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Inside Llewyn Davis (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 111 minutes.

OK for children.

Thereís a lot more to this film than meets the eye. This is the story of folk music in Greenwich Village just before Bob Dylan arrived and helped create folk rock that swept the country in the Ď60s with people like his girlfriend, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell.

While fictional, all of the characters are based on real people, mostly esoteric people of the folk music scene of whom few have ever heard. Written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, they derived a lot of whatís in the movie from folk singer Dave Van Ronkís memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) isnít Van Ronk, but his background is Van Ronkís, so thereís little difference between the two. Some of the songs he sings are Van Ronkís.

And while weíre on the subject of the music, Isaac sings all the songs himself and the music was recorded live. There are no voice overs or lip syncing to pre-recorded tracks. Even Carey Mulligan, Llewynís former lover who hates him, sings in her own voice, and itís a nice voice, as is Isaacís.

The story takes place during a week in 1961, coinciding with the arrival of Bob Dylan. The protagonist, Llewyn, is a down and out folk singer who sleeps with friends who are willing to put him up, all the while singing music at a little club. He literally doesnít have a dime, living off whatever he makes singing, which isnít much.

So this isnít about people who became famous. Itís about the pure folk singers who paved the way for what was to come. They were arrogant and unsympathetic to the new people who realized that pure folk wouldnít sell. They wrote and sang what they wanted, and if it wasnít popular, then be damned, which, eventually, is what happened to them artistically and career-wise. They looked down their nose at folk rock. This is a testament to purism and financial folly.

This certainly isnít the romantic tale told by John Phillips and his wife Michelle of The Mamas and Papas in their hit song, Creeque Alley, in 1967 of their struggles to become marketable, which included some time in Greenwich Village in the early Ď60s (hard to believe but they were a group for only a few years, 1965-68, when they fell apart due to infidelity, drugs, and personal ambition).

Justin Timberlake makes a short appearance as a character reminiscent of Van Ronk-contemporary folk singer, Paul Clayton (a graduate of one of my alma maters, the University of Virginia). Dylan ďborrowedĒ one of Claytonís songs to write Donít Think Twice, Itís All Right, resulting in a lawsuit that was settled when it was discovered that Claytonís song itself was derived from another that was in the public domain. Clayton committed suicide in 1967.

Iíve never seen Timberlake give a bad performance. Although what he does here is nothing exceptional, itís a good, workmanlike effort.

I really liked this movie, even though itís pretty depressing. The music is good and the recreation of the era and the lifestyle is right on.