Ethan Coen Returns to Filmmaking With Jerry Lee Lewis Documentary

"Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble In Mind" will debut at the Cannes Film Festival

Jerry Lee Lewis
1957, Tennessee, Memphis, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For fans of the decadeslong partnership between filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, 2021 was a weird year. Joel’s The Tragedy of Macbeth opened to glowing reviews while also prompting some confusion — namely, about why the longtime collaborators weren’t working together on this one. An interview with composer Carter Burwell suggested that Ethan’s filmmaking days were at an end.

Given that Ethan Coen’s body of work also includes fiction and plays, it’s not that shocking to think that he might want to focus on some other artistic pursuits. But, as the saying goes, rumors of the demise of Ethan Coen’s filmmaking career have been greatly exaggerated. His latest project, in fact, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.

That would be a documentary about Jerry Lee Lewis, whose life has attracted many chroniclers of the mercurial and extreme. In an interview with the Associated Press, Ethan Coen discussed his new film and his break from filmmaking.

Ethan and his wife, editor Tricia Cooke — another longtime collaborator — became involved with the project after T-Bone Burnett produced an album for Lewis. He said that Burnett’s inquiry was directed at “more Trish than me — to ask if we wanted to make this movie basically on archival footage. We could do it at home.”

It sounds like the Lewis documentary won’t shy away from some of Lewis’s more troubling aspects. “What are we supposed to make of that? Right. That’s a permitted question,” Ethan told the Associated Press. “That’s what makes the movie interesting. How do you put that magnetic performer together with that flawed person?”

As for whether the brothers might reunite, Ethan left the door open. “Going our own separate ways sounds like it suggests it might be final. But none of this stuff happened definitively,” he said. “None of the decisions are definitive. We might make another movie.” For now, we’ll have Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, followed by Ethan’s collaboration with Cooke, a comedy written over a decade ago. After that, who knows what might be next?

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