Tuesday, March 26, 2013

DOUBLE-FEATURE: SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS / O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?


Last night I attended a double-feature of "Sullivan's Travels" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. I had never seen the former and it was an opportunity for me to see the latter (one of my favorite Coen Brothers films) on the big screen for the first time. I thought nothing of the pairing, but realized why  within minutes into "Sullivan's Travel." Therein the titular character, played by Joel McCrea, is a motion picture director (I suppose that's what they called them back in the '40s) who wants to add heft to his career by adapting the "socially-conscious" book, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" It's a fictional book whose narrative is never fully explored but sets the stage for Sullivan to get a taste of poverty and even some trouble before he sets out to make such an important film. The Coen Brothers took the name of this book and titled their loose adaption of Homer's "The Odyssey" set in the 1930s of American South as such.


Sullivan's Travels (1941)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The two films have more in common than just this title. Both depict two of the more peculiar road-trips I can recall seeing in movies. Our characters use cars and trains but mostly walking to reach the destinations they seek, though its the people they come across along the way that stand out most. The two films also share a scene in which chain gangs of prisoners are brought into a movie theater as a reward for their hard labor. It's one of the most striking scenes in the Preston Sturges' picture. It's, again, merely a nice reference in the Coen Bros.' production. 

"Sullivan's Travels" ends up (rather meta-ly) being a film about comedic films while being one itself. It's a tribute to those who make audiences laugh and forget about their own troubles. There's nigh a genre the Coen Brothers won't tackle before all is said and done, but one thing is certain, they bring a unique sense of humor to practically all of there films (with an occasional exception, see "No Country For Old Men"). They too know that film as entertainment is not something to be looked down upon. Sure, their comedies are often dark, but sometimes being able to find something to laugh at in life's unusual places is what we needed all along.

It was a delightful double feature and I look forward to pondering and considering why future films might be programmed together. Besides the Aero, its sister theater Grauman's Egyptian Theater (both are operated by American Cinematheque), and the Quentin Tarantino-owned New Beverly are other places here in Hollywoodland that have double-features on a weekly basis. Earlier this year I saw Akira Kurosawa's "Dreams" and Charlie Kaufman's "Synechdoche, New York" back-to-back and the Egyptian. Twas one of the most noteworthy theater-going experiences of my life. I'll be sure to document any I go to in the future.

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