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January 31, 2014



Do you think the Coen Brothers wouldn't be aware of such expectations? Their films can be read like novels. Nothing in them that is randomly picked. So a white fat junkie Jazz singer in a movie about 1961 made in 2013, can be read as a kind of critique of the cliche you described. As Martin Amis wrote, the (good) author is in a constant war against cliches.

I'm just speculating here. I have yet to see the film, next week possibly.

Mick H

Well OK, that's certainly possible. On the other hand the film is full of what might be taken as cliched representations of the Greenwich Village crowd, not to mention their liberal (Jewish) wealthy Upper West Side benefactors, Llewyn Davis's manager, the beat poet driver, etc. etc.. Not that they come across particularly as cliches, I should say, but it's certainly possible if you were being critical to view them that way. So I don't see why just for that one character they decide on a critique of our expectations. After all, they were clearly trying to capture the feel of the time, however much they then played with it.

Interesting to see how you feel after you've seen the movie.


There were plenty of white jazz junkies in the 50s and 60s. Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Art Pepper....The idea was that since Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were junkies, they too had to become junkies if they wanted to sound like them.

Mick H

Yes, true enough - though that was much more of a West Coast thing, I think. In New York it almost entirely black. But I still don't see John Goodman as a jazz junkie.

Kellie Strøm

I thought about this post for a while after reading it. The criticism is compelling, but I came to feel that the Goodman character serves a function that the version you imagined wouldn't do as clearly.

The Goodman character is a fake - hence the wig - an overbearing boastful bullying cold-hearted charlatan. He's older than Llewyn Davis, and could be seen as a possible future outcome for Davis, an alternative to the future Davis fears when he looks at his father. Davis is an emotional cripple - the Goodman character is literally crippled, and his main way of making human contact is to poke Davis with his stick. When Llewyn later heckles the woman in the club, he’s on his way to turning more into the Goodman character.

A black bebop musician of the same age as Llewyn would have a different implication of being an authentic alternative to Davis - problematic as bebop is also a sophisticated urban reworking of a form of folk music, as is Llewyn’s music.

Mick H

Interesting take. I hadn't seen it that way, but you may be on to something. Certainly the gratuitously boorish heckling of the woman in the club comes as something of a shock. I assumed it was partly a reaction to the club owner's boast of having slept with Jean, but perhaps there is that echo of the Goodman character too.

I suppose I was thinking that the Coen brothers were taking the easier option of using an actor they'd used often before rather than broadening out by casting a black actor that the part seemed to call for. But I guess with directors this smart there will always be reasons and alternative views.

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