It's Best To Stay Outside of Inside Llewyn Davis

I've often said that if I don't like an album there's no reason to review it. Too many releases and too little time to spend squawking about what I don't like rather than what I do like. And realistically, who cares what I have to say about it? I'm not a judge nor a jury. Just a guy with two ears, a heart and soul. All the requirements any of us need to be a listener. And do you really need two ears with electronic wizardry that can turn a stereo mix into mono? 

A critic on the other hand, that takes some skill. You need to research, be comfortable with your subject matter, site sources, have knowledge of the craft and have some sort of track record that people can relate to and believe. So that leaves me out. 

But here in eight words and two periods is what I have to say about the new Coen Brothers/T-Bone Burnett extravaganza Inside Llewyn Davis

Don't go to see it. Wait for Netflix.

Better yet, go watch the Showtime special around the film that documents a September concert at New York's Town Hall that captures much better the old time music and vibe of the sixties. Gillian and Dave, Marcus Mumford without the sons, Punch Brothers, Oscar Isaacs (a really good singer and actor who the Coen's put this anchor around his neck with a terrible plot and dialog), Joan Baez, Patti Smith and a bunch of others. It's two hours of great performances, and despite T-Bone appearing as some bizarre mad scientist stalking around the rehearsal space burning wood as the Coens leer, it's fine television indeed. 

The film.

Peter Stone Brown wrote a piece titled "This Film Is Not About Dave Van Ronk" and he captures in two paragraphs what I felt after seeing it at a Saturday matinee where I had to convince the cashier I qualified for a senior discount (I don't) and once inside it was clear that at sixty one years of age I was the youngest person in the house.

"Now the Coen Brothers say they like the music of that time and wanted to make a film about it.  They enlisted the considerable talents of T-Bone Burnett to make sure the music was right, which he did.

But then they concocted one of the most preposterous story lines to go with it, about this guy wandering around, knocking women up, abortions that didn’t happen and abortions that are about to happen in a way that didn’t happen in 1962.  Davis crashes from couch to couch, sometimes with this escaped cat, goes to Chicago, auditions for an Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan’s manager seen in the film Dont Look Back) comes back, obnoxiously yells at someone onstage (apparently based on folksinger Jean Ritchie), and gets the shit beat out of him as a young Bob Dylan takes the stage.  That’s it."

Should I have just said "SPOILER ALERT"? Because that's pretty much the entire movie. Sorry. 

Last week in the Village Voice, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife Terri Thal wrote a piece about the film, the man, the music, the times and the reality of the you might come to suspect, she sets it straight. And as I see it, the truth is much more interesting than Hollywood's take on it.

About the soundtrack: the music is not bad at all, and Oscar Isaac does a pretty darn good job of it. He doesn't try to be Dave Van Ronk, because as you already know, it's not a story about Dave Van Ronk but fiction, based on the stories of Dave Van Ronk. Got that? But on the down side, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" it is not. While I'm sure the thought of hearing Justin Timberlake's version of "Five Hundred Miles" might be hard to resist, perhaps if this film sparks an interest in folk music and the early sixties, there are other places to look.

Hal Willner's tribute to pioneering musicologist Harry Smith's documentation and preservation of American folk forms, featuring contemporay musicians.

Unlike field recorders, eccentric filmmaker/collector/musicologist Harry Smith assembled the Anthology from commercially released (though obscure) 78 rpm discs issued between 1927 and 1935. Its broad scope--from country blues to Cajun social music to Appalachian murder ballads--was monumentally influential, setting musicians like Bob Dylan down the path to folk fandom. 

This recording features classic performances by classic artists doing some of their classic songs during the great folksong revival of the 1940s through 1960s. It is some of the great performances from the vaults of Folkways Records.

The extraordinary folk and blues singer and guitarist Dave Van Ronk is inextricably linked, first and foremost, to the folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Van Ronk, born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1936, and of Irish origin,  performed for more than four decades before passing in 2002. He made his first record for Moses Asch's Folkways label in 1959 and won far-reaching recognition for his recordings with Prestige in the 1960s.


This guy. 

Sort of satirized in the Coens' film, go ask Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton and anyone else still alive from that era the importance of the Clancy Brothers on American folk music.  

And finally, a hard-to-watch scene from the film. And I rest my case.

Views: 4451

Tags: Coen Brothers, Dave Van Ronk, Easy Ed, Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac, Showtime, T-Bone Burnett, Terri Thal, folk music

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on December 22, 2013 at 12:30pm

I saw the movie this weekend and was really disappointed in it.  When it ended I thought, that's it?  In the review that Ed links to above the reviewer says " ends up being a film about nothing." Yep. Perhaps not a bad way to spend a night on the couch streaming netflix, but don't waste your time and money on the theater for this one. Buy one of the albums Easy Ed suggests instead.

I'd be interested to hear more opinions of the film so if anyone who reads this has seen it please weigh in.

Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 22, 2013 at 2:45pm

Easy Ed,  did you mean spoiler alert or spoiled alert?

Thanks for saving me the price of admission Easy Ed and Kyla.

Comment by Easy Ed on December 22, 2013 at 2:50pm
I meant to write SOILED ALERT.
Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 22, 2013 at 3:10pm

I can't top that easy Ed. Thanks for the laugh.

Comment by Steve Ford on December 22, 2013 at 4:47pm

I'm a big fan of the Coens, and interested in the New York folk scene of the early 60s (made a point of standing on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougall on my first trip to NYC, in homage to Fred Neil) but I had a bad feeling about this film. Maybe it's time to re-watch A Mighty Wind instead. 

Comment by New American Farmers on December 22, 2013 at 8:25pm

We're with you on this one, Ed. Even the preview was a snore. We need to move forward, same ol', same ol' characters - - uninspiring. Thanks.

Comment by Michael Biggins on December 22, 2013 at 9:22pm

Have to agree with the sentiment's really just OK, as a an ode to the early folk doesn't click at all.

Comment by Hearth Music on December 23, 2013 at 11:59am

"A critic on the other hand, that takes some skill. You need to research, be comfortable with your subject matter, site sources, have knowledge of the craft and have some sort of track record that people can relate to and believe. So that leaves me out. "

Hahaha, ME TOO! Let's start a club. "Music Writers Who Don't Give A Shit And Just Write Anyways."

Comment by Steve Ford on December 23, 2013 at 2:38pm

"Criticize things you don't know about." Steve Martin, Grandmother's Song. Best advice ever.

Comment by Easy Ed on December 23, 2013 at 4:18pm
I don't know nothing about playing a banjo and don't think Steve Martin is good at it.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.