Joel Coen Reveals Ethan “Didn’t Want to Make Movies Anymore”
In news that is sure to send cinephiles sinking to their knees, shouting “No!” to the heavens, writer-director Ethan Coen appears to be done making movies…for now, at least.
Let’s all take a deep breath and try to process this rationally. The news comes thirdhand from a reliable source: specifically, composer Carter Burwell, a frequent collaborator of Ethan and his brother, Joel Coen‘s, whose long filmmaking partnership together has produced such modern classics as Fargo and No Country for Old Men, to name but two.
Now, we have some clarification about what led Ethan to sit out The Tragedy of Macbeth, his brother’s latest film, which is going black-and-white like The Man Who Wasn’t There. Is the younger Coen done making movies forever? Based on Burwell’s comments, it sounds like Ethan is taking a break, not necessarily retiring. This aligns with previous comments that Coen himself has made about “giving movies a rest” so he could focus on plays and other projects.
On an episode of the Score podcast this week (courtesy of Indiewire), Burwell spoke about what led to an “amicable” split, of sorts, between the Coen Brothers for The Tragedy of Macbeth:
“Ethan has written and produced on his own I know, but this is the first time Joel is directing on his own. Ethan just didn’t want to make movies anymore. Ethan seems very happy doing what he’s doing, and I’m not sure what Joel will do after this. They also have a ton of scripts they’ve written together that are sitting on various shelves. I hope maybe they get back to those. I’ve read some of those, and they are great. We are all at an age where we just don’t know… we could all retire. It’s a wonderfully unpredictable business.”
The Tragedy of Ethan’s Sabbatical
We already knew well before this that Joel would be flying solo in the director’s chair for The Tragedy of Macbeth, which is set to make its world premiere on the opening night of the New York Film Festival in September. It’s precisely this knowledge that may have left some fans scratching their heads, wondering what could have possibly possessed Ethan to pass on the film, particularly when it features a Shakespearean match-up between heavyweights Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand.
It’s worth noting that Joel Coen received sole credit for directing the brothers’ films from their debut, Blood Simple, in 1984, all the way up until The Ladykillers in 2004. This was because of the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) and its rules against shared directing credits, which are only allowed if they come from an “established duo.”
Remarkably, it took the Coen Brothers a full two decades to establish themselves as a duo in the DGA’s sight. Ethan was always listed as a producer, and the Coens have long shared editing credits for their films under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, but it was only after No Country for Old Men that they started sharing directorial credit.
Just today, No Country for Old Men made my list of all-time favorite movies here on /Film. Inside Llewyn Davis was also on Jeremy Matthai’s list. I’m willing to bet there are many readers out there who would count one or more Coen Brothers movies among their own personal favorites.
It sounds like Ethan Coen is simply doing what Quentin Tarantino has done and pivoting to another storytelling medium for the time being. With any luck, his departure from moviemaking will not last forever. Here’s hoping he’ll be back in the saddle soon, filming another great revisionist Western or neo-noir film.
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