On Monday, I was on the Red Carpet for the Centerpiece film of the Austin Film Festival, the Coen brothers “Inside Lllewyn Davis,” where I interviewed legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett and lead actor Oscar Isaac. The film is about a folk singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) trying to survive as he plays clubs around the Greenwich Village folk music scene in 1961 New York. Llewyn attempts to make it as a solo artist after the death of his musical partner and relies on the kindness of friends and family to carry out his dream.
Hi T-Bone, tell us about working with the Coen brothers
T-Bone Burnett: I first became aware of the Coen brothers with their film “Blood Simple,” which was shot in the Austin area. I was blown away by their visuals in that film. Then when I saw “Raising Arizona,” and they were able to make a baby crawling across the screen look like the apocalypse. I noticed that there was so much detail and movie references in their work, like in that film with the scene with John Goodman in the bathroom fixing his hair after they have broken out of jail. Written on the wall that you see reflected in the mirror is P.O.E, which is from Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” And I said to myself, “my gosh, these guys are quoting Dr. Stranglove on a bathroom wall in God forsaken Arizona.” I thought so much of that scene that I just called Joel and said we have to have dinner. It’s the only time in my life that I have done something like that. But I had to do it because I related so much to their work and felt a real kinship there. The more we talked, the more we realized we like the same films and music. And, so we started to work together.
Talk about how important folk music was to the generation that grew up in the 50’s and early 60’s.
Burnett: Here is how I define how important folk music was. It was the way they defined their generation. We have defined ourselves through music in this country since the Revolutionary War with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” through the Civil War with “John Brown’s Body.” Especially with the recorded music in the last century. Music has meant a great deal to our national identity and story. Music is our nations most important national export as we have spread our culture all around the world with it. We share our best part of ourselves through music with the world. Perfect example is Louis Armstrong, who, through his music, was our country’s greatest cultural ambassador. No one has ever done more to spread the message of innovation and freedom as he did. So, folk music has always been about the American struggle and overcoming the odds. The civil rights movement was completely carried by musicians and especially folk musicians in the 50’s and 60’s, and this film tells a little about that story.
Oscar Issac: First, I want to say that what T-Bone just said about spreading democracy through music. He stole that from me. I have been saying that for forever.
So tell us about working for the Coen brothers.
Issac: It was amazing, a literal dream come true. I couldn’t believe that I was able to work with those guys. The fact that I was able to work on their film was just amazing. They are the most relaxed people I have ever worked with. They really set the stage for people to do their best work.
The music of the sixties was really important to that generation What type of inspiration did you take from the folk songs of that time period?
Issac: Just how direct the music was. They had a clear and correct channel to reach people. The old idea of “Three cords and the truth” was all that you really needed. The simplicity of the music could be made fun of, like the character that John Goodman plays in the film does, but I think there was a reason why that music was so important. Because when you get music right and come by it honestly, it has an impact like no other.
Thank you so much and I hope the film is a big success.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac) is a struggling folk musician, who, after his musical partner dies, attempts to make it as a solo act by playing at clubs around the Greenwich Village area in the 1961. Llewyn doesn’t do too well and has to sleep on the couches of his friends and family. It seems that Llewyn, while a talented artist, is his own worst enemy as he continually burns the bridges with the people who love and admire him the most. Llewyn finally realizes that he must deal with the fact that his dream of being a musician may just not be in his reach. Issac gives an outstanding performance of a handsome guy who has a great many demons inside him, making him, at the same time, sympathetic and unlikeable. Issac has a really good singing voice, which brings back memories of very early Bruce Springsteen. For the audience who didn’t grow up in the time, the film does a great job of creating the atmosphere and feel of the folk scene in early 1960’s New York. As with any Coen film, there is a lot of humor in the film, brought mostly through the situations that Llewyn gets himself into, including a number of scenes with a cat that he gets stuck with and has to take on his travels. Supporting characters are always important in Coen brothers films, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Carey Mulligan plays a fellow folk singer whose contempt for Llewyn is shown just by the deadly glances she gives him each time they meet. John Goodman, of course, makes an appearance as an over-the-hill jazz musician, and F. Murray Abraham plays a club owner who can make or break Llewyn’s career. Justin Timberlake plays the almost “anti-Llewyn,” a happy folk singer who writes catchy pop songs, the kind that Llewyn feels are beneath his standards. The music in this film is outstanding, most of which was recorded on set as the cameras were rolling, including the Justin Timberlake song “Mr. Kennedy,” which makes for a incredibly funny recording session. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is sure to please the Coen brothers’ fans, and lovers of folk music as it the film gives us an inside view of the music scene that was to shape a generation. My Rating: Full Price
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