NEW YORK—At a time when emerging folk bands are struggling to succeed in the music industry, directors and writers Ethan and Joel Coen want to put forth a message of hope in their latest feature “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
With a strong cast including John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham, and Carrey Mulligan as well as actor/musicians like Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake, the film highlights the titular artist’s personal and professional struggles in 1960s New York City.
Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac, is a folk singer in Greenwich, New York, who often crashes at the home of a singing duo and couple played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan. Davis has a passion for traditional folk music, but has no audience.
During an audition for a folk nightclub, he gets a cold “no,” and is told that his music simply won’t sell—a rejection that F. Murray Abraham, who plays the nightclub’s owner, called the “nature of the beast” during a recent interview posted on EPK.tv.
When the Coen brothers completed the script, they sent it to country and rock music legend T. Bone Burnett, Bob Dylan’s guitarist. This was the Coen brothers’ fourth film collaboration with Burnett, who chose the music repertoire for this movie.
In the interview, Burnett said that folk music genre today is in a period of reinvention, just like it was in the late ’50s, before the genre boomed when Bob Dylan entered the scene.
“The electronic universe has dismantled the whole structure that went before it, without replacing it with anything,” he said.
The film is meant to provide a platform for the young musicians who have “no place to play and nobody listening,” Burnett said.
To create more buzz about the genre, cast and crew hosted a benefit concert that donated a portion of the proceeds to the National Recording Preservation Foundation. They invited many young, emerging folk musicians, including Marcus Mumford, Punch Brothers, as well as rock veterans like Patti Smith and Jack White.
The concert “Another Day, Another Time,” took place at New York’s Town Hall on Sept. 29. John Goodman, the host, said the folk songs gave him hope in the future of music.
“Marcus Mumford came out and sang a song that haunted me for weeks afterwards,” Goodman said in the interview.
Mumford, lead singer of British folk rock band Mumford & Sons, was the associate music producer for the film.
Western folk music was handed down from the Scottish and the Irish, where ballads and tales were made into songs and passed down the generations. Folk music, strummed on the strings of a guitar or mandolin, was their way of preserving culture and history.
For Abraham, many talented people nowadays are left jobless because of the nature of the music industry.
“These days people seem to be giving up hope for the future,” Abraham said. He recalls the ’60s, when tight-knit communities would gather to sing. He also believes that electronic music and thousand-people concerts have made people distant.
“There’s a searching for that humanity that seems to be missing now, and I’m hoping that this [film] will awaken some of that sense of humanity,” Abraham said.