It was the Coen Brothers’ debut, ‘Blood Simple’, seen at Watershed (and didn’t we call it ‘The Watershed’ then?) on its first run. After the opening sequence plays out, a black bartender in a redneck tavern puts a record on the jukebox and we hear ‘It’s The Same Old Song’ by The Four Tops, a solid-gold Tamla Motown classic. Teasingly, the same song (‘It’s The Same Old Song’, get it?) also closes the movie, when in a coda after the long drawn-out bloody climax, the bar’s jukebox comes on again, playing that same old song as the end-credits roll. Sixties pop-soul hits would not go on to become Joel and Ethan Coen’s musical strong suit (though the film also features a reggae version of ‘Louie Louie’ by Toots & The Maytals), but it was abundantly clear that here were film-makers with a finely-tuned and suitably ironic ear for a killer tune, the nerdy knowledge of exactly where to put it, and massive respect for the the powers of popular memory. Check the same supreme use of oddball cult pop songs with Dylan’s ‘The Man In Me’ in ‘The Big Lebowski’, cut to a ten pin bowling titles-montage, obviously, and the edgy psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody to Love’ from the more recent ‘A Serious Man’.
In ‘Raising Arizona’, which I saw at the old Frogmore Street Odeon – which became Mothercare, I think – almost all of the the music came from the original score by Carter Burwell. Burwell had also worked on ‘Blood Simple’ and went on to become perhaps the Coens’ most favoured collaborator, on ‘Fargo’ and much else. But what one remembers most about ‘Raising Arizona’, apart from the jokes (‘Caution: Driver Naked’), the babies, the infernal biker, well pretty much everything really, is the amazing title song, you know, the one with the yodelling called ‘Way Out There’. Of course, the most famous use of music by the Coen’s has to be the old timey blues, gospel and Carter Family-style country in ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, which I still haven’t seen in the cinema. Hopefully, I’ll remedy that shameful omission at (the) Watershed in their run-up to our own Filmic concert at St George’s on Friday April 25, when we present ‘O Bro: A Musical Celebration of the Coen Brothers’, with a multi-act bill assembled by alt-folk specialists The Local likely to cover a number of the tunes.
The Local are also doing live music for a little launch at Watershed for the Coen’s latest film, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, on the night of its first showing on Friday 24 January (see watershed.co.uk for details). The film is set in the Greenwich Village singer-songwriter folk music scene of the early 1960s and is based, at least partly, on the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk, a notable influence on the young Bob Dylan. As such, perhaps it should be seen after a preparatory viewing of Martin Scorsese’s monumental Dylan-doc, ‘No Direction Home’, where a number of survivors of that period are interviewed. Here’s a revealing interview with Dylan talking about that period that provides further essential swotting-material. He’s also very, well, Coens-like.
Phil Johnson, Senior Programme Producer
Feat Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo, Kirsty McGee & Other Guests TBC
Tickets £16 (plus fees)
Friday 25 April 8pm