It was 1980 and director Sam Raimi was travelling to New York for the first time with negatives of his debut film The Evil Dead. When Sam reached the building that housed the edit room, he was greeted by a shabby man with long hair. The unkempt man came up to his car and offered to help the director with the cans of his film’s raw footage. Slightly taken aback by this man’s appearance, Sam assumed that he was one of the muggers one often encounters during night time in New York and thus hesitated initially in lowering the window pane of his car. Later, that man turned out to be Joel Coen who was hired to assist the editing of his debut film and this also marked the beginning of a long friendship that has lasted more than four decades.
During the edit of the film, the two (later joined by Joel’s brother Ethan) realised that they had similar taste in films. When Sam was able to leave a mark with his debut film, he soon shifted to Hollywood followed by an invitation to Coen brothers to share his apartment. It was at his apartment that Coen Brothers met future Hollywood stalwarts like Kathy Bates, Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand (who later married Joel Coen).
Sam did his best to help Coen brothers gain a foothold in the industry and thus offered the brothers to co-write Crimewave, a chaotic slapstick comedy. On paper, Crimewave was a zany film which combined the best of the quirky style of Coen Brothers and Sam’s madness. Unfortunately, when the film exceeded its budget, its ‘beauty’ was marred by interference by studio mandarins. The final outcome was a below average film that turned out to be a critical disaster at the box office. The failure also forced Sam to resort back to the genre he knew best – horror. Again, Sam solicited help of Coen brothers to give shape to his superhero film Darkman, which has now assumed cult proportions. Sam returned the favour when he helped the brothers finish the script of The Hudsucker Proxy.
One thing which binds the directors together is the theme of crime. Almost all their films have crime at the core of their story. It is pretty evident that both Coen brothers and Sam Raimi have a special liking for ‘losers’ who later turn out to be ‘heroes’. “The Coens seem to have heeded Sam Raimi’s recipe for films: “The innocent must suffer, the guilty must be punished, you must drink blood to be a man” – mentions Ronald Bergan in his book The Coen Brothers.
When Coen brothers were making Blood Simple, this time Sam was asked to play an important role in the film. It was only during the mid 90s that their path in terms of filmmaking slightly divulged. While Sam gravitate more towards the commercial appeal of the box office through offerings like Army of Darkness and The Quick and the Dead, the Coen brothers slowly occupied and mastered the space with cerebral crime dramas which veered more towards comedy. When Coen brothers created a splash with Fargo, it also left a huge impression on Sam Raimi. Sam’s A Simple Plan featuring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, was clearly influenced by Fargo. Both films had similar theme – ordinary people lured by greed. Even the location of both films is similar.
The friendship between the two was so thick that when Coen brothers became broke peddling their film Blood Simple, it was Sam Raimi who gave them shelter at his apartment. Just for trivia sake it can be mentioned that after the Coens and McDormand moved out, Holly Hunter moved into his apartment and then it was the turn of Kathy Bates as the new tenant. Their friendship has lasted more than four decades and they still consult each other for their films. Here’s hoping the three sharpest brains of Hollywood collaborate once again. We will keep our fingers crossed!