Book Review: The Coen Brothers – This Book Really Ties the Films Together

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Publisher: Abrams Books

Release Date: September 11, 2018

Adam Nayman’s epic new career spanning examination of the filmography of the Coen Brothers is every bit as analytical and informative as Ian Nathan’s excellent book on the same subject. It offers fans and scholars a rewarding experience as it should add enormously to the reader’s appreciation of the films that inhabit the Coen canon. Actually, the book’s marketing description does an admirable job at describing its contents without unnecessary hyperbolic phrases:

“In The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together, film critic Adam Nayman carefully sifts through their complex cinematic universe in an effort to plot, as he puts it, “some Grand Unified Theory of Coen-ness” and combines critical text—biography, close film analysis, and enlightening interviews with key Coen collaborators—with a visual aesthetic that honors the Coens’ singular mix of darkness and levity. Featuring film stills, beautiful and evocative illustrations, punchy infographics, and hard insight, this book will be the definitive exploration of the Coen brothers’ oeuvre.”

Nayman is a film critic for The Globe and Mail and The Grid, is a contributing editor to Cinema Scope, and has written on film for the Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, Film Comment, Cineaste, Montage, POV, Reverse Shot, The Walrus, Saturday Night, Little White Lies, and The Dissolve. This background served him well here as his insights are always interesting and illuminating (even if one doesn’t always agree with his interpretation of certain Coen moments). The book’s primary weakness it is that it comes at a time when the Coen’s career is far from over (the last film covered in the book is Hail, Caesar!) Everything about the book earns our enthusiastic approval and recommendation.

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Book Review: The Coen Brothers – The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work

Cover.jpgPublisher: Aurum Press

Release Date: November 09, 2017

Ian Nathan’s wonderful new book on the Coen Brothers and films can best be described as a career biography that blends “behind the scenes” information with scholarly analysis. It is an essential text for anyone with an affection for those with an affection for the Coen filmography. The in-depth and informative text re-examines their entire output with an emphasis on the films that they directed themselves. It covers their early lives to their indie debut with Blood Simple to their most recent release of Hail Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal archives, the book also mentions their upcoming mini-series, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

What’s more, the presentation is really quite special as the hardback book is housed in an attractive slipcase that is extremely sturdy. Everything about the book earns our enthusiastic approval and recommendation.

Book Review: Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 15, 2007

J.J. Murphy’s Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work is a study of the screenplay structure used in twelve successful independent films (Stranger than Paradise, Safe, Fargo, Trust, Gas Food Lodging, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Reservoir Dogs, Elephant, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Gummo, and Slacker). Murphy compares the structure of these films to the ‘traditional’ three act paradigm that is taught in the manuals. Syd Field, Linda Seger, Robert McKee, and other notable manual writers are discussed and quoted at length. Murphy often does this in order to compare the structure of these independent films to traditional structure that is taught by screenwriting manuals. These quotes are often associated with the films discussed in the book, but while the manuals tend to explain why these diversions from typical structural paradigms are a mistake, Murphy argues that these diversions are actually responsible for the success of the film. Murphy claims that these unusual diversions from the structure taught in manuals subvert audience expectations in original ways (and actually add resonance to the themes covered in these films).

While this book isn’t a screenwriting manual, it has the potential to serve future scriptwriters by validating the desire to digress from traditional paradigms. It makes a nice companion to the more rigid manuals on the market. This text will also be of interest to fans of the various films discussed in these pages. Before reading Murphy’s book, this reviewer had only seen seven of the twelve films discussed. It created a strong desire to watch the other five films, and managed to raise my appreciation for the seven films that I had previously seen.

Review by: Devon Powell