directors Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
As my kids are getting older (currently 11 and 13), I’ve been introducing them to a broader variety of films. I’ve been delving into my cinematic mind, pressing for things that I think will appeal to them. And interestingly, there is a lot from the past fifteen years or so that interests them, which hasn’t been the top of my list of things to share. Maybe it’s all too recent, or I still have it pretty well in mind. I’m more prone to the things more traditionally considered “classics”. Whatever the case, it’s given me a different perspective on the movies of the more recent past.
I always liked the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?. I was an avowed Coen Brothers fan by the time it came out and it seemed like one of their most enjoyable. Starring a George Clooney still out to prove himself as real leading man material despite his inherent leading man looks, this film was from his ripest period, I think, probably one of the films that convinced me to like Clooney.
Of course, the other big star of the film is the soundtrack. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack was a phenomenon in 2000 and afterwards, leading to a huge growth in interest in the “old timey” music of the film, roots country and blues and gospel and all the many things that comprise the soundtrack. In fact, I probably listened to the music many times over more than ever seeing the movie. The movie, did I even see it more than once?
The movie is a hoot. In materials shot at the time of production, the Coens referred to it as a Ma and Pa Kettle meets the Three Stooges epic. And it’s hard to do it better simplification than that. It also has it’s weird Odyssey parallels (though with the Coen brothers it’s always hard to know exactly where the truth starts and stops in reference to such things). And the name of the film, borrowed from and inspired by Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941) (which would actually make a great double feature with this film.)
Really, what makes this movie work and shine is the total amalgamation of all of its elements. Tim Blake Nelson is so good as Delmar, John Turturro as Pete Hogwallop.
The one critique I had this time through was the digital coloring that Roger Deakins employed in the film to give it its sepia tone. It’s said to be one of the first feature films that underwent a frame-by-frame digital re-tinting. I don’t know if that is the case or not, but it’s become a more and more common stylistic trick. And I don’t know if I’m correct in casting such a supposition, but I want to say that this sameness of tone has an artificiality that is somewhat nagging. Would I have had the same complaint if the effects were done through non-digital modes? Would it have been nearly as overwhelming or consistent? Is this a fair complaint?
Overall, I think this movie is a classic of its own time. It’s a great movie. The kids both enjoyed it. So at least I was right on that point.