Joel & Ethan Coen: Inside Llewyn Davis

Posted 10 years ago by myetvmedia

When the Coen Brothers put their name to a film it sets the bar very high. Known for their peculiar ability to create unlikely characters as the focus of their films, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is no exception. I watched the movie with mixed emotions. The tale of an obscure, troubled, struggling American folksinger of Welsh descent, set over a bleak wintery week or two in Chicago and New York City during 1961, might not be the stuff of riveting cinema or a big drawing card. Premiered at Cannes, “Inside Llewyn Davis” immediately hit a sonorous chord with the audience winning the Grand Prix. It has just won the annual New York Gotham Award for Best Feature and is wracking up numerous nominations in the upcoming Awards season lineup.

Rolling Stones Magazine* has provided the definitive historical background about the movie and about Dave Van Ronk, the Greenwich Village folk-blues-jazz singer who provided the Coen’s inspiration in part for their central character of Llewyn Davis. It should be noted that the character in this film Llewyn Davis, is quite different from Dave Van Ronk in many significant ways. Llewyn is a completely fictitious creation of the Coen Brothers set in a period carefully researched by them to create authenticity for their story. The movie has struck a deep and obvious note with the generation that grew up with the New York music scene during the formative years of American pop and those who have a deep interest in the folk music genre. It becomes a little more obscure for those who do not have that immediate connection but can relate to a time that produced the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Peter-Paul & Mary and the much less popular but dedicated Dave Van Ronk. Llewyn is sort of the Coen’s tribute to the ‘also ran’ who never quite makes it.

It certainly deserves the NYFF ‘Best Cinematography Award’. The cinematography, direction and editing is so skillfully managed that you feel as though you have crept right into Llewyn Davis’ skin. Which is why the movie is so brilliant. Here is a character that otherwise would be a bit of an odd ball, just weird. He has to cling so tightly to his code of what he believes a folksinger is that everything in his life suffers for it, including his music. He is a pawn in the music industry basically begging for gigs and then for any money from music agents, living hand to mouth, always desperate.

Oscar Issac (Llewyn Davis) is remarkable as the protagonist, completely in character in every conceivable way. Carey Mulligan (Jean Berkey) transforms herself yet again, this time into the role of the confused, angry love interest who clings to Jim (Justin Timberlake) while unable to sever herself from Llewyn. She is not alone in this because for some strange reason he manages to get through life spinning through a series of friends that are at times very angry with him or somehow very sympathetic. Because of this, it is hard to call Llewyn a loser, although the final scenes of the film return to the New York bar The GasLite, where we initially met Llewyn and provides insight into his melancholic and pitiable story. Throughout the movie Llewlyn cannot seem to establish himself in the music industry on his terms at all. In the closing scene, the next performer at the GasLite is a young Bob Dylan. This cleverly drills home the fact that Llewyn managed to just miss the big times altogether, and undoubtedly it had everything to do with his misplaced, almost fanatic, if not pathetic adherence to a misguided philosophy about the true inspiration for music. Even his name is not catchy, a point that Roland Turner (John Goodman) unpleasantly emphasizes in the long road trip to Chicago. Turner, a terribly obese, cantankerous drug addict and his driver are the peculiar companions Llweyn finds himself bound to when he decides to hitchhike to Chicago, again, ill prepared and in search of a questionable dream.

In honour of the Coen Bros extraordinary contribution to indy film, TIFF Bell Lightbox is doing a 10 film Coen Brother film retrospective.

“The ten-film spotlight reveals the thousand faces of the Coenesque folk hero, and invites audiences to (re)familiarize themselves with the off-kilter universe of the Brothers Coen. Joel and Ethan Coen have often been regarded as cinephilic genre revisionists, one can also see in their work the influence of an even older tradition: the classic American folk tale, and specifically the classic American folk hero. While the towering statue of Paul Bunyan looming over the snowy wastes of Minnesota in Fargo is their most direct citation, it’s not hard to see in the Coens’ wild and woolly menagerie of crooks, wiseacres, nihilists and idealists a number of riffs on and reinventions of this distinctively American icon — whether in the classic form of True Grit’s grizzled frontier marshal or the more curious guises of a pregnant Minnesota police chief (Fargo), a loquacious chain-gang escapee (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), or a burned-out hippie with a bowling fixation and a tragically stained rug (The Big Lebowski).”

TIFF Press

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is another in the series of unusual characters created by the Coen Brothers that pique our interest and enrich our understanding of the individual.

If you liked this we recommend:

Moira Romano

@CareyMOnline @TheNYFF #NYFF #NYC @GothamAwards #CoenBros #folksinger #TIFF #JustinTimberlake @jtimberlake @TIFF_NET

Rolling Stone Magazine Online Dec. 2, 2013 1:20pm “Meet the Folksinger Who Inspired ‘Inside Llewlyn Davis” By David Browne

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