FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

This Film is Not About Dave Van Ronk

by PETER STONE BROWN

For almost the entire year of 2013, there has been beyond incredible hype and buzz about the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, and how it is loosely based on the life of singer and guitarist Dave Van Ronk, through the book The Mayor of MacDougal Street written with Elijah Wald.

Let’s get one thing straight.  This film is not about Dave Van Ronk.  It uses Van Ronk’s repertoire and certain facts and stories to tell the story of this basically loser folksinger who goes nowhere.  Or maybe it’s the story of the cat that gets out of an Upper West Side apartment and then comes back, just like in the song “The Cat Came Back.”

Now the Coen Brothers say they like the music of that time and wanted to make a film about it.  They enlisted the considerable talents of T-Bone Burnett to make sure the music was right, which he did.

But then they concocted one of the most preposterous story lines to go with it, about this guy wandering around, knocking women up, abortions that didn’t happen and abortions that are about to happen in a way that didn’t happen in 1962.  Davis crashes from couch to couch, sometimes with this escaped cat, goes to Chicago, auditions for an Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan’s manager seen in the film Dont Look Back) comes back, obnoxiously yells at someone onstage (apparently based on folksinger Jean Ritchie), and gets the shit beat out of him as a young Bob Dylan takes the stage.  That’s it.

As Dave Van Ronk’s ex-wife (and an even earlier Bob Dylan manager) Teri Thal pointed out in an excellent article in the Village Voice, the apartments are too clean.  The hair is also a little longer than it should be for 1962.

Now for one thing Dave Van Ronk and Teri Thal had an apartment, and a lot of aspiring folksingers and other people crashed on their couch.  Dave Van Ronk was this big burly guy with this gruff voice that could also be gruffly sweet was an intense performer, with an immaculate finger-picking guitar style and an incredible repertoire of blues (not delta blues), old jazz songs, traditional folk songs and whatever else including songs by contemporary songwriters he felt like singing.  He was extremely well read, highly political, with a wonderful sense of humor and everything about him demonstrated a unique brilliance.  None of that is in the character of Llewyn Davis.

The film wastes a lot of time on nothing.  There’s a long trip to Chicago with John Goodman playing some character loosely based on Doc Pomus and some silent driver who may or not be a poet.  In Chicago he auditions for an Albert Grossman type character, but the song he plays, the Child ballad, “The Death of Queen Jane” no one would have done for an audition.   And there’s an equally long trip back.

The film doesn’t explore what was behind people playing this music.  It’s all on the surface with token nods to various people from the Clancy Brothers to John Hammond and of course Bob Dylan.

That said, Oscar Issac gives an excellent performance of whatever character he’s supposed to play.  He nailed some of Van Ronk’s guitar arrangements (though Van Ronk did not use a flat pick) and while he sings nothing like Van Ronk, he puts a lot of feel and soul into his vocals.  Occasionally there’s some great shots and scenes, but it doesn’t capture the feel of what Greenwich Village was like and it doesn’t capture the feel of the music.

If you want to know about Dave Van Ronk, get his records and apparently because of this film they’re all being reissued.  Get Folksinger which long has been coupled with the album Inside, get Just Dave Van Ronk or No Dirty Names or a great compilation from several albums called A Chrestomathy.  As for Inside Llewyn Davis, one can easily wait for it to come on cable TV or some other medium.  It’s occasionally humorous insignificant fluff that doesn’t come anywhere near the heart of its apparent subject matter and ends up being a film about nothing.

Peter Stone Brown is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter.  His site and blog can be found here: http://www.peterstonebrown.com/

 

Peter Stone Brown is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail