24 May 2007

O Brother Where Art Thou?

O Brother Where Art Thou? was a silly title for an otherwise enjoyable movie by the Coen brothers.

Plotwise, the movie is about a trio of escaped convicts searching for treasure that one of them claims to have stashed away somewhere. Their quest is loosely based on the Odyssey, and it's a bit of fun as they traipse through depression era USA where even the relatively wealthy look run down and laden with dust and sweat.

What makes the movie really memorable is what it does for the music used in it. For many people, blue-grass music, with its irritating twang, was one kind of music they could not stand. O Brother Where Art Thou? removes the twang, and puts the songs in the context they belong in, and once that happens, it becomes apparent that the corniest of lyrics is just another way by which people are trying to keep themselves going. They don't have electricity to provide entertainment, most of them don't even have the luxury of being able to lug instruments around in their daily lives. For their amusement, they rely on their own voices, the rhythms around them, and their own wisdom.

One of the best scenes involves some washerwomen - Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss - singing a lullaby as they do their washing in a very sexy, seductive manner. All at once, the story of the sirens, the land of the lotus eaters, and the adventure where Odysseus' crew gets turned into animals, all get combined in a clever, short way.

The movie opens up a previously overlooked branch of music and provides a context in which it all makes sense. The movie is recommended, and once you've seen it you'll probably want the CD as well.

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