17 December, 2007

Film of the Week: "O Brother, Where Art Thou"


Loosely based on the Odyssey, this film is about chain gang escapees in the rural U.S. South in the 1930s who head north to find buried treasure.

You really don't need to know anything about Homer's tale to enjoy the film - the Coens claim not have even re-read it before starting work - but if you know the epic then the parallels are amusing. It's really more of a tribute to the music and movies of that time but you don't need to be a cineaste to enjoy the film.

The title derives from one of Preston Sturges' film, "Sullivans Travels" (in which the idealistic writer-director wants to make a socially conscious epic entitled "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"). While fans of the genius hyphenate Sturges would have got it, I do wonder if calling the film "The Wacky Jail Break Adventure" would have improved its commercial prospects.

The advantage with episodic stories is that you can have a a wide range of subject matter but the disadvantage is that unless you have a strong narrative drive and clear goals for your main character then it's going to be dull. Luckily this film doesn't fall into that trap.

Look at how distinct those three fugitives are in terms of characterisations and especially how their flaws contribute to the humour.

It's been said that the Coens have used deus ex machina endings for previous films that didn't make sense but this time it does make sense. Do you agree?

The soundtrack changed my musical tastes for ever; Americana now figures prominently on my shopping list.

Wikipedia is worth reading but only after the film due to its spoilery nature.

Screenplay
Monday 17 December
Channel 4, 10:00pm

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