Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Outwith the many parallels between the actual Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s and elements of the story and mise en scene of Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film by the Coen Brothers provides a useful lesson in the trap of genre. The eponymous hero is a musician in the pure folk revival tradition, playing old songs and murder ballads with no little skill and intensity, but failing to find a way to advance his career. He's just released a solo album after his singing partner committed suicide, but can't prise any royalties out of his manager and fails an audition at a prestigious venue after a sisyphean journey to Chicago. He's lost the thread of his life and his artistry. At one point he notices a toilet graffito: What are you doing? What he isn't doing is creating anything new, apart from a few licks in a work-for-hire novelty record (and he signs away his rights for a quick buck). He isn't breaking out of the narrowing trap of genre, where you can get by with the old tropes and tricks even if you don't believe in them any more. He's waiting, in the brutal winter of 1961, for a thaw that comes (too late, for him) with the arrival of Bob Dylan and his magpie incorporation of the old lines and myths and figures into vivid new structures that speak to the present, not to the past. Take the old and make it new and make it sing again, and break on through to the other side.