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Coen Bros. Split Because ‘Ethan Didn’t Want to Make Movies Anymore,’ Says Carter Burwell

But just because the Coen Bros. split for "Macbeth" doesn't mean they're split forever.

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Ekaterina Chesnokova / Sputnik via AP

One of the biggest events of the 2021 fall film season will be the opening night of the New York Film Festival, which will mark the world premiere of Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” The Shakespeare adaptation is anticipated for several reasons, not least of which because it pairs acting titans Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, but it’s most notable for marking Joel Coen’s first solo outing as a filmmaker. Joel wrote and directed “Macbeth” without brother Ethan, with whom he helmed Oscar winners such as “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men,” among other films.

Why did the Coen Brothers split for “Macbeth”? It’s all amicable,” as the directing duo’s longtime composer Carter Burwell said on a recent episode of the “Score” podcast (via Los Angeles Magazine), referencing that Ethan did not get involved with “The Tragedy of Macbeth” for the simple reason that he did not want to make a movie. That’s not to say Ethan Coen is retired forever. Ethan told the Los Angeles Times in September 2019 that he was “giving movies a rest” to work on other projects like stage plays.

“Ethan has written and produced on his own I know, but this is the first time Joel is directing on his own,” Burwell said about “Macbeth.” “Ethan just didn’t want to make movies anymore. Ethan seems very happy doing what he’s doing, and I’m not sure what Joel will do after this. They also have a ton of scripts they’ve written together that are sitting on various shelves. I hope maybe they get back to those. I’ve read some of those, and they are great. We are all at an age where we just don’t know… we could all retire. It’s a wonderfully unpredictable business.”

Burwell spoke to Collider last year about making “Macbeth” without both Coen Brothers and admitted it was a bit weird. “It’s a little different, even just the conversations I’ve had,” Burwell said. “Yeah, it’s a little different to have one of the brothers there. And I know Ethan, I saw him toward the end of last year and Joel was out prepping the shoot in LA, he said it felt strange that Joel is out there getting ready to make a movie. But Ethan didn’t want to do it. He wants to do other things. So it’s going to be a little bit different for all of us, I think it’s safe to say, but I think it’s still going to be a very recognizable voice that you’re familiar with, a look that you’re familiar with, I think. I think you’ll find that.”

During his interview on the “Score” podcast, Burwell confirmed his “Macbeth” score was recorded last spring in New York. The composer originally tired to write a score that was made up only of string instruments so that each musician could wear a mask. “But it is Macbeth, and there are battle scenes, so I needed brass,” he said. “We did brass in its own section with six players all 12 feet a part. After they played, no one was allowed in the room for four hours while they circulated the air and disinfected the place.”

Burwell added of his “Macbeth” score, “One of the things I did in this was to record things acoustically and put them through distortion devices to distance them from the acoustic sounds. It’s a direction sound is heading this days, the distortion of acoustic sounds.”

A24 is behind “The Tragedy of Macbeth” but has not announced an official release date. The film will open NYFF on September 24.

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