IFC.com have a very brief but, unusually for junket-style interviews, VERY INTERESTING interview with Joel and Ethan Coen. The interview took place during the Toronto International Film Festival where A Serious Man had it’s world premiere. It was particularly nice to read that The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is still on (or at least that’s how it seems). Enjoy…
Between this film and your upcoming adaptation of Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” you’ve been steeped in Judaica for the past couple years. What sparked the renewed interest?
Joel Coen: “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a bit of a coincidence, actually, coming on the heels of this.
Ethan Coen: It just fell into our laps. The producer Scott Rudin had bought the rights to the book and asked us to adapt it, write a screenplay. We just read the book and liked it. But we had already written this, it was before we shot this that we agreed to do the script for that.
As someone who spent some time at a Hebrew school, I know that can be an experience some would never want to revisit.
JC: We have a little perspective on it now because we’ve been away from it for so many years, so it seemed more interesting or funny or exotic or something to revisit now that…
EC: It must be one of those things there are seven stages of…
JC: Of denial…
EC: With flight…
JC: [laughs] Yes, denial, acceptance…
EC: And one of those later stages.
JC: Rage. [laughs]
EC: Nobody goes to Hebrew school and doesn’t feel rage at some point. [laughs]
Was it the right time for this film because you have the perspective for it, or because as filmmakers you have the clout to tell this particular story the way you’d want to tell it?
JC: I think all of those things are part of it. We’re a little older. The clout to make it? That one maybe not, but maybe. We might not have considered it early on just because it would’ve seemed so iffy. On the other hand…
EC: Yeah, you’ve got to be kind of established to have done this movie. It’s really true.
JC: Although “Barton Fink” was pretty weird at the time. But we had already done a number of movies at that point, too. ["A Serious Man"] would’ve been hard to do as a first or second movie, unless you were willing to go much lower budget than we were.
Given your background, it’s easy to infer this is a personal story for you, but now that the final product’s emerged, do you now feel it’s more personal than any of your other work?
JC: Only in the respect that the story is set in a context and a place and a time that we’re very personally connected to because it [was] where we grew up. Going back to Minnesota and making the movie there, trying to recreate that place 30, 40 years ago — that felt differentthan what we’ve done before, but it doesn’t feel that much more personal in other ways.
EC: But that’s not nothing. How the movie looks is a big part of how you feel about it. It does give you something that the other movies don’t have.
If my math is right, Joel’s bar mitzvah would’ve taken place around the same time as Danny Gopnik’s in the film. Was the bar mitzvah in the film any way a recreation, perhaps without being under the influence at the time?
JC: Neither of us were stoned during our bar mitzvah. That was actually a synagogue near where we grew up, the one we shot in, but we weren’t bar mitzvahed there.
EC: We’d been in it, friends had been bar mitzvahed there. It wasn’t our shul.
JC: We were bar mitzvahed in a similar kind of ceremony.
EC: But neither of us were stoned. [laughs] Although maybe it’s just heightened. Your bar mitzvah is weird.
JC: Yeah, it was surreal.
EC: You get up in front of all those people and read the torah. It’s all odd. [laughs]
JC: In our synagogue, there wasn’t a Rabbi Marshak that you went and talked to, but friends of ours went to a synagogue that had a similar kind of ritual. So it’s drawn both from personal experience and what we knew from other people and friends and places.
After making this film, do you feel like it’s more pressure to be a filmmaker or a Jew?
EC: It’s tough being a Jew. [laughs]
JC: Yeah, right now, we’re feeling both.
EC: Bob Hope said to Charlton Heston after he met him on the lot, and [Heston] was bitching about how he’d spend three hours in makeup to be Moses, “Yeah, it’s tough being a Jew.”
Thanks to Lachlan for sending it in.