Rolling Stone

Ethan Coen Takes on Jerry Lee Lewis

He thought he was done making movies. Now, he and his wife-collaborat­or, Tricia Cooke, are back with the story of the Killer


Ethan coen wasn’t exactly a Jerry Lee Lewis scholar, or even a fan. Sure, the Oscar-winning filmmaker knew “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” He knew about Lewis marrying his 13-year-old cousin in 1958 and the ensuing scandal — but that was about it. Coen had also, by his own admission, “left the movie business.” Then, he and his wife, film editor Tricia Cooke, found themselves several weeks into a lockdown in the spring of 2020. “I think [the mentality] was: We’d make a movie about almost anything right now,” Coen says.

It was around that point that they got a call from music producer T-Bone Burnett, proposing a Lewis doc. Two years later, Coen and Cooke’s Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, due for release through A24 this year, presents a portrait of the Killer in his own words. Told solely through archival clips, TV appearance­s, and concert footage, the movie liberally skips around through his life, with an emphasis on the second phase of Lewis’ career as a country & western artist. You get a sense of who the man banging the keys and kicking away stools back in the day was: crazed, righteous, untamed, talented as hell.

“We didn’t want to do . . . the voice-of-God, history-of-rock movie,” Coen says. “The more you see aging rock stars talk about what a great influence he is while sitting in front of a bland background, the more depressing it is.” Adds Cooke: “We’re both fans of ‘Let the artist do their own talking.’ And because we had access to so much footage — because Jerry Lee has been performing for decades — it was easy to piece that together.”

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Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958
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