video coverage here:]

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 13, 2011)

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