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A love of Westerns, short movies and anthologies led the Coen brothers over more than two decades to this moment, with their presentation of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs at the Venice Film Festival.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest offering, a collection of short Western movies tied together as chapters in a book, premiered Friday in competition in Venice. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Tyne Daly, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Tim Blake Nelson as the eponymous Buster Scruggs.
Speaking at the press conference in Venice, the pair said they began writing some of the stories that ended up in the film “some 25 years ago” and slowly compiled them before coming up with the idea to combine them into a single movie. Initially the Coens had planned to turn the stories into an anthological TV series for Netflix, which backed Buster Scruggs and is releasing the film worldwide.
The Coens said the various stories were their own takes on numerous styles of Westerns throughout cinema history, from singing cowboy movies to the spaghetti Westerns.
For his story, which opens the movie, Blake Nelson said he felt it moved through the entire history of Westerns.
“It goes from the singing cowboy to the black-hatted, rock-and-roll revisionist Western, almost like [Robert Altman’s 1971] McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” the actor told the assembled journalists in Venice.
The Coens briefly waded into the controversy surrounding the idea that a Netflix movie should be in competition at the world’s oldest film festival.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of six Netflix-backed movies screening in Venice this year and comes after Alfonso Curaron’s rapturously received Roma on Thursday.
“The fact there are companies that are financing and making movies outside of the mainstream is very important,” Joel Coen said. “It keeps the art form alive. The more, the merrier.”
Ethan Coen added that, in the U.S. at least, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will also have a theatrical release. All Netflix award titles get a limited qualifying run in theaters.
“A theatrical release was important to us, but they were happy to accommodate us,” said Ethan Coen of Netflix. “That might have been their plan from the beginning. It’s getting a theatrical release in the U.S. That’s great.”
Joel Coen added: “It’s important to us that people who want to see it on the big screen are able to.”
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