The Quotable Coen Brothers

| 10/1/2009 12:23:09 PM

Joel and Ethan CoenFilmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are not given to extensive introspection. Ask why they created The Dude character in The Big Lebowski, and they’ll reveal that it simply amused them to envision a detective whose “mind is so befogged by dope” that he can’t put basic clues together. Ask why they set Blood Simple in West Texas, and they’ll explain that they knew people in the area who could help them make the film. Ask why the main character in Miller’s Crossing listens to a phonograph recording of “Danny Boy,” which then becomes the soundtrack for a brutal shootout, and they’ll just say, “Well, he’s Irish.”

Given this lack of self-analysis, it’s easy to understand why there were few instances of deep, sustained insight in the Coens’ two-and-a-half-hour conversation with journalist Elvis Mitchell before an audience at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where their work is being feted in a retrospective. Anyone expecting pearls of wisdom came away with pebbles of knowledge—but fascinating pebbles nonetheless, especially for fans of the Coens’ work. Here are a few of them:

Joel on their artistic inspirations: “Many people think we’re always referencing movies, but it’s the books those movies are based on that are more influential to us.”

Joel on the tortuous writing process behind O Brother Where Art Thou: “Sometimes you just figure out where to go . . . It took us a while to figure out we were writing The Odyssey.”

Ethan on their films’ tendency to have a strong regional flavor: “It’s hard to develop a story without seeing where it starts.”

Ethan on his son’s reaction to his films: “He says, ‘Is this going to be another one of your depressing movies where everyone dies at the end?’ ”