Friday, January 17, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

This iconic picture announced the arrival of a force of nature.  Bob Dylan, seen arm in arm with his then girlfriend Suzi Rotolo, walking down the cold, weary streets of New York City.  The Coen Brothers took this snap shot and created a mirror image of their own.  With "Inside Llewyn Davis" the Coen's carved out a freeze frame of the moment before Dylan burst upon the scene. 
I anxiously awaited this movie's arrival, my appetite whetted by a documentary on Showtime called "Another Day/Another Time," which celebrates the music that the movie hinges on.  The music in the documentary is amazing and it shows that Oscar Isaac, who stars in the film as Llewyn Davis, is no slouch as a singer and picker.
Folk music in the winter of 1960/61 was in the midst of a vapid phase.  The movie presents Davis struggling to carve out a niche in the field.  Fading from the scene was Pete Seeger and the group he had helmed, The Weavers.  Folk was in the process of being commercialized by clean cut acts like The Kingston Trio and The Chad Mitchell Trio.
The Coen's convey the grit, the struggle and the pure heartache that filled the world of struggling folk artists that haunted the streets of New York City.  It was all so earnest, too earnest, until a young Woody Guthrie disciple, named Bob Dylan came along and re-wrote the rules for what it meant to be a folk singer.  The fictional Davis decides to end his career on the night that Dylan rose ascendant at the historic Gaslight Cafe. 
It's not Dylan's arrival that drives Llewlyn away from the quest for money and fame.  Davis doesn't appear remotely interested or aware of the young folkie.  It's the struggle that kills his ambition.  The Coen's brilliantly depict that struggle as a homage to Dave Von Ronk, Phil Ochs, Dylan and yes, even Peter, Paul and Mary.  It's a struggle well worth watching and well worth enduring with Llewyn Davis.

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