Nov 27, 2016

O Brother, Where Art Thou: Yet Another Coen Brothers Mess

Last night my friend and I were channel-surfing on Netflix, when O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) appeared.

"Next!"  I exclaimed.  "It's by the Coen Brothers.  Their movies make no sense."

"You have to see this one!" My friend exclaimed.  "It's a cinema classic.  A masterpiece!"

So I watched.

It's set in a surreal, sepia-toned 1930s Mississippi, where the fast-talking con-man Everett (George Clooney) and his dimwitted companions, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), escape from a convict chain-gang and dash across the countryside, trying to get to some loot that Everett said he buried.  But he actually is conning them: there is no "buried treasure."  He just wants to reunite with his estranged wife and numerous daughters.

I'm not sure how many daughters: more and more kept popping up.

Meanwhile they're being chased by a sheriff, the governor, and various other baddies.

I'm not sure how many. baddies  It looked like an infinite series of fat Southern men, sweating in white suits and Panama Hats and calling each other "sumbitches."

On the way, they encounter a variety of surreal, possibly supernatural threats.

Three sirens who have been apparently just sitting around, singing a song about death (Come and lay your bones on the alabaster stones and be my ever-lovin' baby), while waiting for three men who they can seduce and rob.

Hundreds of Ku Klux Klansmen marching in unison, like the guards of the Wicked Witch of the West, while a red-clad Satanic figure sings about death (Well I am Death, none can excel, I'll open the door to Heaven or Hell)

Bank robber George "Baby Faced" Nelson, who brings them on his latest caper, but then is captured and paraded down the street with torches and a guitar accompaniment, while he imagines his death.

A grotesque blind radio dj, who thinks they are are all African-Americans and records their song (I am a man of constant sorry, no pleasure here on Earth I've found).  Which becomes a hit, and convinces a cotillion-full of Southerners to not be racist anymore and run the gubernatorial candidate out on a rail.

I think.  Or maybe it was the head Klansman.  I don't know; the dozens of fat Southern men in white suits and Panama hats all look alike.

According to the IMDB, they include Big Dan Teague (John Goodman), Pappy O'Daniel (Charles During), Junior O'Daniel (Del Pentecost), Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall), Vernon T. Waldrip (Ray McKinnon), Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen).  But they're all really Sheriff Lobo, aren't they?

The plot, such as it is, depends on crazy coincidences and people acting crazy.

And what's with the constant soundtrack of horrible folk and Gospel songs, mostly a capella, mostly about dying:

My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, My triumph is begun.

When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I'll fly away

Seems the light is swiftly fading, brighter scenes they do now show
I am standing by the river, angels wait to take me home

I know the Coen Brothers are obsessed with death, and like to kill off main characters in the middle of their movies, but these songs were depressing, irrelevant to the plot, and hurt my ears almost as much as the unpleasantly grotesque characters hurt my eyes.

The only thing I liked about it was the minimal heteronormativity.  Other than the siren-seduction and the goal of reuniting with the estranged wife, there is no hetero-romance, no girl-oggling.  Even Boss Hogg doesn't have a feminine coterie.  This is a masculine world, with women around only to provide most of the whiny songs about death.

You can even find some gay subtexts in the guys rushing off to rescue each other from threats.

Not that there's any beefcake.  The men are all either fat and sweating or dirty, smelly, and snaggle-toothed.  It would be rather distasteful to touch any of them, even the ones who are attractive in other productions.

Well, at least, Quinn Gasaway, who played "Boy Hogswallop," son of a cousin who betrayed the trio, grew up into a hunk.  He's done a lot of theater, and in 2016 he starred in Gay, Straight, Married.

Why is the title O Brother, Where Art Thou?, when there are no missing brothers?

I have no idea.

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