Cannes – Most people in the film industry thought that Ethan Coen was done with making movies. Ethan did too.
But on Sunday, Coen will premiere his first documentary, “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind,” at the Cannes Film Festival, a film that was unknown until last month’s announcement of the festival lineup. The film, which A24 will distribute later this year, is a blistering portrait of the rock ‘n’ roll and country legend, made almost entirely with archival footage, featuring extended performances rather than head-to-head talking. has been accelerated.
It is Coen’s first film without his brother Joel, with whom he formed one of the most harmonious and unshakable partnerships of films for three decades. But they have recently parted ways; Last year, Joel made “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” a film he suggested his brother would never be interested in. Ethan is now preparing, with his wife, editor Tricia Cooke (who cut several of Coens’ films as well as “Trouble in Mind”), a gay road-trip sex comedy he had shot 15 years ago. wrote together.
“Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” debuted with his longtime collaborator T-Bone Burnett, who recorded a gospel album with Lewis, 86, in 2019. The film, as Coen and Cook noted in an interview prior to its Cannes premiere, touches on some of the more complex parts of Lewis’ legacy. (He married his 13-year-old cousin in his early 20s, then a third marriage to Lewis.) But it was mostly the startling of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” the musical dynamo behind “Great Balls of Fire.” Brings alive the giving power. “And” Me and Bobby McGee.
Associated Press: Many people thought you, Ethan, weren’t interested in moviemaking anymore. Did it change?
Con: What’s changed I’m starting to get bored. I was with Trish in New York at the start of the lockdown. So, you know, it was all a little creepy and claustrophobic. And T-Bone Burnett, our friend of several years, contacted us—in fact, more Trish than me—to ask if we wanted to make this film originally on archival footage. We could do it at home.
Cook: It was like a home movie project. We are both huge fans of his music. I had some issues with other parts of Jerry Lee’s life. I was like, “I don’t know if I want to touch her.” But in the end it was a lot of fun. To be honest, T-Bone came to us like two weeks into the pandemic, so it was a life saver.
Associated Press: Ethan, what was it that quelled your desire to make movies?
Con: Oh, nothing happened, certainly nothing dramatic. You start out when you’re a kid and you want to make a movie. Everything excitement and echo-ho, let’s make a movie. And the first movie is just loads of fun. And then the second movie is very funny, almost as funny as the first one. And after 30 years, it’s not that it isn’t fun, but it’s more work than ever. Joel felt the same way but not to the extent I felt. It is an inevitable byproduct of aging. And the last two movies that we made, me and Joel together, were really tough to produce. I mean, really tough. So if you don’t have to, you go to a certain point: Why am I doing this?
Cook: Too many westerns.
Con: It was getting a little old and difficult.
Associated Press: When you say “tough,” does it have nothing to do with the ecosystem of the industry?
Con: Absolutely not, although it has clearly changed beyond recognition from where we started. But, no, it was the experience of producing and doing it – I don’t know how many years, maybe 35 years. It was a film making experience. More grind and less fun.
Associated Press: Is something holding back for you, as you prepare to film together this summer?
Con: Then, it’s all kind of circumstance. We ended it a long time ago and we were sitting still. We had this old script and we thought, “Oh, we should do that. That will be fun.” That’s the film we are preparing for.
Cook: I don’t want to speak for Ethan, but I know for myself that, at some point, I stopped cutting, pretty much, because my priorities changed. And now our kids are all grown up and we’re still together and have fun building things together. Joel and Ethan, we wrote some of these things down, and they were always like, “We’ll put them in a drawer. The kids will find them one day.” Now here we are, okay, let’s do that. Let’s open that drawer and see if anyone wants to make this movie.
Associated Press: Do you expect, Ethan, that you and Joel continue going your separate ways in moviemaking?
Con: Oh, I don’t know. Going our own separate ways seems like it suggests this may be the last. But none of this definitely happened. No decision is fixed. We can make another film. I don’t know what will be my next film after this. There was an epidemic. I turned into a big kid and got bored and gave up, and then the pandemic happened. Then other things happen and who knows?
Associated Press: Did you always envision “Trouble in Mind” as an archival-based, talking head without?
Con: The history of film dates back to before we got involved. It was originally conceived in 2019 as being more on the gospel session T-Bone produced with Jerry Lee. Plus, he compiled a lot of archival footage. Archival footage continued to accumulate. It made more sense to talk about Jerry Lee than this particular season. We probably took it that way.
Cook: When T-Bone brought it to us they initially described what they wanted in the form of a tone poem. I don’t think we did that. (laughs)
Con: Yeah, it sounds a little fruitful.
Cook: But we didn’t want a bunch of talking heads from the start, especially if they weren’t Jerry Lee’s.
Coen: T-Bone clearly wanted the movie to begin with a performance of “The Ed Sullivan Show” from “She Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.” And he wanted it to end with “Another Place, Another Time.” And we went “Oh (imperfect), that’s great.” He called for the entire performance. We said, “Oh, great. So you’re talking like a good movie.”
Associated Press: You both did a tremendous job in a fiction film. Have you often considered making a documentary? Do you see a lot of documents?
Cook: I made a short documentary called “Where the Girls Are” years ago on the Dinah Shore golf tournament. In general, we both like documentaries. Friedrich Wiseman and Messels and Pennebaker and Barbara Koppel. All those old documentaries.
Con: Why are they all old?
Cook: We’re old.
Con: Did you watch the Beatles documentary? that was fantastic. well damn.
Associated Press: As far as we get from the movies and music of mid-century America, I think it was such a fertile period of creation that it will never be repeated. For example: Where Jerry Lee Lewis came from is not where anyone comes from.
Con: I completely agree. It seems, yes, now everything is gone.
Cook: Things are not discovered in the same way. For Jerry Lee, when he was young, going to a blues club was nothing at first for him and it became an incredible passion. Everything is so big, so global now—not that that’s a bad thing—but it doesn’t seem like it has the same passion as it did in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s.
Associated Press: When you watch him perform, his arms go up and down like pistons, he’s such a dynamo that you can’t help wondering where that energy came from.
Con: Musicians are cynical. I mean in the best way.
Cook: He talks about the Pentecostal Church. It is almost as if he has overcome this passion to play. I remember being mesmerized when we first started watching the footage.
Con: Going through archival footage was a once-in-a-lifetime blessing, but it was also a curse. Because he did his share of (expective) stuff too.
Associated Press: What are your personal limits in an artist’s behavior and the art they create? “Trouble in Mind” doesn’t try to make a clear decision.
Con: If it’s a good movie, that’s why it’s good. What do we have to make of it? right. This is an allowed question. This is what makes the film interesting. How do you connect that magnetic artist with that flawed person? It’s kind of — I mean none of the Beatles married their 13-year-old cousins — but it’s like a Beatles movie and why it’s so thrilling. You go: Whoa. They are both huge cultural figures and smaller than life human beings. That is astonishing.
Jerry Lee is very much the same. I don’t think any sane person would ask to ban music because there were some flaws in his character. Who makes that choice? All the glory to T-Bone for presenting us with the opportunity and saying it’s not going to be about Jerry Lee, about this musician, and about the heads talking about Jerry Lee. What to Think of Lee or About Us editorialization, telling viewers what to think of Jerry Lee. All of these things are not recipes for making a good movie, and neither are Jerry’s servings.
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