Inside Llewyn Davis, T-Bone Burnett soundtrack, camp movies, cult, wild guitar, biker movies

Reviews are pouring in, as the Coen Brothers’ Cannes Gran Prix-winning Inside Llewyn Davis opens widely. A loose consensus appears to be that this is not one of their very best, but only as we judge the Bros to such a high standard. The story is classic (or the usual) ‘Coen’ – lushly detailed and true to its period (cue the ‘O Brother, Folk!’ comparisons regarding T-Bone Burnett’s music direction), humorous, and headed into the dark end of the tunnel. Julliard-grad Oscar Isaac is the titular ‘Barton Van Ronk’ of the proceedings, with an all-star supporting cast that features Justin Timberlake, Corey Mulligan (fairly fresh off Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby) Garrett Hedlund (first film since On The Road), the Girls boys (Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky) and Coen favorite John Goodman. The timing of the film’s release virtually assures, at least, Oscar nominations for many involved.

For a highly entertaining gonzo flipside of the same scene, about a year down the timeline (post-Dylan breakthrough) and on the West Coast, I highly recommend a viewing of gonzo Russ Meyer-style director Ray Dennis Steckler’s Wild Guitar (1962).

This film and Llewyn could easily be two vehicles travelling the same two-lane blacktop in opposite directions, one a spotless vintage late ’50s coupe and the other a junker bike that roars, coming together in the heartland to make some great music. Arch Hall, Jr., as South Dakotan Bud Eagle kicks off Guitar on this cycle, flying by the seat of the pants (on many levels) southwest to a Hollywood of the Capitol Stack and Dino’s Lodge. His talent and open character are readily apparent (he somewhat resembles a more-chiseled, blonde greaser Michael J. Pollard), and soon interests, romantic and otherwise, are moving in. Pompous svengali Mike McCauley (Arch Hall, Sr., also the film’s screenwriter) casts his net over Eagle and designates his realistically creepy assistant Steak (Cash Flagg, aka Steckler) to monitor his affairs.  However, and where it appears Guitar flips from Llewyn, in one the hick proves more hip than assumed, and in the other it’s the hipster who’s ultimately naïve.

Both films are marked by great dialogue. With the Coens, it’s a given: between the Halls, we get some unexpectedly deep interchanges with the father as Machiavellian industry mover (ironically Hall, Sr. was a true South Dakotan cowboy in his youth) and son as rebelliously independent-yet-observant outsider. Talent-show MC (Paul Vorhees) and his stage manager (Costner look-alike Rick Dennis) also have a great little exchange

Then there’s the off-the wall, great music. Llewyn has Burnett’s compilatory work, as well as originals like the “Please Mr. Kennedy” song performed by Isaac, Timberlake and Driver. Wild Guitar has numerous compositions (undiscovered classics such as “Twist Fever”) penned and performed by Junior himself with his Musical Director Alan O’ Day (who himself would write and perform the 1977 #1 hit “Undercover Angel”). And visually, what better to experience this weekend — a sunny and frothy black & white pick-me-up after a colorful snowy downer?

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