Masters of cinema: the Coen Brothers
Time: 10:30 - 13:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HF102
Duration: 2 sessions (over 2 weeks)
What is the course about?
From first (Blood Simple) to last (Buster Scruggs), the Coen brothers evoke the real and cinematic past with a mix of reverence and boldness that makes their work so re-watchable. Their astounding debut, Blood Simple in 1984, was a film noir in the spare style of James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice). Their recent Ballad of Buster Scruggs for Netflix is their bleakest —and one of their richest. Their gangster film, Miller’s Crossing, arrived at the same time as Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The plot was so complicated they took a break during the year it took to write it and wrote Barton Fink in 3 weeks. In order to get out of the problems with one story they quickly wrote another, ironically about blocked Hollywood screenwriter Barton Fink, that won Best Film/Best Director/Best Actor awards at Cannes - a very Coen result. From cult (The Big Lebowski) to critical darlings (Fargo), Ethan and Joel Coen have a bleakly comical, instantly recognisable voice in modern American cinema, a singular mix of darkness and levity. What will they do next?
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
Where do the Coen brothers sit alongside their contemporaries: Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch or Tarantino? They were part of the indie generation to follow the seventies’ movie brats who had taken on Hollywood.
View and analyse a chronologically-curated collection of clips from their filmography to build up a collage of their working practice, style and themes. Their diverse body of work is tied to Hollywood genres.
The Coen brothers’ oeuvre is an overriding satire on Hollywood in the manner of their hero Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels), while the small-town America of their Fargo is very David Lynch.
References to Hollywood films: Barton Fink’s principal characters are clearly drawn from actual players in the Hollywood industry: L.B.Mayer, Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, William Faulkner and Clifford Odets. Like Odets (aka Fink), they bristled against an assembly-line mentality.
Suggested reading: Cheshire, Ellen; Ashbrook, John (2005). Joel and Ethan Coen (3rd ed.) Pocket Essential.
•Chapman King, Lynnea (2014).The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefied.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
List key Coen Brothers films with an understanding of plot, character and style.
Discuss their working methods, techniques and themes.
Understand where they fit in the history of U.S. independent cinema.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
All levels, no prior knowledge necessary of the Coen Brothers or of the Hollywood films they reference. For those who enjoy viewing and discussing films and are interested in sharing ideas and listening to the views of others.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
Short lecture, whole group and small group work, viewing film extracts. No homework.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
The tutor will provide materials containing links to film extracts for further research.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
For other film studies courses please visit our website at www.citylit.ac.uk/History, Culture and Writing/Film Studies.
John Wischmeyer (MA in Film Theory) set up, ran and programmed his own cinema in West London and has since taught film studies at the former Gainsborough studio, the BFI and City Lit since 1999, Hitchcock’s centenary year. John has covered a wide range film topics under the banner ‘Cinema Investigates America’ and has a particular interest in and considerable knowledge of Hitchcock, Hollywood studios, American independent cinema and film noir, film technique and style.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.