John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead, and Geoff Dyer, author of Zona, recently met for a discussion at 192 Books in New York City. Among the topics covered: Burning Man, Axl Rose, writerly influence, and why Geoff Dyer hates the Coen brothers.
Sullivan: Can I ask you about a remark you made in the book about the Coen brothers? Which did not seem flip—you accuse yourself of being flip with the Wizard of Oz thing, but you describe their films as “witless.” I’ve heard a lot of Americans criticize the Coen brothers, but it’s usually the opposite criticism that’s made—that they’re too clever by half, that it’s all wit and no heart. And so I just was hoping you could expand on that.
Dyer: Oh, with great pleasure! [Laughter]
There was an occasion when The Threepenny Review was hosting this symposium on Almodóvar, and I was really pleased to contribute to that because I really hate his films, but then I duly wrote something and they didn’t publish it because they thought it was too abusive. And I’ve been waiting for a symposium where I can really pitch into the Coen brothers, and it’s really quite simple, I think.
Here is the fact of the matter: I have a G.S.o.H. I really do have a Great Sense of Humor. We’re not going to debate it—just accept it. [Laughter] And when I’m in a Coen brothers film, in a cinema, I’m surrounded by all of these people laughing their heads off, and I’m sitting there stone-faced. And the reason I’m not laughing and they are is because I have a sense of humor and they don’t. What one realizes is that even people without a sense of humor want to have a laugh. Because it’s fun to laugh, of course. I always come back to this one bit. You know how sometimes you can see someone make a gesture in a novel, and it’s some kind of insight into their soul? It’s that sequence in Fargo, that bit where the guy says, “I need unguent.” Do you remember that bit? That is humor for people with no sense of humor. And after that I just despised them with every fiber of my being. And I even thought that the stoner film, what’s that one called? [An audience member suggests The Big Lebowski] Yes, even that is—well, I can see that we all love Jeff Bridges and all this kind of stuff—but that became tiresome so quickly. Then just the pointlessness of many of the films. I’m a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy. I think Cormac McCarthy is a great genius, but I thought that book No Country for Old Men was basically a kid’s book, really, because it had such childish attitudes toward violence. So, weirdly, that seemed to me to be a successful film, in a way. It seems to me that they are childish filmmakers. And then the remake of True Grit. It just seemed entirely pointless to me.
Sullivan: What about Raising Arizona, though?
Dyer: Oh, that is just unspeakably… [Laughter]
Sullivan: Satisfyingly shocking, is what you’re saying? But he’s talking about the pajamas. When the cops are asking the father who has had his child kidnapped, and they’re asking him to describe the pajamas and he says, “I don’t know, they had Yodas and shit on them. They were pajamas.” Come on, that’s witty.
Dyer: I don’t know, it might be. I can’t remember Raising Arizona at all, this is the problem. All I can remember is the vehemence of my own aversion to it.
Sullivan: That’s what makes us essayists. Your reaction dwarfs the reality, and so we write about the reactions.
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- raggedbutright said: Gaaaaaargh Geoff Dyer, why do you make it so hard to like you?
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