Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

December 10, 2013

CALLERI: New Coen brothers movie points a lens at the folk music scene

Niagara Gazette — For most of their filmmaking careers, the Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel) have been happy to work outside the major studio system. They’ve been monumentally successful with their special blend of stories that deliver off-kilter characters and a deliciously jaundiced interpretation of reality.

Only a handful of other independent writer-directors have achieved their level of acceptance by audiences. Certainly Woody Allen. Wes Anderson also comes to mind. The Coens and Allen are surely Academy Award-bound this year.

Allen has “Blue Jasmine,” which has been playing steadily in the United States since July. It’s heading for Oscar nominations for best actress (Cate Blanchett) and original screenplay. In this year’s very crowded field, Allen and his superb drama might be nudged out for best directing and picture honors.

“Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen’s new film, should earn multiple nominations, including for best actor, best supporting actor, and original screenplay. As with Allen, there are too many other excellent movies to make an exact guess on directing and picture, but I would also be happy if the movie was selected in those categories.

The story of “Inside Llewyn Davis” follows a straight line: one week in the ragged life of a rumpled singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. This being the Coen brothers, that line has numerous odd and interesting roadblocks through which Llewyn Davis must pass. The most pressing roadblock is his own abrasive personality

Davis traverses Manhattan with his guitar, crashing on the couches of friends and strangers, never quite making it beyond being a mid-level folk singer. He’s on the verge of being an anachronism as the folk scene winds down, soon to give way to British rock and roll and a new American musical poet, Bob Dylan, who was less folk-oriented than many people believe. In 1961, folk music was rooted in traditional songs of the open road (Pete Seeger’s work, for example) or in novelty tunes like The Kingston Trio’s episodic “Tom Dooley” and their sprightly “M.T.A.” Peter, Paul, and Mary’s wildly popular version of “Puff The Magic Dragon” would effectively end the folk era in 1963.

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