Film by Coen Brothers, released in Europe in summer 2000, and in the U.S. around Christmas the same year. 

Cast: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning , Michael Badalucco, John Goodman and Holly Hunter.

This is the Coen brothers' take on The Odyssey by Homer. Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a golden tongued jail breaker on the run trying to get home to his loved Penelope (Hunter). Chained together with him are two less articulate fellow convicts Delmar and Pete. On their journey they meet Tommy Johnson, the blues guitarist said sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads somewhere in Mississippi- which was later attributed to Robert Johnson.

Anyhow, together with Tommy, the three former inmates record a hit song, rob a bank together with George 'Babyface' Nelson, ruin a Ku Klux Klan meeting, changes the outcome of the governor election and much more.

As usual, the joy of a Coen brothers movie is the actors and the characters more than anything else. Also, the music - bluegrass - is wonderful.

Film by Joel and Ethan Coen, released by Buena Vista Pictures beginning in December, 2000.

The story follows three escaped convicts through their adventures in the depression-era American deep south. Homer is given a writing credit, a section of the Odyssey appears at the beginning and several plot points reflect details of Homer's Odyssey. These include the names of Ulysses and his wife Penelope, a one-eyed character (The Cyclops), Sirens by the river, the hero disguising himself as an old man, and the transformation of a character into an animal.

Other popular mythos are also thrown in, such as the character Tommy Johnson, who mirrors the story of legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson; he traded his soul to the devil at The Crossroads somewhere in Mississipi in exchange for his talent on the the guitar.

The title references the movie the main character in the film Sullivan's Travels wishes to make. "Oh Brother, where art thou?" is also spoken during the Ku Klux Klan scene.

The soundtrack is an exceptional collection of American Folk Music, collected by T-Bone Burnett who is credited as both composer and musical archivist. Additional music was provided by Carter Burwell, who has scored most all of the Coen's films.

Several cast and crew members have worked with the Coen's before, including: Holly Hunter, John Goodman, John Turturro, Charles Durning, musicians Carter Burwell and T-Bone Burnett, cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Dennis Gassner and producer Tim Bevan.

Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen with a credit for Homer
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for violence and language

The cow was digital, though it didn't look it. The American Humane Association actually demanded proof and an unprecedented additional line was appended to the standard "no animals were harmed..." line at the end of the credits: Scenes that appear to have harmed animals were simulated.
Just when the Coen Brothers create a masterpiece loosely based on The Odyssey, they also reference a lot of great music from the past. The soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? is absolutely perfect for the movie! The ability of Joel and Ethan Coen to match beautiful cinematography and wonderful music goes simply unmatched in Hollywood.

Incoming Spoilers!

Here are some historical Coenisms in this movie:
  • Robert Johnson gets some homage from the character Tommy Johnson. Played by Chris Thomas King, an actual bluesman, Johnson is picked up at a crossroads where he sold his soul to the devil for musical ability.
  • "Keep On The Sunny Side" and "Lonesome Valley" are on the soundtrack which are a distinguishing songs by the Carter Family, a godfamily of country and folk music
  • The pardoning of the Soggy Bottom Boys alluded to Governor Patt Neff's pardoning of Leadbelly. Leadbelly wrote a song to the governor of Texas and was pardoned.
  • "Man of Constant Sorrow" is covered by the Soggy Bottom Boys in the movie. That song was written by the Stanley Bothers and Ralph Stanley sings "O Death" for the soundtrack, the KKK song.
  • "You are my Sunshine" is on the soundtrack and that song was actually written by Governor Jimmie Davis, O'Daniel has the Soggy Bottom Boys sing that on stage in the end.

The Coen Brothers take time and pay attention to so many details when creating their art. O Brother, Where Art Thou? shows their abilities in a way they have never been displayed before. "Big Rock Candy Mountain" plays while the cast rolls in the beginning. That sets you up for the movie. Actually, the O Brother, Where Art Thou official site is giving away the soundtrack in a limited edition Dapper Dan CD case. Dapper Dan is George Clooney's choice of pomade in the movie.

Allow me to use my knowledge of blues minutiae to dispel a common misconception bred by the previous write-ups. In his original wu, bigmouth_strikes alludes to the truth, but doesn't make it terribly clear. The movie character of Tommy Johnson does not refer to Delta blues guitarist Robert Johnson, but rather to Delta blues guitarist Tommy Johnson.

Tommy preceded Robert on the scene by several years, playing with his brothers primarily in and around the small Mississippi town of Crystal Springs, about 10 or 15 miles north of Robert's birthplace of Hazlehurst. Tommy claimed that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in return for his guitar-playing skills, and went out of his way to exaggerate and perpetuate that story. Tommy was an apt guitarist, but by all accounts unexceptional among the heavies of his time, and as a result his story about the devil was considered by most to be just that - a story.

Robert, on the other hand, underwent a remarkable and drastic transformation in his ability as a blues guitarist in a very short period of time (around two months), during which his whereabouts were unknown to anyone. He resurfaced in the town of Robinsonville where he grew up, at a gig being played by preacher-turned-bluesman Son House. Son used to let Robert play harmonica with him, but always shooed him away from his guitar. "Put that down, boy, you drive people crazy. You can't play nothin'." When Robert turned up and blew Son away with his new musical ability, Son swore that he must have sold his soul to the devil for that talent.

Robert never confirmed the rumors, or even addressed them, which did much more to convince people that it was true than anything he could have said. This, combined with his truly revolutionary guitar playing and the similarity among their names, caused Tommy to be quite eclipsed by Robert. Also, while Tommy may have come along first with that particular story, the crossroads legend was already very well established among southern blacks at that time. Stories of people selling their soul to the devil at the crossroads at midnight for money, love, knowledge or revenge were common among their folk stories for many years prior.

As a clarification to the Odyssey connection of this film: it was never intended to be based on Homer's Odyssey. Hell, the Coen Brothers admit to having never read it. Rather, they realized they were making a movie about a journey and thought it would be neat to bring in more elements from Homer (which they thought was a cool hillbilly name, and nothing more).

So, they watched the 1954 Italian film Ulysses and bought the Odyssey comic book and did a little research on the cyclops and Penelope and sirens. And, kiddies, that's where the Odyssey connection comes in. Nothing more than "hey, that's a neat idea."

Or so they say.

In Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (1941), director John Lloyd Sullivan (Joel McCrea), having enjoyed success with for comedies such as So Long Sarong, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and Ants in Your Plants of 1939, announces he wants to make a socially conscious message movie, reflecting the hard times of the Great Depression. He asks the studio to let him direct a film of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a novel by Sinclair Beckstein.

Soundtrack for the Motion Picture: Has launched a resurgence of bluegrass music in the US, and according to SoundScan as of 31 July has sold more than 3,000,000 copies in the US, staying in the top 10 Country/Western albums for over a year, similarly with the top Soundtrack albums.

VH1 ran a special on the singer who wrote the version of the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" on the soundtrack, Ralph Stanley. He released it in the 70s, where it was a minor hit, selling over 500 copies a week. A current re-release featuring similar song selection and label art as the OBWAT soundtrack is selling over 2,000 copies a week.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, the bluegrass soundtrack won the 2002 Grammy Award for best album and best soundtrack.

Bonnie Raitt hailed the album's win. "It means a great deal that it succeeded without country radio playing it," she said. "Great music rises to the top."

Track Listing

1. Po Lazarus - J. Carter & Prisoners
2. Big Rock Candy Mountain - Harry McLintock
3. You Are My Sunshine - Norman Blake
4. Down In The River To Pray - Alison Krauss
5. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow - The Soggy Bottom Boys featuring Dan Tyminski
6. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues - Chris Thomas King
7. Man Of Constant Sorrow (Instrumental) - Norman Blake
8. Keep On The Sunny Side - The Whites
9. I'll Fly Away - Gillian Welch & Alison Krauss
10. Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby - Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss & Emmylou Harris
11. In The Highways - The Peasall Sisters
12. I Am Weary - The Cox Family
13. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (Instrumental) - John Hartford
14. O Death - Ralph Stanley
15. In The Jailhouse Now - The Soggy Bottom Boys featuring Tim Blake Nelson
16. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (With band) - The Soggy Bottom Boys featuring Dan Tyminski
17. Indian War Whoop (Instrumental) - John Hartford
18. Lonesome Valley - The Fairfield Four
19. Angel Band - The Stanley Brothers

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