“It’s probable that most filmmakers love making movies, but few of them express this love with such voracious, crazy ardor. The brothers are a pair of brilliant oxymorons: shaggy dog formalists, at once obsessed with detail and apt to let their stories run wild.” —A.O. Scott, New York Times
The Walker Art Center celebrates the 50th Regis Dialogue and Retrospective with
Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain
, from September 18–October 17. A Regis Dialogue with the filmmakers takes place at 8 pm on Friday, September 25 (Regis Dialogue tickets are on sale exclusively to Walker Contributing members through September 9; beginning September 10 at 11 am, all Walker members can register to be on a waiting list for any remaining tickets). The retrospective includes screenings of all of the Coens’ feature films prior to their latest, A Serious Man, from their own directors’ cut print of their 1984 debut Blood Simple, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, to last year’s Burn After Reading. A Serious Man, which was shot in the Twin Cities, will be released in theaters October 2. A complete series schedule follows.
Regis Dialogue and Retrospective Series
The Walker Art Center’s Regis Dialogue and Film Retrospective program brings together some of the most innovative and influential filmmakers of our time with leading critics, writers, and historians. The series, launched with support from the MacArthur Foundation (1990–1993) and funded by the Regis Foundation since 1994, provides an intimate space for directors and actors to discuss their creative process, influences, and body of work. Punctuated with film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights, these conversations take place in the Walker’s 340-seat cinema. Audiences are also treated to a retrospective of the filmmaker’s work, which often includes screenings of rare and archival prints.
Since the inaugural conversation between Clint Eastwood and Richard Schickel in 1990, the series has now hosted 50 events, including international directors, American masters, independent visionaries, artists, auteurs, and leading screen actors in discussion with writers and critics who help shape the way we think about contemporary film. The list covers the history of cinema for the past 20 years, including international directors such as Mike Leigh, Werner Herzog, Milo Forman, and Agnès Varda; American independents like Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, and Julie Dash; visionaries like John Waters and Jim Jarmusch; auteurs such as Robert Altman and Terry Gilliam; film artists from Stan Brakhage to the Brothers Quay to Guy Maddin; and leading actors such as Jessica Lange, Lili Taylor, Jodie Foster, and Tom Hanks.
Joel and Ethan Coen
Natives of St. Louis Park, Joel and Ethan Coen grew up leading self-proclaimed “mundane” lives, spending their childhood making 8mm versions of The Naked Prey, Advise & Consent, and other films they’d seen on the locally produced program Mel Jass’ Matinee Movie. In his 20s, Joel broke into the film business as an assistant editor, notably on Sam Raimi’s cult classic The Evil Dead. Fascinated by pulp fiction, the brothers admired the hard-boiled style of James M. Cain’s novels The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.
With their first film, Blood Simple, in 1984, the Coens endeavored to make a modern version of a Cain story. It was a trial by fire, as virtually no one on the cast and crew, including writer/director/editor/producers Ethan and Joel, had ever been on a film set before. After rejections from every major studio, the film garnered critical notice at festivals and finally got distribution, launching the careers of the brothers known in the film business as “the two-headed director,” or as Ethan Coen has said, “Two heads are better than none.” The Coens’ movies are a cooperative—some might say conspiratorial—enterprise, with Joel and Ethan writing, directing, and editing together (using the crusty pseudonym Roderick Jaynes for the latter role).
The brothers’ singular and elaborate worlds are a mix of pastiche and homage, referencing everything from musicals and old movies to Faulkner, pulp novels, and comic books, along with dazzling cinematography and intricate design. One cannot extract the films from their landscapes: the stifling hot Texas of Blood Simple; the stultifying, gleaming New York cityscape of The Hudsucker Proxy; the frozen tundra-like setting of Fargo, and so on. Their unique sense of place is flawlessly conceived, right down to the distinctive jargon of the characters, reflecting a stylized form of American vernacular to fit the time and place and genre. As the New York Times described it, the Coens create “a postmodern cinematic world . . . where everything seems vaguely unhinged.”
Within these worlds the brothers create open-ended stories, often using first-person narrations and a cavalry of gifted actors who sign on for the ride again and again. Frequent fellow-travelers include the intense John Turturro, the consummate everyman Steve Buscemi, and John Goodman, a boisterous and fearless kindred spirit. Frances McDormand first appeared in Blood Simple because her roommate, Holly Hunter, bowed out, and went on to become the brothers’ most prolific muse (and Joel’s wife), appearing in seven films and winning an Oscar for her portrayal of police detective Marge Gunderson in Fargo.
Though they’ve mined many genres throughout their careers, noir seems to be the Coens’ touchstone. From the gritty thriller Blood Simple to the luminous, moody Man Who Wasn’t There to The Big Lebowski with its Philip Marlow-esque “Dude,” they have done noir every which way, filtering its absurdity, sense of disorientation, alienation, and cynicism through their uniquely skewed sensibility. Yet the Coens also toss a funny bone into their movies, employing brazen slapstick, deliciously clever banter, gallows humor, and even sight gags with relish. Their films seem to embody the pure joy they take in their work.
Once called “the Hardy Boys from Hell” by Rolling Stone, the Coen brothers have confounded and at times divided critics and audiences alike. While their genre-bending, period-twisting shape-shifters can be difficult to pin down, it’s abundantly clear that they are filmmakers whose love for the movies is matched by the vastness of their imaginations.
Unless otherwise noted, all films are written, directed, and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen and screened in the Cinema. The retrospective is presented in 35mm, with rare prints coming from studio and individual archives. Tickets to screenings are $8 ($6 Walker members).
Receive five tickets for the price of three: $24 ($18 Walker members)
This program is made possible by generous support from Regis Foundation. Media partner City Pages.
JOEL AND ETHAN COEN: RAISING CAIN
A REGIS DIALOGUE AND RETROSPECTIVE
September 18–October 17
Friday, September 18, 7:30 pm
Saturday, September 19, 9:45 pm
With echoes of Hitchcock, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Double Indemnity, the Coens stunned the 1984 New York Film Festival audiences with an atmospherically gothic tale of a double-cross set in a dusty Texas town. The New York Times raved, “Black humor, abundant originality and a brilliant visual style.” Featuring Frances McDormand in her first role and M. Emmet Walsh in a spine-tingling part written expressly for him. (Coens’ own director’s cut print, 2000.) 1984, 35mm, 99 minutes.
Friday, September 18, 9 pm
Bazinet Garden Lobby
Celebrate the kickoff of the 13-film retrospective at a post-screening reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar featuring blood orange martinis.
Saturday, September 19, 4 pm
Wednesday, October 14, 7:30 pm
In a tonal about-face from their debut, the Coens next took on the screwball comedy/kidnap caper genre, as H. I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) and his wife Ed (Holly Hunter) make a desperate grab for the American dream in ‘80s suburban Tempe. Marked by ingenious dialogue, a vivacious soundtrack intermingling Beethoven and yodeling, and one of the funniest chase scenes ever filmed, Raising Arizona’s humor is tempered by an apocalyptic undercurrent and the grim political climate. 1987, 35mm, 94 minutes.
Saturday, September 19, 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 20, 3 pm
Introduced by Paul Maccabee, crime historian/author of John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920–1936
In a classic crime fiction set during Prohibition, Irish and Italian mobs go to war over internecine double-dealing. Gorgeously shot, this fable of friendship and loyalty has exquisite period atmosphere. “A hyper-charged, multilayered whirligig of gangster lingo and idiom hatched from the noir pages of Dashiell Hammett by way of Raymond Chandler” (Empire). 1990, 35mm, 115 minutes.
Friday, September 25, 8 pm
Regis Dialogue: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Regis Dialogue and Retrospective program, now in its 20th year, brings to the Walker the most innovative and influential filmmakers for in-depth conversations illuminated by film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights. Regis Dialogue tickets are on sale exclusively to Walker Contributing members through September 9.
Beginning September 10 at 11 am, all Walker members can register to be on a waiting list for any remaining tickets at walkerart.org/coens or by calling 612.375.7655. $100 (dialogue and reception); $45 (dialogue only).
Wednesday, September 30, 7:30 pm
Friday, October 9, 7:30 pm
Introduced by Bix Skahill, screenwriter (Chain of Fools, Life without Dick) and crew member on Fargo
On the cusp of World War II, socially conscious writer Barton Fink (John Tuturro) reluctantly comes to Hollywood to pen a wrestling picture. Fink’s frustration builds into madness, embodied by the glue-oozing wallpaper in his claustrophobic room at the Hotel Earle, his torture by California’s only mosquito, and his interactions with increasingly volatile characters. This truly original film plumbs the depths of the creative process, and it was the first film in the Cannes Film Festival’s 44-year history to win awards for Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Director. Rolling Stone called it “the most chilling Hollywood comedy since Sunset Boulevard.” 1991, 35mm, 116 minutes.
Wednesday, September 30, 6:30 pm
Prescreening Gallery Tour: A Coen-esque View of the Walker Collection
Free to ticketholders, but registration required; call 612.375.7600.
Friday, October 2, 7:30 pm
Saturday, October 10, 4 pm
Introduced by Lucinda Winter, Executive Director, Minnesota Film and TV Board
If Blood Simple launched the Coens’ career, Fargo cemented their reputation as first-rate auteurs. Both are thrillers involving everyday folks, but while their first film was infused with sweltering Texas heat, Fargo is stuck in a Minnesota deep freeze cheek by jowl with so-called “Minnesota Nice.” Roger Ebert declared it simply “one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.” Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress and awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. 1996, 35mm, 98 minutes.
Saturday, October 3, 4 pm
Introduced by Dan Satorius, Attorney/Vice President, Lommen Abdo Law Firm
A screwball battle-of-the-sexes romp between a divorce lawyer (George Clooney) and a divorcee (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who conjure the charisma of 1930s Hollywood stars. The Coens’ screenplay—based on a story by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano—features “dialogue [that] fizzes with arch wit and sexual-financial-Darwinist treble entendres” (The Guardian). 2003, 35mm, 100 minutes.
Saturday, October 3, 7:30 pm
Wednesday, October 7, 7:30 pm
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Introduced by Phil Nussbaum, host of “Bluegrass Saturday Morning,” KBEM, 88.5 FM
The Coens’ teasing titular reference to Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels—in which a director abandons a socially conscious movie in favor of pure entertainment—is a sly meditation on race, class, and friendship. O Brother was noted for its distinctive look, with saturated colors that call to mind faded photographs; for its classic American folk soundtrack; and for a hilarious, Clark Gableesque George Clooney, who, as a prison escapee looking to reunite with his wife, is the Ulysses of this odyssey. “A tribute to, and an example of, the persistent vitality of the American imagination” (New York Times). 2000, 35mm, 106 minutes.
Saturday, October 3, 9:45 pm
No Country for Old Men
Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men is a bracing thriller set near the Rio Grande, distinguished by Javier Bardem’s legendary performance as Anton Chigurh. “This movie never lets up . . . Essentially a game of hide-and-seek, set in brownish, stained motel rooms and other shabby American redoubts, but shot with a formal precision and an economy that makes one think of masters like Hitchcock and Bresson” (New Yorker). Oscar winner for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Motion Picture. 2007, 35mm, 122 minutes.
Sunday, October 4, 3 pm
This remake of a 1955 British heist film is a delicious farce set on the boundary between old and new Mississippi, with a typical Coen cast of misfits and bungling miscreants—notably, Tom Hanks as the loquacious Professor G. H. Dorr. “In his first truly comedic role in years, Hanks summons up an unforgettable caricature of Southern gentility turned foul . . . [the Coens] include wickedly sharp moments” (The Onion). 2004, 35mm, 104 minutes.
Saturday, October 10, 7:30 pm
The Man Who Wasn’t There
Extortion is the name of the game in this 21st-century homage to vintage film noir. At the center is Billy Bob Thornton’s dead-on, deadpan portrait of malaise and yearning in 1940s small-town California. Shot on color negative film (by the Coens’ 10-time cinematographer Roger Deakins), then printed in incandescent, stunning black-and-white, the film garnered the Coens their third Best Director award from the Cannes Film Festival. 2001, 35mm, 116 minutes.
Thursday, October 15, 7:30 pm, Free
Burn After Reading
Opening the 2008 Venice Film Festival, Burn After Reading marked the Coens’ return to raucous black comedy. With its story of a scheme gone awry, the film is replete with espionage, infidelity, and Internet dating. With Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, and Brad Pitt, who does a surprising comic turn as a dim-witted personal trainer caught in the cross fire. 2008, 35mm, 96 minutes.
Friday and Saturday, October 16–17, 7:30 pm
The Big Lebowski
The October 16 screening is introduced by Elizabeth Redleaf, CEO/Producer, Werc Werk Works
Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude” Lebowski is a glorious incarnation of Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe—with all the élan of The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye—and the film has earned a richly deserved spot in the American cultural landscape. The Big Lebowski’s episodic story is held together by an ensemble one could find only in LA: nihilists, pornographers, avant-garde artists, and fanatical bowlers. David Denby called it “a slacker hymn of praise so gentle and goofy that it has floated off the screen into the fantasy life of the nation” (New Yorker). 1998, 35mm, 117 minutes.
Saturday, October 17, 4 pm
The Hudsucker Proxy
Set in 1958 but evoking Frank Capra films of the ’30s and ’40s, The Hudsucker Proxy is a stylishly written and conceived picture about naïve Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), who comes to the big city with big dreams. As feisty newspaper reporter Amy Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh channels Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, Charles Durning completes a spectacular freefall, and the incomparable Paul Newman rounds out the cast as calculating executive Sidney J. Mussburger. Critic Roger Ebert hailed it as “a feast for the eyes and the imagination.” 1994, 35mm, 111 minutes.
Friday, September 18
Blood Simple, 7:30 pm
Saturday, September 19
Raising Arizona, 4 pm
Miller’s Crossing, 7:30 pm
Blood Simple, 9:45 pm
Sunday, September 20
Miller’s Crossing, 3 pm
Wednesday, September 30
Barton Fink, 7:30 pm
Friday, October 2
Fargo, 7:30 pm
Saturday, October 3
Intolerable Cruelty, 4 pm
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 7:30 pm
No Country for Old Men, 9:45 pm
Sunday, October 4
The Ladykillers, 3 pm
Wednesday, October 7
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 7:30 pm
Friday, October 9
Barton Fink, 7:30 pm
Saturday, October 10
Fargo, 4 pm
The Man Who Wasn’t There, 7:30 pm
Wednesday, October 14
Raising Arizona, 7:30 pm
Thursday, October 15
Burn After Reading, 7:30 pm
Friday, October 16
The Big Lebowski, 7:30 pm
Saturday, October 17
The Hudsucker Proxy, 4 pm
The Big Lebowski, 7:30 pm