Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Inside Llewyn Davis": Coen brothers produce low-keyed comedy about the desperate life of a young musician

I was wondering what the Coen Brothers would accomplish with some quiet, simple subject matter in the film “Inside Llewyn Davis”.  The film follows the wandering life of the folk singer during a winter week in New York City perhaps in February 1961.  That first name is Welsh and hard to spell. 
The film starts at the Gaslight Tavern in Greenwich Village, where he (played by Oscar Isaac) sings some simple fare that got made into singles and LP’s during that period.  As I recall, when I was a patient at NIH in the latter part of 1962 after my own disaster, one of the other residents, a female, had a record by him.  LP records of any kind fascinated me, although I collected (only) classical.
Then we learn the typical life of an itinerant musician in New York with no money. I would see some of that about seventeen years later as a gay man living in the village.  I once “dated” a guy who made a living by playing and singing for tips at Shakespeare’s.  Young men did that kind of thing.  Some of them were insular, staying in the Village all the time (including the Ninth Street Center crowd in the Easy Village).  But men like Oscar hit the road a lot, looking for opportunities and work.

Oscar has a tendency to leave women pregnant (one of them played by Carey Mulligan).  And he takes to cats (and cats seem to take to him, ready to latch on for meals).  There are two cats in the plot, played by the same animal, but they make up another important character in the story.  I can remember a night in a friend’s apartment in New York City in 1980, having returned for a visit, when the next morning his cat walked around my mattress and mewed until I went to the fridge and set his food and milk out.
That was the typical existence, living on nothing, borrowing money, crashing at friends’ pads, and most of all, hitchhiking when necessary.  This was “real life”.
There are some other heavyweights in the cast of this little comedy, including Justin Timberlake as Jim (like a much humbler Sean Parker), John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund.
The official site (CBS Films and Studio Canal) is here
There is some classical music in the score: a clip from Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata (#17), and a curious passage from the closing “Wayfarer” song at the end of Mahler’s Symphony #4, which even changes key signature away from the tonic at the very end.  Many people don’t know that Mahler wanted to use this movement for a conclusion of the Third, which would have ruined the effect of that monumental work from my perspective. 
I saw this Saturday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.

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