I have a lot of faith in the Coen brothers. But when I heard that their next film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” was going to be about a singer-songwriter in Greenwhich Village during the folk revival, I was a little worried. If there’s a period ripe for nostalgia among beardy folk music types, this one is it, and I didn’t want to see the Coen’s talent squandered on an excursion into hippy-folky sentimentality.
Fortunately, early reports on the film from Cannes, where it premiered May 19, indicate that such is not the case. According to CBS, the movie was “met rapturously” and talk has already begun of Oscar nominations. Writing in Indiewire, Glenn Heath Jr. describes the film like this:
Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.
The Cannes International Film Festival announced the lineup for its main competition today, and the film I was hoping for most isn’t there.
Still, there are movies to look forward to. Chief among them is “Inside Llewyn Davis,” by Joel and Ethan Coen, about a Bob Dylan-esque Greenwich Village singer-songwriter in the 1960s, which is supposed to be loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.” And Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” will be competing, based on David Ives’s Tony Award-winning play of the same name.
What won’t be screening is “The Congress,” a part-animated, part-live action film by Israeli director Ari Folman. That’s the same Ari Folman who made the spectacular “Waltz With Bashir” in 2008, which did premiere at Cannes and which went on to be nominated for an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film.
“The Congress” is supposed to be based on “The Futurological Congress,” by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, though plot synopses floating around the Internet make it sound totally different. If it’s anything like the spirit of the book, however, it should be phenomenal. We’ll just have to keep our eyes on Venice, Toronto and Berlin.
Watch the trailer for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’:
It’s not the first time the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo,” has been adapted for the small screen. In 1997, a year after the movie was released, a pilot starring Edie Falco was shot, directed by Kathy Bates.
That project never got off the ground, but now it looks like “Fargo” will be a TV show after all.
Deadline Hollywood reports that TV network FX has given the green light for a limited series adaptation of the dark comedy which, unlike the 1997 effort, will be executive produced by Joel and Ethan Coen themselves. The show will be written by Noah Hawley of “Bones.”
Prepare for snowy, flat landscapes, Midwestern accents and — maybe — some more corpses in the woodchopper?
After he reviewed Lawrence Baron’s “The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema,” we asked contemporary Jewish film scholar Nathan Abrams for his choice of the best recent Jewish films. Below are his choices (in no particular order) of films over the last few decades that have made a significant impact in challenging stereotypes worldwide.
“La Haine” (France), Mathieu Kassovitz
A French goy playing a Jewish skinhead; a French Jew playing a goyish skinhead. What’s not to like?
“The Big Lebowski” (USA), Coen brothers
“I’m shomer f**kin’ shabbes.” ‘Nuff said.
“The Governess” (UK), Sandra Goldbacher
That rare creature: an excellent British Jewish film. Beautiful and lyrical with a strong female Sephardic heroine at its heart.
“Black Book” (Netherlands), Paul Verhoeven
Verhoeven does for the Jewish heroine what he did for female serial murderers in Basic Instinct.
“Inglourious Basterds” (USA), Quentin Tarantino
Not quite the “Jewish porn” Eli Roth promised it to be, but his portrait of Shoshanna is superb.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Joel and Ethan Coen, the Oscar award-winning producer-director team that created films like “The Big Lebowski” and “A Serious Man” have been announced as the recipients of a million dollar prize from Tel Aviv University, to be granted in May.
The Dan David Prize is named for the businessman and philanthropist and is administered by a board of directors headed by Tel Aviv University President Professor Yoseph Klafter. Ten percent of the recipients’ prize money is donated on their behalf to doctorate and post-doctorate student grants.
Does the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” draw on ancient Indo-European myth?
Israeli musician Avi Avital has become the first mandolinist to be nominated for a Grammy award in the classical music category.
Four less admirable Israelis were caught trying to steal Judaica from a synagogue in Milan.
As with Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film, Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of “True Grit” (which is really another, truer, adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel) follows a young girl in pursuit of her father’s killer. Played here by new recruit Hailee Steinfeld, the impossibly precocious Mattie Ross hires a surly, drunken, tough-as-nails federal marshal (Jeff Bridges) to help her track the horse thief (Josh Brolin) what gunned down her pappy. It’s a cut-and-dry revenge story, where good guys win and bad guys lose. It’s less a self-aware ode to the studio Western than an inheritor of its most simple and enduring charms. And it’s seductive. Deceptively so.
Comedy, explained Aristotle, has a vague history, because at first no one took it seriously. We cannot know for certain if Aristotle was deadpanning, but his observation would amuse Saul Austerlitz. According to Austerlitz, American film comedy has not been taken seriously, either. In fact, the author quips, it is American film’s “bastard stepchild.” With his latest book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” Austerlitz gives us a broad survey of the genre, hoping to spark debate.
There were few Jewish comedians in Aristotle’s day, but in American comedy, Austerlitz notes, Jews are “the only minority group overrepresented.” The title of his book is taken from a catch phrase by the gentile comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy, but on the cover of the book, it is Jewish comedians, The Marx Brothers, who are making a mess. For Austerlitz, the Marx Brothers are the embodiment of Jewish humor — “anarchic, absurdist, and ebullient” — existing in the face of a hostile or dismissive power structure.
On March 22, I went to a “Serious Night” party at B’nai Emet synagogue, in St. Louis Park, MN where the bar mitzvah scenes as well as some others in the Coen brothers film “A Serious Man” were filmed.
One of the audience members recounted his query to one of the Coen brothers asking why the opening scene was in Yiddish and set in Eastern Europe. His reply, “We wanted to introduce audiences to the world of a Jewish movie.”
The problem is that the world of the Jewish movie is not in the distant past, it is in the here and now, among the young extras from the movie selling paper flowers and collecting donations to benefit victims of the Haitian earthquake, couples in their teens and twenties dancing to Israeli music, and the old folks, as at an actual bar mitzvah, looking at family pictures on display. In this case the photos were of the extras in costume, and photos from the film’s 1967 era courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.
Robert Alter discussed “tough Jews” with Michael Chabon on March 18 as part of the Berkeley Seminars in Modern Jewish Culture Lecture, but there seemed to be a gap in the Jewishness.
Alter, the Berkeley professor and great critic of Jewish writing, interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon and asked about the author’s exuberant style, the inspiration for Chabon’s novel, “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” (his counter-historical novel of a Yiddish homeland in Alaska that the Coen brothers are reportedly filming) and other topics that those who have been following Chabon’s career — and that seemed to be just about all of the 200 or so attendees — had probably heard before.
But one expression spoke volumes about the writers of Jewish literature today, and what cultural touchstones they reach for most naturally.
Larry Gopnik, the main character in the Coen brothers most recent and most Jewish film, “A Serious Man,” has been widely understood as Job-like figure. But what would Job be without Satan to test him? (Besides having more children and fewer boils, that is.)
Enter Sy Ableman, Larry’s beardy nemesis, whose role as self-righteous cuckolder well nigh stole the show and earned actor Fred Melamed some long deserved recognition. Over the years Melamed has appeared in several Woody Allen films (most notably as the shrink in “Hannah and Her Sisters”) and has played countless deep-voiced bit parts, but few have been as diabolically funny as his role in “A Serious Man.”
In a recent interview with New York Magazine’s Bilge Ebiri, Melamed discusses his long acting career, Woody Allen, what it’s like to work with the Coens (they’re very nice folks), and Philip Roth’s mother. Also, his goal to “bring the pompous, Jewish, overweight, rabbinic figure back to the center of American sexuality.” Read the whole thing here.
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