This course invites students on a tour of the films of the Coen Brothers, from their first film, Blood Simple, to Fargo and beyond. Each week we will view a Coen film, along with a film classic that influenced it directly or indirectly, so that the Coens’ use of cinema history and Hollywood conventions will be given context and depth. Watching The Big Sleep alongside The Big Lebowski, and Double Indemnity with The Man Who Wasn’t There, students will understand and appreciate how the Coens use and stretch the crime genre and make brilliant fun of film noir, while at the same time paying homage to the great directors Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder. Equally illuminating is a double bill of Preston Sturges’sSullivan’s Travels and the Coens’ Depression-era O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a contemporary take on Sturges’s unusual approach to comedy. How these films “talk to each other” across the decades becomes a way into learning both about Hollywood pictures and genres and about the Coens’ irreverent takes on the classics. Instructor lectures, assigned viewings and readings, and group discussions will connect with the films of the week. Students will keep and share a “viewing notebook” containing their own reflections, observations, and quotations. All films can be purchased or rented on DVD and most can be rented or streamed instantly through Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play Movies, and other online providers.
This is an online course. Thanks to the flexibility of the online format, this course can be taken anywhere, anytime—a plus for students who lead busy lives or for whom regular travel to the Stanford campus is not possible. While necessarily structured differently from an on-campus classroom course, this course maintains a similar level of instructor engagement through videos, interactive exercises, and discussion with fellow students, as well as optional online video conferencing sessions.
J.M. Tyree is the co-author of BFI Film Classics: The Big Lebowski, and the author of BFI Film Classics: Salesman. His newest book, Our Secret Life in the Movies (with Michael McGriff), was named an NPR Best Book of 2014. He is an associate editor at the New England Review.
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