Home Culture Books & Authors Rolling on the Shabbos: book analyzes Coen films

Rolling on the Shabbos: book analyzes Coen films

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A scene from The Big Lebowski, taken from Adam Nayman's book.

Adam Nayman loves films so passionately he isn’t content writing columns or feature articles about his favourite filmmakers; he wants to write entire books devoted to them.

A Toronto writer and lecturer, Nayman’s latest book is The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together, (Abrams Books) which analyzes each of the films by the legendary filmmaker brothers. Nayman seeks to highlight not only the writing choices the Coens made but also the cinematography, directing, music and even the props found in films such as The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Fargo and many more.

The idea for a book devoted to the Coen brothers came to Nayman shortly after he worked for Vice Media on several guides to their films. He also lectured about the filmmakers at Toronto’s Miles Nadal JCC, and then thought, as he explains in an interview: “What people like about their films is that they all resemble each other in some way and I wanted to tease out those similarities in the Coens’ consistency of their outlook and worldview.”

Nayman has found several key themes emerging in most of the Coen brothers’ repertoire: riffing off traditional genres such as film noir and screwball comedies, allusions to other great works such as The Big Lebowski predicated on Raymond Chandler stories, and raising the stakes on what the future may bring, whether that perspective focuses on family or culture.

“You just know a Coen brothers movie by looking at it,” says Nayman. “There’s a unified theory of Coen-ness in all their work.”

Within their films, is there something inherently Jewish about their characters or stories? “Not necessarily, because a movie like Fargo isn’t very Jewish at all while in The Big Lebowski you have this Jewish character played by John Goodman which is so hilarious, when you think about this WASP actor talking about not bowling on Shabbat,” Nayman said.

Then a film like A Serious Man comes along and leans hard into its Jewish themes, Nayman adds.

In the book, Nayman wanted to uncover more of what makes a Coen brothers film so memorable. He interviewed the usual collaborators such as editors and cinematographers but he also talked to costume designers, storyboard artists and musicians to learn about the many elements that contribute to a film’s esthetic.

“For example, I wanted to learn why O Brother Where Art Thou is full of music but No Country for Old Men has no music at all,” says Nayman.

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Writing about the Coen brothers isn’t his first venture into dedicating an entire book to film. In fact, his last book studied just one movie – Showgirls, the 1995 erotica drama.

Wait, why write a book solely about that schlocky film? “I’ve always loved its director, Paul Verhoeven, and Showgirls is funny in a ridiculous kind of way. It’s always been a provocative film.”

Between books, Nayman also writes on film for Cinema Scope and on sports for The Ringer, while also working as a lecturer for the University of Toronto’s cinema studies program.