My copy of Empire (July 2008) arrived today and the first article in it (after the reader’s letter page) is a four-pager on the Coen’s next movie, Burn After Reading. It confirmed the UK release date of October 17th and also contains five new images which I will scan in and post on YKFK in the next few days. Here is the text from said article lovingly transcribed by yours truly…
“After the (relative) seriousness of No Country For Old Men, it seems the Coens are back to more traditional turf for their next. It’s a thriller that’s kind of a comedy (or the other way around) born of one of their own brainstorming sessions (and not a famous novel), where the characters go by such typically syllable-torturing Coen-esque monikers as Harry Pfarrer, Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer.
“It’s in the vein of Fargo and Lebowski,” delights Eric Fellner from Working Title, completing his sixth film with the brothers. “Somebody comes across something they shouldn’t, they completely misinterpret what they’ve got, and because they are fairly stupid, everything spirals horribly out of control. Mayhem and dead bodies ensue.”
More precisely, it is a spy caper about boozy CIA operative Ozzie Cox (John Malkovich), so incensed at being fired he writes some inflammatory memoirs, the disc of which he accidentally leaves in a gym. It is discovered by less-than-intellectual instructor Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who attempts to blackmail Ozzie, while his boss Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) meets smooth-talking Harry Pfarrer (George Clooneey) via online dating. He’s the CIA lug assigned to clear the whole matter up, who also ends up sleeping with Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), estranged wife of Ozzie.
“I’m a guy that goes around killing people,” says Clooney, who would happily play a corpse for the Coens. “It looks really fun. This will be my third idiot – the Coens call it my trilogy of idiots.”
Shooting with typical zest (taking only 50 days) between No Country’s debut in Cannes 2007 and its rapturous US release last autumn, the New York boys stuck fairly close to home: Brooklyn Heights and Washington, DC are the main locations. And despite regular cinematographer Roger Deakins missing his first gig since Barton Fink (due to prior commitments) – Emmanuel Lubezki (Children Of Men) replaces him - the production ran as smoothly as ever.
“They are so brilliant, Joel and Ethan, they just know what they want,” continues Fellner. “Most of the techs and craftsmen have all worked with Joel and Ethan many times. There is never a panic on set. You are never running out of time.”
However, the film, which will open this year’s Venice Film Festival (it wasn’t ready for Cannes 2008), finds its makers at something of a crossroads. Does the Oscar victory and box-office success of No Country For Old Men (a best ever $160 million worldwide) mean they are now a mainstream act and no longer the clever-cloging wiseacres only deciphearable by their army of delirious fans?
“That is the issue – how do you sell the Coens?” agrees Fellner. “Our experience at Working Title is that the point where we’re made mistakes is when we’ve not sold the film to the real audience. You have to start with the real audience and then go bolder. With some of their recent films made with studios (Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were both studio-based films not produced by Working Title) , that could be where they went wrong: looking for too big an audience. This is quite mainstream, but not too mainstream.”
The Coens have been very busy of late. They will soon start another comedy, A Serious Man (also with Working Title), which Ethan has claimed will be ever-so slightly autobiographical: “It’s about a family of four in the Midwest, in 1967, and one of the kids is about to be Bar Mitzvahed. Horrible things happen…” After which they will get going on an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a couldn’t-be-more-Coens noir pastiche set in a reimagined Jewish state in Alaska. Meanwhile, Ethan has also found time to write a trilogy of short plays currenlty being staged together off-Broadway under the title Almost An Evening, produced with the help of Coens’ regular composor, Carter Burwell. The plays, one of which involves two opposing versions of God having a scrap, are helpfully described as Camus-meets-Kafka-meets-the Marx Brothers. Definitely not too mainstream.”
So there you have it. I found this article to put my mind at ease about their two next projects, both of which I’m looking forward to temendously, especially The Yiddish Policemen’s Union which, like the article says, is perfectly suited to the Coen brothers. If you haven’t read the book yet, I cannot recommend it enough.