Telluride: 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Gets a Warm Reception

The Coens' folk music film strikes just the rights notes for author Salman Rushdie and folkie Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Joel and Ethan Coen's sardonic folk music film Inside Llewyn Davis, which premiered at Cannes, had its North American premiere Thursday night at the Telluride Film Festival to an only-in-Telluride gathering of talent.

After the screening, which got a warm though not overwhelming reception from the packed audience, moderator Scott Foundas elicited candid insights from its star Oscar Isaac, music producer T Bone Burnett and the Coens, who are famous for mocking and defying journalists.

When the house lights repeatedly dimmed and brightened, Ethan Coen said, "Hey, everyone's seeing that, right?" Foundas joked, "They're gaslighting us!"

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Joel Coen explained how Isaac's musically impeccable, dramatically well-received performance as a luckless Greenwich Village singer in what Coen called "the great folk music scare" of the early '60s does and doesn't correspond to its "loose model," Dave Von Ronk, and why the film centrally features the hero's pursuit of an escaped cat: "We were writing a movie with no plot, where nothing happens, so we thought, 'Let's put a cat in.' "

Ethan Coen pointed out Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 82, who hugely influenced Bob Dylan and who was in the audience. "Stand up and take a bow!" Coen said. "I just want to tell Jack that we gave Adam Driver [who plays Isaac's fellow folkie] your hat." Elliott waved his trademark cowboy hat to the crowd.

After the Q&A, Elliott told The Hollywood Reporter an amazingly rambling story about the hat he gave Sam Shepard on the Rolling Thunder tour, and a cowboy hat Elliott later gave to Joan Baez's son for his birthday. Elliott recalled good times hanging out with THR reporters in the '50s, and cited the high notes of the Coens' film: "I loved the cat! That was my favorite actor. But my hat is better than the guy who played me."

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Elliott's driver Jim Ratts said their presence was as improbably coincidental as the movie's plot. "We just came to visit my Telluride friends after Jack's show in [nearby] Ridgway -- we didn't even know it was festival weekend when we pulled into town." So it was pure chance that Elliott got to see a fillm about the music scene he did as much as anybody to create.

"Jack was rambling -- that [scene] should be in a Coen movie," observed Salman Rushdie, in Telluride as a guest director. "And isn't it great that the cowboy Ramblin' Jack Elliott is actually the son of a Jewish neurologist in New York?" Rushdie, a friend of fellow fiction writer Ethan Coen, saw Inside Llewyn Davis from an old-timer insider's perspective. "I'm old enough to remember the Greenwich Village folk scene before Dylan. I love that they had the kid in the film who looks like Dylan and plays like Dylan and sounds like Dylan. At the end, the future of music begins. I actually kind of always hated a lot of folk music, so I was grateful for what Bob Dylan did to it." And he loved what the Coens did to history. "I'm a huge fan."

Rushdie also raved about Robert Redford's performance in All Is Lost. "For Redford to hold the audience's attention for close to two hours with 10 words of dialogue, and you're never at a loss to see how he's feeling at any moment -- I was just blown away by it," said Rushdie.