NJ Film Festival

Mainstream Movies


Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the January 17,

2001, edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies: `O Brother, Where Art Thou?’

Bob Dylan has said that his 1997 invitation from Ralph

Stanley to join him in a duet on his "Clinch Mountain Country"

album was "the high point of my career." And in teaming up

with his musical hero, Dylan contributed more than a song. He

introduced legions of his fans to another national treasure: Stanley,

the veteran bluegrass musician and brilliant vocalist whose signature

Appalachian lament, "I am a Man of Constant Sorrow," Dylan

featured on his own debut album of 1962.

Now Joel and Ethan Coen have brought their own love affair with

American homegrown music to the screen with "O Brother, Where Art

Thou?" Their light and dark fable, set in the rural South of the

1930s and inspired by Homer’s "The Odyssey," is a music-driven

wonder — an inspired paean to song that masquerades as a comic

adventure story.

Ulysses Everett McGill, played by George Clooney, is the story’s

debonair hero, a smooth-talking petty criminal who escapes from a

Mississippi work gang chained to a duo of lame losers: the sweet

simpleton Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and the cranky criminal Pete

(John Turturro). Tracked by a tireless, vengeful lawman (truly

reminiscent of Homer’s angry god Poseidon), the trio’s break for

freedom takes them on a surreal journey strewn with awesome obstacles

and larger-than-life adversaries. Ostensibly motivated by the lure of

buried treasure, we learn that Ulysses’ true purpose is to be reunited

with his wife Penny (Holly Hunter) and seven daughters in Ithaca,


Just as Homer’s "Odyssey" takes us back 2,700 years to a time

when poetry and song suffused human activity, so the Coen Brothers’

film harks back to a time when music was part of the nation’s very

fiber, something shared by everyone at home, in church, in taverns,

and town halls. Its panorama of American roots music encompasses

white, black, sacred, and secular.

The film opens with Homer’s timeless invocation, "Sing in me,

Muse, and through me tell the story / of that man skilled in all ways

of contending." A blind black soothsayer, riding the rails on

a hand-powered cart, is the first man the escape convicts meet. He

tells them emphatically: "You will find a fortune but not the

fortune you seek."

In scene after scene of "O Brother," sound

precedes sight. Both onscreen characters and offscreen audience are

swept up in the sound of music before a grand moment of unveiling

reveals a stunning scene and the source of the seductive sound.

Mountain music, delta blues, lush gospel harmonies, and chain-gang

chants — the bedrock of American roots music — are all here,

along with the faith-powered bluegrass themes that drive the story.

Joel Coen has called the film, "a valentine to the music"

— with a nod and a wink, we assume, to Hollywood’s screwball

comedies of the ’30s.

The high lonesome sound of "Man of Constant Sorrow," one of

the Stanley Brother’s emotion-churning songs that has been traced

back to a 1913 songbook by Dick Burnett, a blind singer from Kentucky,

is at the heart of the story. Presented in no less than four different

vocal and instrumental versions, the song is the source of any fortune

Ulysses stands to gain. Ralph Stanley, born in 1927, has said he heard

his own father sing this song. Its haunting, lonely lyrics that begin,

"I am a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my

days," evoke all the travails of life on earth, be they those of

the convict, hobo, Jesus Christ — or the wandering Ulysses.

Another powerful presence is Stanley’s a cappella rendition of the

folk ballad "O Death" which provides the film’s most serious

and searing moment. Recorded for the movie, it is sung during a

grotesque enactment of a nighttime Ku Klux Klan lynching by a cast of

hundreds in the style of some sort of stadium half-time show. It is

here that the dreaded giant Cyclops — John Goodman in a

frighteningly comic turn as a dishonest Bible salesman — almost

gets his single eye put out by a javelin-like weapon in the form of a

Confederate flag.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, the film’s soundtrack is a sizzling

amalgam of vintage recordings and contemporary renditions of America’s

old time music as might have been heard in the late ’30s. Much of the

music is performed live on screen, literally by such characters as

Tommy Johnson, the convict Delmar, and the grave-digging Fairfield

Four. Other actors lip-synch to performances of old time music by

a host of gifted contemporary artists.

The film’s burnished vintage recordings include the opening chain-gang

chant "Po Lazarus," performed by James Carter and actual

prisoners, as recorded by Alan Lomax, as well as Harry McClintock

singing his 1928 hobo classic, "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Most

potent is the 1955 recording the Stanley Brothers singing "O Come,

Angel Band," featuring the lovely tenor voice of Carter, and

Ralph on vocal harmony and hammerclaw-style banjo, that closes the


Over the course of their music odyssey, the Coen brothers add another

layer to the musical fantasy with the key character Tommy Johnson.

New Orleans bluesman Chris Thomas King plays the sweet-tempered

itinerant black musician whom we first meet in a golden panorama of a

lonely crossroads — just like the one where blues great Robert

Johnson is said (like Italy’s Niccolo Paganini before him) to have

sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for otherworldly musical


King’s performance of Nehemiah "Skip" James’ "Hard Time

Killing Floor Blues" — widely considered one of the greatest

Depression era songs — is a musical high point. So is the

Fairfield Four’s powerful a cappella gospel rendition of "Lonesome

Valley," and Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch’s

siren song, "Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby." Portraying

Ulysses’s angelic looking, but hard-bitten young daughters, a

contemporary girls’ trio, Sarah, Hannah, and Leah Peasall, give a

lovely performance of Maybelle Carter’s hymn, "In The

Highways." The icing on the cake is actor Tim Blake Nelson’s

terrific on-camera rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ song, "In The

Jailhouse Now."

Stephen Root plays the omnipotent — and blind — radio station

operator (and cousin to the Wizard of Oz) where the cons journey with

Johnson for the promise of $10 payment for "singing into a

can." This is where the convicts’ hit recording of "Man of

Constant Sorrow" — recorded by the Stanley Brothers, Mike

Seeger, Bob Dylan and myriad other American musicians — is made by

the self-invented Soggy Bottom Boys. As Menalaus "Pappy"

O’Daniel, a Mississippi governor fighting for re-election, Charles

Durning puts in the most potent comic performance, playing the

perennial stereotype of a corrupt Southern politician with such

spontaneity, it’s as if it had never been done before.

The wanderings of Ulysses are also conjured by the film’s Lotus Eaters

who lull Ulysses’ cohorts into peaceful lethargy — a blissed-out

Baptist congregation gathered outdoors for a mass baptism to the

strains of "Down to the River to Pray" sung by Alison Krauss

with the First Baptist Church of White House, Tennessee.

True to the Coen brothers’ gifts, the world of "O Brother, Where

Art Thou?" is a boundless, skewed universe presented in the warm

hues of memory — golden ochers and soft browns. And just as

Homer’s epic poem lives on as a 3,000-year-old testament to the

presence of poetry in the universe, so this film offers a modern

tribute to the enduring power of song in human affairs.

— Nicole Plett

O Brother, Where Art Thou? AMC, Loews,

Montgomery, Regal .

Top Of Page
NJ Film Festival

The Rutgers’ based New Jersey Film Festival opens its

spring edition this week with a plethora of recent and out-of-the-way

titles presented weekly, from January 19 through April 28.

Opening night features Raul Ruiz’s 1999 "Time Regained," an

impressionistic portrait of Marcel Proust, author of the monumental

seven-volume novel, "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu." Directed

by Ruiz from a screenplay co-authored with Gilles Taurand, the film

stars Catherine Deneuve as Odette de Crecy, John Malkovich as Charlus,

Emanuelle Beart as Gilberte, and Vincent Perez as Morel. Screenings

are Friday to Sunday, January 19 to 21.

Ruiz bases "Time Regained" on Proust’s volume of the same

name, following the deconstruction of its author and the construction

of book. He describes "A La Recherche" as "the last great

dream of the 19th century and the first modern novel of the 20th


The film opens in 1922. Marcel Proust is on his deathbed, looking

through photos and remembering his life. Gradually his own experiences

yield to those of the characters in his novels, and fiction eclipses

reality. The story becomes a play of body language and symbolism,

as the figures transform into marionettes in a world of madmen,


in a dreadful masquerade, a Ball of Faces.

Ruiz notes that Proust wrote his masterwork "in secrecy, in public

silence, and covert additions." The metamorphosis of the man into

a novel stemmed from Proust’s working methods: on the one hand,


deletion, and non-completion; on the other, fresh starts, continuation

on a higher level, and addition; then, when all seemed finished, the

assembly, disassembly, and reassembly of pages, episodes and


New Jersey Film Festival is presented by the Rutgers Film

Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, New Brunswick. Screenings are

Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue Campus

(near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street). Thursday

screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College Campus (near

the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street). All programs begin

at 7 p.m.; $5 non-members. Information 732-932-8482; Website:


Wages of Fear, H.G. Clouzot’s masterful 1955 suspense

drama about four desperadoes in Central America and two truckloads

of nitroglycerine, Thursday, January 25. Dancer In The Dark,

the acclaimed new film fable by Lars Von Trier about a single mother

in the Pacific Northwest, stars pop singer Bjork and Catherine


Friday to Sunday, January 26 to 28.

Judex, Georges Franju’s 1968 drama about a villainous

banker, his innocent daughter, and a blackmailer, Thursday, February

1. Aimee & Jaguar, Maria Schrader stars in the 1999 Max


drama, set in Germany during World War II, that focuses on a love

affair between two women, one a model of Nazi motherhood, the other

a Jewish member of the underground. Friday to Sunday, February 2 to


Ninotchka, the classic comedy, filmed in 1939 by Ernst

Lubitsch, starring Greta Garbo as a Soviet agent romanced by Melvyn

Douglas, Thursday, February 8. Requiem for a Dream, Darren


new feature, adapted from a novel, about four drug addicts and their

fall into a pit of self-induced misery, Friday to Sunday, February

9 to 11.

Super 8 + Digital Video Festival, the home-grown juried

festival with $2,500 in cash prizes, $8, Friday to Sunday, February

16 to 18.

Potemkin, on the big screen, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925

classic drama depicting the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin,


considered one of the most important films in the history of cinema,

Thursday, February 22. Goya in Bordeaux, Carlos Saura’s


and beautiful new portrait of the final years in the life of the


Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. Friday to Sunday, February 23 to


I Am Cuba, Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film, Thursday, March

1. Quills, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Caine, and Kate Winslet star

in Philip Kaufman’s new film about the final days of the notorious

Marquis de Sade, Friday to Sunday, March 2 to 4.

Orfeu, Carlos Diegues new, exhilarating revision of the

Greek myth of the musician Orpheus set to a samba and hip-hop score,

Friday to Sunday, March 23 to 25.

Top Of Page
Mainstream Movies

Confirm titles with theaters.

102 Dalmations. 101 dogs plus 1. AMC.

All the Pretty Horses. Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Lucas

Black, and Penelope Cruz star in the Western drama based on the


novel. AMC, MarketFair, Regal.

AntiTrust. New employee (Ryan Phillipe) discovers


goings on at a Silicon Valley software company headed by Tim Robbins.


Cast Away. Tom Hanks is the lone survivor of a plane crash

on his very own desert island. AMC, Destinta, Loews,


Montgomery, Regal .

Chocolat. Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp star in a


film about a French chocolate shop. AMC.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Ang Lee’s film fantasy

about a magical sword with romance and martial arts, with high-wire

fights staged by the choreographer of `Matrix.’ In Mandarin with


AMC, Loews, MarketFair, Montgomery, Regal.

Double Take. An investment banker who is being framed

(Orlando Jones) and a street guy (Eddie Griffin) trade identities.

AMC, Loews, Regal.

Dracula 2000. Gerald Butler, Justine Waddell, and


Plummer in a modern day vampire story based on the life of German

filmmaker Murnau. AMC, Destinta, Loews.

Dude, Where’s My Car?. Two guys party so hard they lose

their wheels. AMC, Loews, Regal.

The Emperor’s New Groove. Disney’s newest animated movie

with music by Sting. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair,

Regal .

The Family Man. Nicolas Cage is an urbane bachelor until

he wakes up married to Tea Leoni. AMC, Destinta, Loews,


Regal .

Finding Forrester. Sean Connery stars in movie directed

by Gus Van Sant with F. Murray Abraham, Michael Pitt, Anna Paquin,

and Joey Buttafuoco. AMC, Loews.

The Grinch. Jim Carrey’s all green in the Dr. Seuss


fable brought to the screen. AMC, Destinta.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the

Kindertransport .

Documentary written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris about the

10,000 children who left their families and their homes in the months

prior to World War II. AMC.

Miss Congeniality. Michael Caine coaches Sandra Bullock

as an FBI agent going undercover for a big beauty contest. AMC,

Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal .

O Brother, Where Art Thou? A Coen Brothers’ comedy that’s

also a hymn to bluegrass music, starring George Clooney, John Turturo,

Tim Blake Nelson, and Charles Durning. AMC, Loews,


Regal . @LT = Proof of Life. Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe star

in a thriller about a guerrilla kidnapping in South America.


Quills. Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix,

and Michael Caine star in an adult film loosely based on the life

and writings of the Marquis de Sade. AMC.

Rugrats in Paris. Voila the little TV tykes. AMC,


Save The Last Dance. A girl’s dream to dance stars Julia

Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Vince Green, and Terry Kinney. Loews,

MarketFair, Regal .

State and Main. Written and directed by David Mamet, the

story of a quaint New England town is invaded by a Hollywood movie

crew stars Alec Baldwin, Charles Durning, William H. Macy, Sarah


Parker, and David Paymer. AMC, Loews, Montgomery, Regal.

Thirteen Days. JFK, RFK, and Chief of Staff O’Donnell

on the verge of World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis starring

Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, and Steven Culp. AMC, Loews,


Regal .

Traffic. Conservative judge appointed by president to

spearhead drug war finds teenage daughter is a heroin addict. Starring

Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine


AMC, Destinta, MarketFair, Loews, Regal.

Vertical Limit. Martin Campbell’s action adventure keeps

moviegoers on the edge of their seats with a suspenseful tale of a

mountain rescue told with ample special effects. Stars Chris


Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, and Scott Glenn. AMC, Loews, Regal.

What Women Want. Mel Gibson plays an advertising executive

with the ability to read women’s minds, including those of Helen Hunt

and Bette Midler. AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair,


Regal .

You Can Count on Me. Strong performances by Laura Linney

and Mark Ruffalo as an adult sister and brother who stick by each

other, written and directed by Ken Lonergan. Montgomery.

Top Of Page

AMC Hamilton 24 Theaters, 325 Sloan Avenue, I-295 Exit

65-A, 609-890-8307. 24-screen, stadium-seating multiplex. $7 adults;

$5 matinees; $5 twilight.

Destinta, Independence Plaza, 2465 South Broad Street,

Hamilton, 609-888-4500. Stadium-seating 12-screen multiplex. $6.75

adults; $5 matinees.

Loews Theaters, Route 1 South, New Brunswick,


Stadium-seating multiplex. $8.50 adults; $5.25 matinees.

MarketFair-UA, Route 1 South, 609-520-8700. $7.50

adults; $4.75 matinees.

Montgomery Center Theater, Routes 206 and 518,

609-924-7444. $7 adults; $4.25 matinees.

Regal Cinemas Town Center Plaza, 319 Route 130 North,

East Windsor, 609-371-8473. Stadium-seating, 15 screens. $7.50 adults;

$5.25 matinees.

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