This is Quinn’s first film without his brother Joel, with whom he has formed the film’s most consolidated and unbroken partnership over three decades. But lately, they’ve taken a different path. Last year, Joel made “The Tragedy of Macbeth”, a film he suggested his brother would never be interested in. Ethan is now preparing with his wife, editor Tricia Cooker (who has cut alongside many of the Queens films). “Mental Problems”), a lesbian road-trip sex comedy that they wrote together 15 years ago.
“Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in the Mind” began with their longtime collaborator T-sister Burnett, who recorded a gospel album in 2019 with 86-year-old Lewis. The film, as Quinn and Cook mentioned in an interview before their Cannes premiere, touches on some of the more complex parts of Lewis’ legacy. (She married her 13-year-old cousin in her early 20’s, her third marriage since Lewis.) Makes “and” me and Bobby McGee. “
AP: A lot of people thought, Ethan, you’re not interested in making movies anymore. What changes?
Quinn: What’s changed is I’m starting to get annoyed. I was with Trish in New York at the beginning of the lockdown. So, you know, it was all a little scary and claustrophobic. And T-sister Barnett, a friend of ours for many years, came to us – in fact, more Trish than me – to ask if we wanted to make this movie into archival footage. We could do it at home.
Cook: It was like a home movie project. We are both fans of his songs. I had some problems with other parts of Jerry Lee’s life. I was like, “I don’t know if I want to touch it.” But it ends up being a lot of fun. Honestly, the T-sister came to us about two weeks into the epidemic, so it was a life saver.
AP: Ethan, what was it that made you want to make a movie?
Quinn: Oh, nothing happened, of course nothing dramatic. When you start as a child and you want to make a movie. Enthusiasm for everything and gung-ho, let’s make a movie. And the first movie just loads of fun. And then the second movie is a lot of fun, almost as fun as the first. And 30 years later, it’s no fun, but it’s a lot more work than ever before. Joel kind of felt the same way but not to the extent that I did. It is an inevitable by-product of aging. And the last two movies we made, Joel and I were together, really hard to make. I mean, really hard. So if you don’t have to do it, you go at a certain time: why am I doing it?
Coin: It was getting a little old and hard.
AP: When you said “tough”, did it have anything to do with the ecosystem of the industry?
Quinn: Not at all, although it has clearly changed beyond recognition from where we started. But, no, it was a production experience and I’m doing it — I don’t know how many years, maybe 35 years. It was a movie-making experience. More and less fun in a crush.
AP: Is something back for you this summer as you prepare to make a movie together?
COEN: Again, it’s in all kinds of situations. We finished it a while ago and we’re still sitting. We had this old script and we thought, “Oh, we should do it. It’ll be fun.” We are preparing for that movie.
Cook: I don’t want to speak for Ethan, but I know for myself that at some point, I stopped cutting, roughly, because my priorities have changed. And now our kids have grown up and we still live together and have fun making things together. Joel and Ethan, we wrote some of these things, and they always said, “We’ll put them in a drawer. The kids will find them one day. Now that we’re here, okay, let’s do that. Whether he wants to make.
AP: Do you hope, Ethan, you and Joel will continue to go their separate ways in making movies?
Coin: Oh, I don’t know. Going our own separate ways seems to be the ultimate. But none of these things happened for sure. No decision is final. We might make another movie. I don’t know what my next movie will be after that. There has been an epidemic. I grew up to be a big child and gave up bored and then the epidemic happened. Then other things happen and who knows?
AP: Have you always considered “mind problems” to be archival-based, no talking head?
COEN: The movie has a history before we got involved. It was originally thought to be more of a gospel session T-Bone produced in 2019 with Jerry Lee. Along the way, they’ve compiled lots of archival footage. Submit archival footage. It seemed more meaningful to make it about Jerry Lee than this special session. We may have pushed it further that way.
Cook: When T-Sister brought it to us, she first described what she wanted as a voice poem. I don’t think we did that. (Laughter)
Quinn: Yeah, it sounds a little fruitful.
Cook: But we didn’t want to talk about a bunch from the beginning, especially if they weren’t Jerry Lee.
COEN: T-sister was clear about wanting to start the movie with that performance on “The Walk Me Up to Say Goodbye” to “The Ed Sullivan Show.” And he wanted it to end with “another place, another time.” And we went “Oh (analyst), that’s great.” The whole performance. We said, “Oh, great. So you’re talking about a good movie.
AP: Each of you has worked tirelessly in fiction films. Have you often considered making a documentary? Do you see a lot of docs?
Cook: I made a short documentary called “Where the Girls Are” at the Dina Shore Golf Tournament. In general, we both like documentaries. Frederick Weizmann and Mesels and Pennebaker and Barbara Koppel. All of those old documentaries.
Coin: Why are they all so old?
Quinn: Have you seen the Beatles documentary? That was fantastic. Goddam
AP: The further we get from medieval American film and music, the more it seems to me that it was a fertile time of creation that will never be repeated. For example, no one comes from the place where Jerry Lee Lewis came from.
Quinn: I totally agree. It’s good, yeah, it’s all gone now.
Cook: Things aren’t invented the same way. For Jerry Lee, when he was young, going to a blues club was nothing like access before and it turned into this incredible emotion. Now everything is so big, so global – not necessarily a bad thing – but it doesn’t seem to have the same emotion as it did in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s.
AP: When you see him perform, his arm going up and down like a piston, he’s a dynamo that you can’t see or think where he came from.
COEN: Musicians are crazy. I want to convey this in the best way possible.
Cook: He talked about the Pentecostal church. It’s almost as if she’s overcome with this passion for the game. I remember being fascinated when I first saw the footage.
COEN: Searching through archival footage was a once-in-a-lifetime blessing but also a curse. Because he also did part of his (experienced) thing.
AP: What is your personal threshold in the behavior of an artist and the art they create? The “problem of the mind” is clearly not trying to judge.
Quinn: If it’s a good movie, it’s good. Are we supposed to do that? That’s right. This is an approved question. This is what makes the movie interesting. How do you put that magnetic performer together with that flawed person? It’s kind of like – I mean none of the Beatles married their 13 year old cousins - but it’s like the Beatles movie and why it’s so exciting. You go: Wow. They are both huge cultural figures and people younger than life. That’s mind blowing.
Jerry Lee is a lot like that. I don’t think any conscientious person would ask me to ban music because there were some flaws in his character. Who imposes that choice? All the glory for T-Sisters to present us with the opportunity and to say that this is going to be about Jerry Lee, about this musician, and about this Jerry Lee or our editorial, is not going to tell us what to think. What would the audience think of Jerry Lee? All of these things are not recipes for making a good movie and no service for Jerry.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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