American filmmakers Joel Coen, 1955–, and Ethan Coen, 1958–, both b. St. Louis Park, Minn. Joel studied at New York Univ. Film School (B.A., 1978), Ethan at Princeton (B.A., 1979). The Coens have written many of their screenplays, Joel has usually directed, and they have edited many of their films (under the name Roderick Jaynes). They came to popular and critical attention with the feature film Blood Simple
(1984), a sometimes terrifying thriller that was followed by the idiosyncratic comedy Raising Arizona
(1987), the gangster drama Miller's Crossing
(1990), and Barton Fink
(1991), a grim tale of a would-be playwright in 1940s Hollywood. The Hudsucker Proxy
(1994), which brought them to Hollywood, was a bit of a flop, but Fargo
(1996; Academy Award best screenplay), the story of a botched kidnapping by fumbling crooks, a Midwestern rube, and a brilliant police chief, was one of their most successful. The brothers later produced (2014–17) a television series based on the film. The cult classic The Big Lebowski
(1998) and the 1930s comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?
(2000), and three tepidly successful films preceeded No Country for Old Men
(2007, Academy Awards best picture, director, and adapted screenplay), a bloody Western thriller. Their next movies were the spy comedy Burn After Reading
(2008). Subsequent movies include their version of True Grit
(2010); Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013), which follows the life of a 1960s folksinger-songwriter; and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
(2018), six Old West tales of life and death that mingle comedy, philosophy, and brutality. The Coens have also written or revised scripts for other directors' films and sometimes acted in movies.
See W. R. Allen, The Coen Brothers: Interviews (2006); biography by R. Bergan (2d ed., 2006); studies by J. Levine (2000), J. Mottram (2000); C. R. Russell (2001), E. Cheshire and J. Ashbrook (2004), R. B. Palmer (2004), P. A. Woods (2004), E. Rowell (2007), R. Bergan (2005), M. T. Conrad, ed. (2012), C. Buckner (2014), J. Adams (2015), A. Redmon (2015), and A. Nayman (2018).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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