"In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Coen brothers' debut, Blood Simple, I’m re-watching their 16 feature films and attempting to jot down observations on one per day, in order of their release. For a fuller explanation of what I’m doing and why, see my first entry, on Blood Simple. (Here, too, are my entries on Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis." -- Christopher Orr, writing in The Atlantic.
Because the Coens have tried their hand at numerous genres, from noir to screwball to outright surrealism, it wasn’t immediately apparent that they were making the same basic movie over and over. After 30 years and 16 features, however, it’s now hard not to notice that prototypical Coen protagonists are hapless, well-meaning schlemiels upon whom life exacts a toll that’s much worse than they deserve. In the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s a hard world for little things (and everyone else)
Though Llewyn appears stuck, he’s the nomad always ecstatic in his circumlocutions. He’s on a road to nowhere but at least trudging on a path to somewhere. The rest of the world marks time, gliding smoothly along the straight line of the future, arrested comfortably in the steady flow of the ever-present, and being naively present relieves one from the nightmare of history. Maybe the materialization of Dylan’s music in the final minutes, when it wasn’t there in the beginning, is another sign that Llewyn’s time has passed, and it’s time to, um, face the music. Like clockwork he goes into the alley to confront the shadowy figure, and takes his punch (this time not saying “I’m sorry?” before the fist collides with his face, however). Consigned again to this cesspool, he doesn't stay down but ascends through iron bar shadows and follows his bellicose aggressor, who gets into a cab and drives off. Llewyn looks on somewhat wistfully, not saying “farewell” in accord with Dylan but rather says “Au revoir”—indicating they’ll see each other again. At that quiet utterance the cab’s wheels screech and turn a sharp corner. The linear trajectory forward is thwarted and Fate's Emissary will inevitably come around again. The Orbital Noose: Inside Llewyn Davis
A decade on, the Coen brothers' woefully underrated O Brother, Where Art Thou? [alt] is remembered for a lot of things: its sun-drenched, sepia-rich cinematography (a pioneer of digital color grading), its whimsical humor, fluid vernacular, and many subtle references to Homer's Odyssey. But one part of its legacy truly stands out: the music. Assembled by T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack is a cornucopia of American folk music, exhibiting everything from cheery ballads and angelic hymns to wistful blues and chain-gang anthems. Woven into the plot of the film through radio and live performances, the songs lent the story a heartfelt, homespun feel that echoed its cultural heritage, a paean and uchronia of the Old South. Though the multiplatinum album was recently reissued, the movie's medley is best heard via famed documentarian D. A. Pennebaker's Down from the Mountain, an extraordinary yet intimate concert film focused on a night of live music by the soundtrack's stars (among them Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Chris Thomas King, bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley) and wryly hosted by John Hartford, an accomplished fiddler, riverboat captain, and raconteur whose struggle with terminal cancer made this his last major performance. The film is free in its entirety on Hulu and YouTube -- click inside for individual clips, song links, and breakdowns of the set list's fascinating history. [more inside]
The Coenfographic (large jpg), by Tom Muller, is a visual representation of actors in Coen Brothers films.