Song of the Day #35: ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ – The Soggy Bottom Boys

When I talk about the use of music in movies, I throw around a lot of names (Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese are the most common) but I often forget to include the Coen Brothers. And that’s a major oversight, because these guys have done great things with music in all their films.

Start with the original scores, all penned by the wonderful Carter Burwell. From the banjo-and-yodel version of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ in Raising Arizona to the pounding bass drums of Fargo‘s Nordic-inspired title song; from Barton Fink‘s edgy violins to that gorgeous and melancholy Miller’s Crossing theme.

But they’ve made great use of songs as well. Take Albert Finney’s triumphant escape from ambush set to a soul-stirring rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ in Miller’s Crossing or The Dude’s drug-enhanced bowling-themed dream sequence set to Kenny Rogers’ ‘Just Dropped In.’

And of course their most popular soundtrack of all (it even won a Best Album Grammy) was the collection of songs featured in O Brother Where Art Thou, their hilarious blend of hick and Homer.

In this scene, three escaped fugitives and a friend they picked up on the road pose as The Soggy Bottom Boys and “sing into a can” for some spending money. Take it away, boys!

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5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #35: ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ – The Soggy Bottom Boys

  1. Amy says:

    First, let me say how impressed I am that you’re keeping up with this “song of the day” schedule. Each morning, usually before 6:00 a.m., I head to your site and am greeted by music and witty, insightful commentary. It’s a hell of a nice way to start my day 🙂

    This week I’m especially enjoying, for, (as any reader of your site knows by now) while you kick my ass when it comes to your knowlege of (and interest in) new music, I hold my own with you in our passion for cinema. So, rather than spending a few minutes introduced to some song I hadn’t heard or known much about before, I’m getting to spend some time with old friends. And there are few cinematic friends I hold in higher esteem than the Coen brothers.

    It’s fitting that you feature this song the day before their new film hits the theaters, and I’m willing to bet they will manage to sneak an odd, probably funny, undoubtedly effective music sequence into Burn After Reading as they have so often done before. As for your choice from O Brother, I’ve always found it a bit disconcerting to watch an actor lip sync to another singer’s voice, but, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me as much in this film with the two performances of this song, a song, by the way, that I like very much. I think the humor of the film neutralizes the fact that Clooney isn’t actually singing in a way that say Joaquin Phoenix couldn’t get away with in Walk the Line.

    For the record (what record? Beats me), I use both the Coen brothers scenes you mention (the dream sequence and the “Danny Boy” escape) in my film unit; not sure why but I have a strong urge to start that unit early this school year 🙂

  2. Dana says:

    love the song and scene….still waiting for you to pick a musical:)

  3. Clay says:

    Well, I picked one yesterday and I picked one tomorrow…

    However, I find it more interesting for a theme week like this to find movies that have featured music within a traditional structure. That’s why I went that direction for five of the seven.

  4. Amy says:

    When did you become such a supporter of the musical as an art form, dearest Dana? I find it far more intriguing when a film incorporates music into its structure without allowing itself the luxury of “musical rules” (where bystanders think nothing of people bursting into song and dance). When the singing is part of the plot (The Fabulous Baker Boys or Once) or just a splendid departure within an otherwise conventional film (Talk to Me, for example) it tends to make a far greater impact than when it’s simply part of the “movie musical” package (which isn’t to suggest that those songs, and movies, can’t also be great).

  5. Amy says:

    Actually I was referring to Talk to Her in my parenthetical example above. But there certainly was effective use of music in Talk to Me, as well 🙂 (but not that satisfies the criteria Clay has established for this week’s theme).

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