Joel and Ethan Coen have been at the forefront of American filmmaking since the release of their lacerating low-budget debut “Blood Simple.” Their eclectic oeuvre —including the Cannes-anointed oddity “Barton Fink,” their instant classic Americana crime story “Fargo,” and their somber Oscar-winning thriller “No Country for Old Men”-- has inspired critical debate, garnered cult audiences and, of late, even reaped a small fortune at the box office. Initially dismissed in some quarters for their ironic detachment, elevation of style over substance and strangely self-aware exploitation of genre tropes, The Coens have won over most of their naysayers with their persistent exploration of the darker realities of national life and even the incorporation of autobiographical elements in their most recent films. Along the way, their work has served as a primer of American history—their films are almost uniformly period pieces—especially as reflected onscreen. They have explored a range of period-specific genres and paid homage to a daunting assortment of essential filmmakers, and this class will not only examine their unique career but the influences that drive it, from quick-witted, light-hearted screwball comedies to despairing film noir landmarks; from Westerns to Busby Berkeley musicals to signature works from auteurs including Kubrick, Hawks, Capra, Kurosawa, Sturges, Altman and Polanski. In addition, we will read some of their recurring literary influences, such as Hammett, Cain, O’Connor, Faulkner or McCarthy.