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I Feel Lucky

By Jayne Waterford
Copyrighted © Jayne Waterford, 2014 Written 21st January 2014 First published 21st January 2014. Revised 21st January 2014

Ethan Coen & Joel Coen's "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS" (2013) is an interesting cinematic experience that begins with your first impressions of the first movie poster or trailer you see. Curiously, this is where our story arch begins as we don't quite like the look of this movie in the way we like the sum total of the Coen Brother’s output to date. We don't feel drawn in or engaged by images of the man with a ginger cat and a guitar case out and about in a bleak world. We are not further enticed by the prospect of folk music. We go because it's the Coen brothers and no one we know has an opinion about it yet. We sit there, in a mostly empty cinema willing to be impressed. And this is where our story has to journey from. This dubious expectation is how much potential the story has for improvement, how far the arch can travel, and it does.

We track Llewyn Davis threw a week in his life as an aspiring recording artist who has lost his partner. We see him prioritize and put up with heaps of shit to get to the things in his life of paramount importance. He takes a trip. Llewyn is buffeted about by fate, doesn't particularly care for the people in his life, but has options.

His exhaustion handicaps him with bad decision making. For example, Llewyn gets a recording gig but takes a $200 flat payment and waves royalties.

The Gaslight Café circa 1961 is a little known world of people on the cusp of belonging to the 50s, decked out in warm browns and corduroy. These are people who gather in small numbers share a mania for an authentic experience. They have huddled together, studying albums, trying to look back beyond the clear voices of their parents to the origins of folk music, before Dylan came along with his studied, gravelly voice, interpreting the songs that came immediately before him.

Particularly, "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS" is a week in the life of a folk musician who plays for baskets in the Village, New York City, someone exhausted and further exhausted by couch surfing trading on the glamour of his integrity for food and space.

The structure of the film itself is a delight that turns like a donut seamlessly on top of a week. The magical transformation seems to be when we are lifted like a sleeping child and placed the night before a gig at The Gaslight Café. This is when we see Llewyn in a truly exhausted state heckling an authentic back-country singer and being thrown out by his peers. As we turn

into the time we have experienced before we find ourselves revisiting the spot where Llewyn is beaten up by an authentic back country husband as Bob Dylan takes the stage and interprets one of Llewyn's own songs. Well, it's not his song. It's a song also performed by Van Ronk, a man who once also: released an album called, "Inside Dave Van Ronk," made an alternative income in the merchant navy as a seaman, went on a bizarre car trip to Chicago to perform for Al Gussman at the Gate of Horn, in Dearborn and "shares Llewyn's repertoire of songs—music that... derives more from... the Scots-Irish-Anglo tradition as opposed to the Southern tradition of the blues." (Production Notes) The notes insist, "Llewyn, for his part, is an original, wholly fictional character. Inside Llewyn Davis... isn’t in fact about Van Ronk."

Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) looks and sounds nothing like Van Ronk. Ethan Coen explains script development began with the question, "Why would anyone beat up a folk singer?" All developments took place from there.

As usual this Coen Brother's production features uniquely, invented characters. Soldier Troy Nelson (Stark Sands), friend of Jean and Jim's is one. He is a problem free, well-adjusted man in uniform who presents a little like a ghost and enjoys the success

that often comes to people who are easy to work with. Llewyn's academic back-stops, Mitch and Lillian Gorfeins and their cat, Ulysses throwing constant dinner parties and giving us entre to many people and how they accommodated authentic music in their lives. And then two pairs of fine actors in long sequences: Firstly, Llewyn's best friends, married couple, Jean (Carey Mulligan) and his best friend Jim Berkley (Justin Timberlake). Llewyn and Jean behave like a married couple. Isaac and Mulligan had worked together, cast as husband and wife in Nicolas Winding Refn's moody thriller "DRIVE" (2011). Here, they are in each other's faces with accusations that truly hurt and responsibilities that can be neatly side-stepped.

Next is jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his companion Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund). Designer Gonchor is quoted as saying, "The brothers said they wanted to approach it like a documentary, have it be as real as possible, to enhance everything—not make it stylized but to have it seem totally authentic.” I didn't get this. I got beauty and palette and exquisite execution of style. Llewyn wears one change of clothes only in browns as rich as Fr. Timothy James Dominic Cahill's mother dressed them in. Reds are pressed into a tone that defies reality. It's a palette that really warms up in the presence of Roland Turner (John Goodman).

Goodman's was a very interesting performance as he seemed to be plumbing the depths of his own mortality. In my limited experience I can put my hand up and say this is the most honest thing I have ever seen him do.

Yet another highlight of "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS" is a performance by 1983 Academy Award® winner F. Murray Abraham as recording executive Bud Grossman in the Gate of Horn, not to be confused with Al.

Interestingly music venues are shot in hues that are a little bleak. The Gaslight Café is lit warmly but is mostly the grey of a hostile world where the interior of the Gate of Horn, Dearborn is covered in roadie black. Performing in both of these places Llewyn doesn't exactly strike out but he doesn't pick up the batten he's offered and run with it either.

What was magical about this film was the way we moved through the week to a point where we settled in to watch folk performances by Llewyn and share an idiosyncratic intimacy with him. This seems to crescendo during his rendition of "The Ballad of Queen Jane." He just glances through the 4th wall at the end and we're in the same room. It's a fleeting though solid moment as he immediately begins rolling away from the possibilities

offered to him like a bowling ball returning to the bowler.

I enjoyed this experience and I'm glad I went. It was nowhere near normal. I felt like I'd been let into a club, in on a secret or given a one-print-only LP. I don't know why it warranted an MA15+ rating. The Coens toyed with our feelings like geniii. And having what can pass as an authentic experience, after the thinking of that little known era is enthralling. 10/10

Copyrighted ©: Jayne Waterford, 2014.

Ethan Coen & Joel Coen's
Director Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Producer Scott Rudin
Stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund
Release Date 16th January 2014
Category Musical Drama
Running Time 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
Rating MA15+
Origin USA circa. 1961
Coda No
Distributor Roadshow Film Distribution
Official Blurb "Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from
Academy Award-winners Joel and Ethan Coen, follows a week in the life of a young folk singer at a crossroads, struggling to make it in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac)—guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter—is beset by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn journeys from the basket houses of the Village to an empty Chicago club—on a misbegotten odyssey to audition for a music mogul—and back again." - Roadshow Film Distribution PR
It really was winter. Ethan and Joel Coen direct outdoors on the set of "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS".
Copyright © 2013 No unauthorised copying or publication without express permission.
Carey Mulligan as Jean.
Copyright © 2013 No unauthorised copying or publication without express permission.
Oscar Isaac in the title role, Llewyn Davis.
Copyright © 2013 No unauthorised copying or publication without express permission.
Copyright © 2013 No unauthorised copying or publication without express permission.
Carey Mulligan (Jean) sings along side husband Jim played by Justin Timerlake.
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Authentic Backcountry Band
Copyright © 2013 No unauthorised copying or publication without express permission.