O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a classic Coen brothers movie that was released in 2000 and quickly gained cult status. Written, produced, co-edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the movie stars George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, with Chris Thomas King, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, and Charles Durning in supporting roles. This blog post will explore the making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, from its conception to its release. The Making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Idea

The Coen brothers used their signature dark comedy to draw on the same themes that Homer had included in his work, such as loyalty, sacrifice, and courage. Through this approach, the brothers were able to create a fresh take on an old classic while staying true to the original narrative structure. The Coens were also influenced by films like Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and It Happened One Night (1934). These films helped inform the comedic elements in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and create an overall lighthearted atmosphere.

The combination of these elements combined with the setting of the deep south gave the Coen brothers a unique opportunity to explore different topics within the film. As such, they could use the film to explore themes of religion, race, class, politics, and more. Ultimately, this mixture of ideas made O Brother, Where Art Thou? one of the most beloved films of all time.

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Casting

When it came time to cast for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Joel and Ethan Coen knew exactly who they wanted. George Clooney was the perfect choice to play the lead role of Ulysses Everett McGill due to his comedic talents and charm. To complete the main cast, the Coens chose John Turturro to play Pete, Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar, and Chris Thomas King as Tommy Johnson.

The supporting cast included some of the biggest names in Hollywood, such as John Goodman as Big Dan Teague, Holly Hunter as Penny Wharvey McGill, Charles Durning as Pappy O’Daniel, and Michael Badalucco as George Nelson. The Coens also decided to incorporate a variety of bluegrass music stars into the cast, including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, and others.

Filming

The Coen Brothers began filming O Brother, Where Art Thou? in Mississippi in the summer of 1999. The production team had to work hard to recreate the look and feel of the 1930s, taking great pains to make sure that everything was as period accurate as possible. Locations included rural areas outside of Jackson, Mississippi and even parts of Florence, Alabama.

The cast and crew spent much of their time on location shooting in sweltering heat and humidity. George Clooney remarked that, “it was like shooting a movie in a sauna”. However, despite the challenging conditions, the Coens managed to capture a stunning sense of realism and atmosphere for the film.

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The movie features a number of memorable scenes, including an extended chase through a cotton field and a baptism sequence in a river. The chase scene was filmed in a cotton field near Florence and the baptism scene was shot in the Hatchie River near Grand Junction, Tennessee.

The Coens also took advantage of some of the local color and ambiance when shooting in certain locations. For instance, one of the closing scenes was filmed in a real juke joint where guests can be seen dancing along to traditional blues music.

Despite some of the challenges faced during filming, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is considered by many critics to be a masterful cinematic accomplishment. The movie went on to become one of the Coen Brothers’ most successful films, earning both critical praise and commercial success.

Editing

The editing process for O Brother, Where Art Thou? was handled by the film’s co-director and co-producer, Joel Coen. The Coens have always been known for their unique editing style, and this film was no exception.

The editing process was fairly lengthy, and involved the selection of individual shots from the many takes that were filmed. The editing team had to decide which moments were the most dramatic and effective in conveying the story to the audience. The Coens also worked to create an overall rhythm for the film that would keep viewers engaged throughout.

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The editing team also had to make sure the transitions between scenes were smooth and worked to set up the next scene as best as possible. In addition, the Coens used specific shots to make sure certain visuals were present throughout the entire film, such as the recurring motif of a single white dove soaring across a blue sky.

Overall, the Coens’ unique style of editing was key to creating the final product of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, making it one of the most popular comedies of all time.

The Making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Reception

O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released to critical and commercial acclaim. The film was a box office success, grossing $45 million in the US and another $37 million internationally. It also received considerable praise from critics, earning a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 163 reviews.

The film’s soundtrack, consisting mostly of bluegrass, gospel, blues, and traditional country music, also became an unexpected success, selling 8 million copies in the United States and becoming the best-selling soundtrack of all time.

At the 73rd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design. It won for Best Adapted Screenplay and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

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