WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif., June 17, 2000 — They might be joined at the hip, with prominent noses, spectacles and facial hair.
But Joel’s the serious-looking one, hair now chopped short and wild from his trademark ponytail, and lounging in a T-shift and jeans. The more-chipper Ethan, three years younger, sports a full beard to Joel’s goatee and wears a button-down plaid shirt.
Joel is the director, married to actress and frequent star Frances McDormand and father of their adopted son Pedro. Ethan is the producer, who also serves as co-writer and co-editor on his brother’s film projects.
Together, the Coen brothers have created seven films, each one completely unique, each one bearing some of cinema’s most curious titles (“The Hudsucker Proxy,” “The Big Lebowski”). In 1997, the Coens won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for “Fargo,” while McDormand took home a Best Actress trophy for the same film.
But in the year 2000, the brothers are returning to where it all began: a little crime thriller called “Blood Simple” made in 1985, which is returning to theaters digitally enhanced and restored.
Starring McDormand, Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh, “Blood Simple” follows a jealous bar owner (Hedaya) who hires a detective (Walsh) to kill his wife (McDormand), who is having an affair with a bartender (John Getz). But when the detective decides to turn the tables on everyone else, the result is paranoia, mayhem and a lot of bloodshed.
The new version has no added scenes; in fact, the finished product is five minutes shorter.
“We were approached about doing a DVD of the movie,” Ethan says. “And we thought we might as well remix the movie because when it was made, it was mixed in mono.
“And there was quite a bit of room for improvement just in terms of sounds. And since we started thinking about that, we thought ‘Well, since we’re getting into the mix of the movie, we might as well do the picture as well’ … there seemed to be room for improvement in the cut.”
“We always thought it was rather kind of clumsy, the editing,” Joel adds. “It was interesting to go in and try to tighten the movie up. … We didn’t have any trims or outtakes. We only had the material in the printed film. We took out some shots and shortened other shots.”
The experience took them back to the time when they were unknowns, who, with “Blood Simple,” really stepped onto a movie set for the first time.
“It’s the overwhelming size of the beast you have to wrestle around,” Joel says of his first directing experience. “The real surprise is that it’s an ungraceful thing because of its manipulation and size. I think this is the one thing we’ve learned, is how to manipulate that … what you need to do. We didn’t know anything about scheduling and [that] if you moved in the middle of the day from here to there what it’d mean in terms of time wasted.”
Now the brothers have little trouble maneuvering themselves through film production. Their next release is the much-anticipated “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” starring George Clooney and John Turturro, about escapees from a prison chain gang.
But whatever you do, don’t take “Blood Simple’s” re-release to mean the brothers are into some cinematic bragging. Quite the opposite, Joel says.
“It wasn’t because we were overly impressed with our own work that we went back and did it. … We were kind of appalled,” he says.
Jokes Ethan, “Before, the original version was like an old lady with a walker, and now it just has a cane.”
“Blood Simple” will play throughout the summer in select cities beginning July 7.