In Joel and Ethan Coen’s unique take on referencing Homer’s Odyssey in the form of a 1930’s Great Depression comedy-adventure film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou? ”, the most noticeably intelligent attribute was the genius song and music choice that, in more ways than one, dictated scene build-up, characteristic, and transition, thus keeping the theme of the “old-time,” old-country” atmosphere well intact throughout. The variety of American roots music songs used in the scenes gives cinematic emphasis to the characters’ circumstances and plot situations.
Moreover, the assortment highlights the realness of time and setting presentation in telling the story of trio convicts and just where, when, and how their adventure unfolds. Brief Analysis of Music Selection in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “O Brother, Where Art Thou? ” As the film opens with a lengthy line of hard-toiling inmates along the rail-road iron linings, collectively and heavily chanting verses from a rather hauntingly soothing blues tune entitled “Po Lazarus” (Track 1), the audience is at once audio-visually oriented and introduced into the state of the times, surroundings, over-all atmospherics, and mood of the film.
The relative simplicity of life through the rather depressed and trying times is kept through notable scenes. An example of which is when the odd trio of Ulysses Everett McGill, Delmar O’Donnell, and Pete, together with Cousin Wash, all enjoyed an after-meal, quality-entertainment radio offering via Norman Blake’s country classic “You are My Sunshine” (Track 3).
Moreover, the music presented in each of the scenes not only offers musical genre variety of roots country and folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and much in between through certain scene transitions, but more importantly highlights the tone of each separate scene in between dialogue, one distinct from the other, effectively and memorably. An example of this was the on-going quarrel of Everett and Pete which was overshadowed by the mass baptismal gathering and singing of a traditional gospel hymn “Down to the River to Pray” (Track 4), wherein all except Everett opted to clean his spiritual slate.
Another was the scene seduction by the sirens, which is musically accompanied with “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” (Track 10) by Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch, and also with Tommy’s would-be hanging in the sound of “O Death. ” All of these scenes are observably different from one another, but the rather musically enchanting versed sung melodies even give the scenes both an emotionally accessible and later-on cinematically nostalgic feature which stays with the viewers even after the film is over.
The song selection provides the proper build-up, eventual transition through, and even main story twists which fuel the story’s eventualities. An example of this was when the trio headed to a local radio station in hopes of garnering a means of self-financial aid, they sang “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Track 7), disguised on the airwaves as the “Soggy Bottom Boys” accompanied by musically skillful, guitar-equipped Tommy Johnson—who played a particularly important scene role for the film’s story.
The song performed was not only quite entertaining, but its definitions also constituted what a traditional American folk song truly is, which gave the scene much credibility and realness in every extent. The music also provides the film with a sense of scene consistency without compromising the story and, as the quality of song recordings are kept to its truest form even more enriching the old-time aspect of the film. As Evan Cater (2009) points out, “These recordings, which were made without the meddling clarity of digital technology, give the film much of its power and authenticity” (n. p. ).
The excellent selection and execution of music and scene inter-play gives the film a characteristic of its own and none like other. References Burnett, D. (2000). Man of Constant Sorrow [D. Tyminski, H. Allen & P. Enright]. O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records. Cater, E. (2008). O Brother, Where Art Thou?. AllMusic. com. Retrieved January 21, 2009 from http://www. allmusic. com/cg/amg. dll? p=amg&sql=10:hifixqu0ldse. Coen, J. (2000). O Brother, Where Art Thou?. California: Touchstone and Universal Pictures. Davs, J. & Mitchell, C. (2000). You are My Sunshine [N. Blake].
O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records Harris, E. , Krauss, A. , and Welch, G. (2000). Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby [E. Harris, A. Krauss, G. Welch ]. O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records. Lomax, A. (2000). Po Lazarus [J. Carter]. O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records. Traditional (2000). Down to the River to Pray [A. Krauss]. O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records. Traditional. (2000). O Death [R. Stanley]. O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack [CD]. Nashville: Mercury Records.
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