It's the tale of a "folksinger with a cat" in Greenwich Village back in the golden days of the early Sixties. Much effort has clearly gone into capturing the look of the period, exemplified by the iconic cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan where Bob and Suze Rotolo walk down a wintery Jones Street, just down from West 4th Street in the Village where they were living at the time. There's John Goodman doing another Coen Brothers grotesque, plus Carey Mulligan (she's come a long way from Pride and Prejudice) with all the best lines.
The Dylan connection continues with the soundtrack, which features "Freedom", a song originally recorded during the sessions for 1964′s "The Times They Are a-Changin’", but never used:
After laying dormant for decades, ‘Forever’ was formally released on the 2010 vault-purging collection ‘The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964.’ Clearly, someone in the Coen camp is a Dylan completist, because a version of the track (apparently different from the one included in ‘The Witmark Demos’) forms the musical foundation for the ‘Llewyn’ trailer.
You can see why it was never used, as it's such a blatant rip-off of the "Leaving of Liverpool", the song made famous at the time by the Clancy Brothers, who were then the old guard of the Village folk scene. Dylan had already had problems with ripping off songs from other Village folkies, most famously in the case of "The House of the Rising Sun". He lifted Dave Van Ronk's version pretty much note for note on his first album, despite being aware that Van Ronk was planning to record the song himself. In the end, as it happened, it was neither of the folkies but the Animals who went on to have a huge hit with the song in 1964. Van Ronk:
Bobby picked up the chord changes from me. They had really altered the song considerably…when he was doing his first album he recorded my version of ‘The House of the Rising Sun. After he recorded it, I had to stop singing it because people were constantly accusing me of having got the song from Bobby’s record…later, when Eric Burdon and ‘The Animals’ picked up the song (from Bobby) and recorded it, Bobby told me that he’d had to drop the piece, because people were accusing him of ripping it off Eric Burdon’
But despite all the Dylan pointers - who could help seeing the Carey Mulligan character as Suze Rotolo, and is that Welsh-sounding "Llewyn" perhaps a nod to the "Dylan" of Dylan Thomas? - the film's main character is in fact based on, yes, Dave Van Ronk, the man Dylan ripped off. (If I remember right I think Dylan "liberated" a number of records from Van Ronk's extensive record collection as well.) The album cover of Inside Llewyn Davis that we see at the end of the trailer is a straight copy of Inside Dave Van Ronk.
I haven't read Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, on which Inside Llewyn Davis is supposedly based. But everything I have read about the man suggests he was a rambunctious larger-than-life figure far removed from the character we see in the trailer. That quiet folkie, with the wispy beard and other-worldly put-upon manner, suggests rather - well, Dylan. Of course at this remove the whole early Sixties Greenwich Village scene is so overshadowed by the one genius of the period that any look back is inevitably going to seem to be about Dylan. So the Coen Brothers seem to be playing with us and with our expectations.
Whatever, I'm looking forward to it.