Film Junk Premium Podcast #47: The Coen Brothers


Over thirty years of beautiful filmmaking… you’re goddamn right we’re living in the past. The release of Hail, Caesar! last month served as the inspiration for us to revisit the films of The Coen Brothers for our latest premium podcast, but rather than do a “Greatest Hits”-type episode, we opted to simply cover their first seven films from Blood Simple to The Big Lebowski (which, let’s face it, includes plenty of greatest hits anyway). On this episode we discuss a variety of things including their love of film noir, their influence on the indie film boom of the ’90s, the music of Carter Burwell and the cinematography of both Barry Sonnenfeld and Roger Deakins. Why did Ethan Coen not get credited as a director on their early films? Is the main character in Miller’s Crossing gay? What does the hula hoop symbolize in The Hudsucker Proxy? Is the cult of The Big Lebowski a bane or a boon? Enjoy a fountain of conversation by downloading this month’s premium podcast below.

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This series of premium podcasts was created to help support the regular weekly Film Junk Podcast. Head on over to Bandcamp and download full episodes for a minimum donation of just $1. As always, let us know if you experience any technical difficulties or if you have any other suggestions for future specials. Thanks for your support!

  • Jr

    I’m older than all of you and Jay is right about the Dr. Spock book joke. If it was about the book they would have said “book” but the joke is that they refer to it as a manual, thus the baby is something that needs instructions. If the movie were made today perhaps they would use a more contemporary book but even people today know about the Dr. Spock book.

  • Sam

    Likely my most anticipated premium. Coen Brothers are to me as Tarantino is to Frank. Half way through and great so far.

  • devolutionary

    I find that Frank’s contrarian views on certain directors are often quite interesting. My major problem is that he doesn’t consistently explain himself well or often misremembers prior talking points. His own rules on series cred, VOD trash, COPO,etc. are so subjective that I can only use them for humour.
    As a teenager, I distinctly remember enjoying Big Lebowski in the theatre for comedy but recall that few did (were they expecting Raising Arizona?). Then again their satire, tone, and dry humour perfectly aligned w/ me even then.

  • Samb

    Agreed (age: 49). Sorry Frank, it’s all about a baby needing instructions. The Spock book was already a generation old by the time the movie was made. The joke works because everyone was familiar with the book, but the familiarity of the book isn’t the joke.

  • Tommy

    Remember that Marcia Gay Harden got Gabriel Byrne’s hat in the poker game, so ‘chasing after a hat’ led to the affair.

  • Andrija

    While Sean is trying to deconstruct and analyze these films, Frank chimes in with some really insightful opinions: “Okay Jay, why is this a four point five instead of a five?”.

  • Lori Cerny

    Agreed (age: 48).

  • Paul White

    Something seems to be missing from my download. The first file is only 8:28 and doesn’t contain much discussion at all about Raising Arizona, then the second file starts off with Blood Simple. Anyone else have this issue? I d/l’d the MP3 320 version.

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    Barton Fink is part of one of the Coen Brothers Blu-Ray box sets which I’m seriously thinking about getting after this podcast – although from the comments it’s unclear whether all of the discs will play on North American players.

  • Loren

    Was curious why there is tax now when purchasing the premium?

  • Loren

    figured it out.. it’s because im using my VPN..duh

  • Sam

    I’m not sure if it’s the same disc that comes in the standalone that Sean owns, but I own it as well and that works fine my players. But I’m the crowd that feels the quality isn’t great. I really wish the rumored Criterion release from a couple years back would hurry it up. Barton Fink is one of my favorites of all time

  • Tommy

    A little disappointed at the lack of Coen puns. Nobody said they were a real COENhead.

  • Nick Poliskey

    Excited to listen, but need to start more controversy. I only think Lebowski is half-brilliant. The first half is truly brilliant, but the movie takes a nose-dive for me as soon as Julianne Moore shows up. I can watch the 1st half over and over and over again, but that second half is a force-feed for sure. The only genuinely funny stuff in the 2nd half of the movie are Donnie scenes.

  • Essie

    My favorite thing about Frank is that his measurement for everything is based on Tarantino and Nolan. Vod films get a free pass because Bone Tomahawk is better than Hateful Eight.

    Coens are my favorite American filmmakers maybe. This was great. Thank you all very much.

  • Jr

    Good show. For the next premium I say go ahead and do Coen Bros. part 2. A Serious Man and No Country are my two favorites by them.

  • Derek

    Just a suggestion for the next Premium: I’ve posted this on the Film Junk subreddit, but I wouldn’t mind the guys finding a copy of the old Movie Review Show in which they watched some classic Disney cartoons (The old clamshell VHS). April is coming up and it has been an April Fools tradition these past two years…

  • traynor

    Did you guys mention how the fight in the interior of a single wide trailer in Kill Bill is a total rip off of the one in Raising Arizona?

  • Sean

    I don’t think so but that’s a good one as well.

  • OsoDuck

    Barton Fink works as a Faustian pact type film where the man who makes the deal (Fink) doesn’t understand the deal he’s made. Meadows (the Devil) is consistently trying to help Fink make the formulaic wrestling picture that the studio demands of him–the studio with which Fink has signed the Faustian contract. But Fink “doesn’t listen” to Goodman’s agent of hell, as Meadows complains during the climatic scene of the film. Fink is more focused on his Communist influenced masterwork to listen to inspirations about a wrestling picture, so it is indeed ironic that Meadows turns out to be Karl E. Mundt. Karl E. Mundt is the name of an actual U.S. Senator who was a member of the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee from 1943 to 1948 that focused on communist infiltration of the Hollywood system.

    In an act of desperation, Fink resorts to leafing through the Bible in some hope he may find an answer to his predicament, and he comes to this passage:

    The passage refers to Lipnick, who commands a dream factory, but recalls not his current dream project, the wrestling picture, and so it is put to Fink to make known to Lipnick his dream and its interpretation or he will punished severely. As mentioned, Fink fails to produce a script for this particular dream in favor of something more in line with his own tastes and is, as foreshadowed, punished harshly for his disobedience by the satanic Babylonian king, Lipnick. The film ends with Fink attended by the box of Mundt’s inspiration. He confesses that he knows not what is in the box, neither does he know if it is his. That is to say, he doesn’t know if he wrote his Burlyman script, or whether it came from Meadows, the devil.

    But now, perhaps the most fascinating thing in the film happens. The final shot of the film has Fink apparently living inside his own fantasies of the cheap painting of a woman on the beach that hangs on the wall of his room, where he is resigned to looking for some sort of sign of hope, and lo, a pelican appears, in dramatic effect, to end the film. The pelican is a traditional Catholic symbol for Christ, and so it seems, since the Coens cannot command nature, and did not originally intend for a pelican to cap off the film, that by some Divine grace, a Deus Ex Machina has given a fitting end to the film. You see, it was the Bible that pointed out the true nature of Fink’s Babylonian predicament, so it is natural that the film should end with the Christ-like pelican seeking (or fishing) to extract Fink from his Babylonian slavery.

  • OsoDuck

    Here we have the Brothers Coen dealing again with the Faustian pact in O Brother Where Art Thou?

    I honestly think the matter of what the Coen’s believe is up for debate. That their films are honest meditations on human existence is plain to see. Here in A Serious Man they deal with the absurd nature of modern science:

    And here, whether demonic spirits exist:

  • OsoDuck

    Just to reinforce the value of my reading of Barton Fink, I’d like to point out that I just recently learned that the character of Fink was heavily inspired by the playwright Clifford Odetts. Odetts, a card carrying communist, in later years testified against fellow communists at Karl E Mundt’s HUAC proceedings. The more you know.

  • OsoDuck

    I started thinking about The Big Lebowski and what context desert storm has in the film. I realized at some point that the Dude’s rug is a Persian rug, or a rug born of the middle east. I also noticed that the political thing is there in the Dude and Walter. The Dude is communist (he attempts to quote Lenin to Walter). Walter is right wing. And Donny is sort of the silent majority. I looked it up to see if anyone else had made these connection and found this informative video. Not sure if I agree with the author’s conclusions (especially his weird thoughts about the film’s connection to 911) but it’s worth watching.

    Something the above author missed is the connection between Desert Storm allegedly beginning because Iraq annexed Kuwait and the main character’s Polish identity and the threat of being annexed or conquered by the German Nihilists (Germany’s annexation of Poland is the act that started WWII). Vietnam also figures here because, like the other two examples, it is a small country caught up in war between two empires (Russia and the USA).

    So like Poland caught between the Nazis and the Democratic Republics of the West; and Vietnam caught between Communist Russia and America; and Kuwait caught between America and Iraq, the Dude is caught between the American Right Wing (The Big Lebowski and Walter) and Left Wing (German Nihilists, Maude Lebowski’s uber feminist and the English pornographer Jackie Treehorn). However, even though the two sides appear to be different, their ideologies seem to count for nothing in the end, because the war is really being fought for the base purposes of money and a Persian rug. Walter sort of sums this up in a moment that I actually had to turn the subtitles on for because it’s being garbled up by the rest of the sound track:

    And it is appropriate that these comments should come at this moment in the film because it is Donny’s first failed attempt at a strike, and Donny represents the silent majority of Americans, who are setup to be involved in Desert Storm, and setup to lose, by virtue of the base desires for oil and such things that really fuel Desert Storm’s existence, rather than any real desire to help Kuwait. Moments later, Donny will be dead, thanks to a conflict that has come about thanks to desires for material gain on every side but Donny’s.

    And yet… the haunting echos of 911 seem to scream some foreknowledge on the part of someone involved in the making of the film, especially thanks to the film’s connection to George Bush’s Desert Storm, the precursor to George W. Bush’s Iraq War. I mean take a look at this (notice the 11’s next to Saddam’s head):

    And this is also interesting. In the Dude’s second dream sequence he becomes the German Nihilist because he is dressed in the same attire as Karl Hungus was in the porn film Logjammin’. What is more interesting is that Maude Leboski is dressed as Brunhilde, the German princess of that country’s popular folklore. This would make the Dude Siegfried, Brunhilde’s lover. Wagner’s most popular opera, the Ring Cycle concerns itself with Siegfried and Brunhilde. Hitler was a big fan of Wagner and Wagner’s reputation has long taken a big hit due to this. And so there is some sort of effort on the part of the Coen’s to soil the Dude with the stain of Naziism. And after all, it is the Dude who pilfers a persian rug from the Big Lebowski. It is the Dude who quotes Lenin.

    One comes away again with the idea that the Coen’s take a more conservative approach to philosophy. The Dude, a hippie, is a pinko commie, who looks to sate himself on the wealth of the Republican Big Lebowski. It is amazing what the Coen’s can fit into a “stoner comedy”

  • OsoDuck



    It should also be noted that Saddam gives the Dude gold and silver bowling shoes. That is, the Dude is about to share in America’s conquest of Iraq’s wealth. Appropriately, Siegfried and Brunhilde are warrior archetypes, or symbols of imperial conquest.

  • OsoDuck

    Here is a scene from 2004’s Ladykillers where a character heavily implied to be communist Vietcong, and intent on the murder of an elderly Christian women, is dispatched by divine intervention.

    I’m not sure if I’ve said it already, but I’m not even so sure that the Coen’s are that sympathetic to the Christian religion, it’s just that it must be so tempting for them to put it to the dominant leftist nuts that run our culture that they can’t help but come up with scenes like this. They might be subversive to a fault.