Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Genre Trap

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.


Anonymous Sergey said...

Good words, Paul! I also very like this film. It starts nearly as comedy about musicians but turns into David Lynch style mystic narration :) It is widely discussed in Moscow press, but the main problem is people here didn't listen much to Peter, Paul and Mary and couldn't recoginze Bob Dylan - so they didn't get final message... Watching this film I remembered Motion of Light in Water by Delany and picturesque stories about Grinvich Village and young Bob Dylan who should play in one club after Delany who were a kind local microstar in that time (And Bob Dylan rejected to do that)

January 30, 2014 6:55 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I didn't think that recognition of Bob Dylan would be a problem, but of course that's based on growing up at a time when he was one of the pole stars of popular culture in the West. That audiences in Russia weren't familiar with him makes me wonder if there's a generational recognition gap, here...

February 01, 2014 8:53 am  
Anonymous Sergey said...

I suppose that showing us Bob Dylan in the end in the same club while Lewin is lying beaten by angry husband directors are punishing Lewin - he is destined to be the second and the unknown.
Like Pete Best in The Beatles :)
In the 60s in the USSR there were analogue of Bob Dylan - Vladimir Vysotsky and there were some folk guitae singers as Joan Baez or Peter, Paul and Mary (they were called here "bards" - British cultural tradition more close to Russia:) Of course lovers of modern music listened to Bob Dylan and those Russian singers listened to American folk, and Bob Dylan even perfomed in Moscow in the 80s - but to general public here Bob Dylan is mainly known by his name not by his music. In Russian version there should be subtitle "Bob Dylan" in the end of the the film :)

February 04, 2014 5:37 pm  

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