A fictional account of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s and the trials and tribulations of singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, features such a minimal script, producer T-Bone Burnett was taken aback when he first read it.
"In the script, there's hardly anything in it," he says. "You read it and think, 'What's this?' It's all about the tone. It's not spelled out. A lot of it was 'Llewyn sings a song.' We had to figure out what those songs were. That started early on, almost as soon as there was a script."
Burnett and the directing duo Joel and Ethan Coen had the cast rehearse the songs before filming began so that they could film as if they were shooting a documentary.
"They wanted to do it live, which if you have five cameras, you have a better shot at getting a performance live," says Burnett. "But we did it like they would have done it in 1960 before digital. The performer had to perform these songs live and he would have to do it over and over with the same energy level all day. The amount of detail you can get from shooting something live is so much better than putting together a virtual performance after the fact."
Isaac is terrific as the struggling Davis, a guy who encounters numerous setbacks as he tries to eke out a living playing the music he loves to audiences who haven't quite warmed up to the music yet (Bob Dylan wasn't on the scene yet). For Burnett, who worked with the Coens on O Brother Where Art Though?, the film represents yet another cinematic triumph for the talented duo. Not that he's in any position to explain the meaning behind the mysterious cat that appears in the film.
"The Coens said they put [the cat] in because nothing much was happening," he says. "I think there was a cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Every shot in a Coen brothers' movie has history in it. That's one of the fun things about their films. They reveal themselves over repeated viewings." — Jeff Niesel