'Inside Llewyn Davis' Star Oscar Isaac, T Bone Burnett Revel in the Intimacy of Folk Music
Inside Llewyn Davis takes an unabashed look at the 1960s pre-Bob Dylan folk music scene in New York City, but its life extends far beyond the big screen.
In September, a four-hour concert was held in New York City's legendary Town Hall to celebrate folk music of the past and present that attracted names like Jack White, the Avett Brothers, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez and Patti Smith. The idea to hold the concert, edited down to 90 minutes for the concert doc Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, was first conceived in producer Scott Rudin's office.
"It was somewhere in Scott Rudin's office deciding what we were going to do -- we had this little movie -- to keep it alive, to provide some oxygen for it," music producer T Bone Burnett said Thursday evening to a packed house at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood. "To do [just] a concert as promotion for a movie seemed lame, although I'd done it before." That's where the idea for the decades-spanning show came about.
As Burnett told it, there was a rich history underneath the songs that gave the music life and meaning; it only made sense to stage as intimate a concert as possible showcasing today's young talent like Willie Watson, the Punch Brothers and the Milk Carton Kids. To tie everything together, Burnett recruited the help of Baez and Smith to close the circle of "50 years of history that's being passed back and forth.
"The notion came about that this music has been used to teach everything for centuries -- mathematics was taught with music, history was taught with music, language was taught with music," he said. "There was a currency of knowledge, and it's durable music that's been reinvented for centuries."
The only criteria for Burnett in culling the list of musicians for the concert was that they be "good," simply because it was the stage and the microphone.
"We're going to put a microphone up on stage in a room and people have to be able to lay down the law," Burnett said. "We weren't going to use any ProTools or auto-tuning or anything like that. Whoever came up there, that would be it."
Another Day, Another Time director Chris Wilcha weaved together three days of rehearsal footage, candid one-on-one interviews, backstage moments and the actual concert performances into a well-crafted, tight package. (He also managed to captured Burnett's quirks, including the incense-burning, something he does to set a mood, and his quiet strolls around the recording room to "hear" the music.) Wilcha revealed, however, that he took some liberties with the song order in the documentary.
"We were trying to find echoes and juxtapositions between things and small links, and there was a whole radical simplicity to the whole thing," Wilcha said, referencing his decision to put Baez's and Smith's performances back to back in the film. "We were just trying to find little echoes between things, to tell a little bit of the bigger story of this torched path."
From a logistical standpoint, Wilcha admitted that the entire Another Day, Another Time experience was "intense," with the buildup being just as stress-inducing "because of all of the characters who had to get there and be there to perform. As Marcus said in the beginning [of the film], there were no assholes. It was incredibly seamless ... pretty painless."
There were also no fancy crane shots or camera movements, a decision Wilcha made to give prime focus to the music and the performers: "It had an austerity and dignity to it because we wanted to get out of the way of [the musicians]."
Unfortunately, due to time, not every concert performance made it. Among those that were left on the cutting-room floor included Elvis Costello, the Secret Sisters and Conor Oberst.
But Burnett had some good news for those itching to hear all the songs performed at the September show, revealing that they will be releasing the 35-song soundtrack from the concert. "Records are better than films anyway," Burnett joked.
Inside Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac, who earlier in the day scored a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the film, grew up listening to Van Morrison and Dylan, saying that he listened to every Dave Van Ronk song to prepare for his role of the title character.
When asked if he was planning on keeping up with this style of music after learning how to Travis pick for Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac said he had every intention of doing so. "That's the thing. The kind of people T Bone gets together, you become friends with these guys and you start paying music. It's great to do it," he said. "Yeah, I'm going to keep it up."
Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis airs Friday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.