Today! Because we’re in a tight spot –
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (x4)
Starring George Clooney (x4), John Turturro (x3), Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman (x5), Charles Durning (x3), Stephen Root (x4), Michael Badalucco (x3), Chris Thomas King, Daniel von Bargen (x3), Ray McKinnon, Frank Collison, Lee Weaver, Wayne Duvall, Ed Gale
When I first saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? in theaters, I was not overly impressed. In my Epinions.com review from that time (R.I.P. Epinions!), I believe I titled the post “The Acme of Foolishness,” taking a line directly from the film, because I thought I was one cute motherfucker. Whereas I normally quickly and whole-heartedly embrace Coen films, this one just didn’t work for me. Initially.
However, one thing I did glom onto right quick was the soundtrack – probably the lasting memory most people have of this movie, if they ever bothered to see it. So popular was T. Bone Burnett’s compilation/re-imagining of that sweet old timey music (#1 on the Billboard chart! 8x Platinum!), that it stayed in the public consciousness far longer than the film remained in theaters (It did gross $45 million – decent by Coen standards). And as you’ve likely gathered from what’s come before on this list, music/musicals register pretty high with this guy, so incessant listening to this CD kept me thinking and reevaluating this movie until finally I learned to like it, then madly love it. Epinions Joe got it way wrong!
The movie is an extremely loose adaptation of The Odyssey by Homer, while also taking its title from the Preston Sturges’ classic #384 Sullivan’s Travels (see that post for details!). But nowhere does Greek history diagram the “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” a staple of my mix CDs for, oh, a decade afterward, until mix CDs went the way of LimeWire and I would dub no more forever. Sure, you come for “Man of Constant Sorrow” by the Soggy Bottom Boys, a great showcase for what the movie truly was in the trailer, but the goofy I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang comedy that you discover is full of charm and battling racists and con men and politicians. But also, like every song is great – “In the Jailhouse Now,” “I’ll Fly Away,” O Death,” “Down to the River to Pray” and so on. I may have come around on this movie eventually, but it would’ve taken forever without the music.
Not to say I love all the Coen movies – spoiler alert, this is the fourth of their six films on the list – but hey, maybe if The Man Who Wasn’t There had some manner of awesome, endlessly listen-to-able soundtrack I might’ve seen it more than once. Maybe Burn After Reading is actually some manner of fitness center crime masterpiece, it just needed, I don’t know, Digital Underground to fill out the background score to repeatedly pull me back in. Maybe Intolerable Cruelty isn’t terrible after all! My parents really liked it, so there must be something to it, no?
There are a ton of contenders for MVP in this picaresque journey through the south, from John Goodman’s shyster bible salesman Big Dan to Chris Thomas King’s soul-selling guitar player Tommy to Charles Durning’s flummoxed politician Pappy O’Daniel, but I’m going with Pappy’s opponent for MVP – the hilarious Homer Stokes, played by the hugely underrated Wayne Duvall.
The Coens are the ninth directing Four-Timers, following #197 Inside Llewyn Davis, #128 Fargo, and #367 A Serious Man, while John Goodman leads the advancing pack making it to the Five-Timers in acting, with appearances in #274 Argo, #385 Bee Movie, #183 Emperor’s New Groove, and Llewyn Davis. Clooney (#390 Gravity, #249 Ocean’s Eleven, #172 Out of Sight) and Root (#132 Office Space, #398 Ghost, #290 Cedar Rapids) are next up, going to the Fours. Spotlight!