The Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Will Be A Musical & Here's Proof That's Not A Terrible Idea
It's easy to get excited about a new Coen Bros. film; the siblings have few if any bombs to their name and have produced more than a few films that many would consider modern American classics: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and their Best Picture-winning No Country For Old Men, among many others. So I've been excited for their upcoming film Hail, Caesar! ever since it was announced — but now there's news that makes me even more stoked: the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar! will be a musical.
First, a refresher course on what we already knew about the film: it stars Josh Brolin as real-life '50s era Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (L.A.'s Olivia Pope, if you will) as he tries to locate a missing celebrity. Hail, Caesar! also stars George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum. Can anyone say Hail, Oscar!?
What we didn't know was that apparently Hail, Caesar! is a musical comedy. At a Dolby Institute master class on "The Sound Of The Coens," composer Carter Burwell and sound mixer Skip Lievsay revealed the truth: "It's a musical comedy that takes place on a Hollywood backlot," said Burwell, "so you pass through all these pictures that are in production there." Each of these "pictures" will have their own distinct musical style, including "a tap-dance water number." He elaborates: "It's actually pretty complicated, musically — you'll see, the themes that I'm writing for the movie have to relate to the themes of the movies within the movie. So it's actually this rug with all these threads going in and out."
Burwell went on to hedge his bets regarding the "comedy" part of his statement: "I wouldn't actually call it a 'musical comedy' — there are movies within the movie, and those movies might have comedic music, but the movie we're making is actually not comical. I haven't written the music yet, but I'm quite certain it's actually going to be quite the opposite. It's going to be rather serious, and it's about faith. It's not about the music."
While the Coen Bros. and musicals might seem like an odd combination at first, it's actually not all that unexpected when you think about it. While some of their films are known for their sparse use of music, like Fargo, just as many — if not more — are known for their stellar soundtracks. Whether using well-known tunes in the background to enhance the mood or actually having characters break out into song, the Coens are no strangers to weaving music into the tapestry of their films.
Here are five Coen Bros. movies that prove the writer/directors have been slowly working their way towards a full-blown musical this whole time:
5. Miller's Crossing (1990)
One of the brothers' earliest films contains one of their most famous uses of an idiosyncratic soundtrack to set an unexpected tone. No one else would have thought to play the familiar strains of the Irish ballad "Danny Boy" under an intense shootout, but it works wonders here, juxtaposing the violence of the actions with the beauty of the music. The result is a hypnotizing, practically orgiastic ballet of bullets.
4. A Serious Man (2009)
Speaking of idiosyncratic soundtracks... After an opening sequence featuring a Jewish couple and a dybbuk on the shtetl, the film transitions into 1960s Minnesota to the tunes of the psychedelic rock song "Somebody To Love" by Jefferson Airplane. It's a disorientingly bizarre moment that gains relevance as the song is repeated through the movie, most notably during a session with a wizened rabbi, and again as the film's credits start to roll. "When the truth is found to be lies / And all the joy within you dies..." What then? The Coens clearly know how to use music to enhance the meaning of their films.
3. The Big Lebowski (1998)
This film is chock-full of great musical moments — including John Turturro prancing around to a Spanish-language version of The Eagles' "Hotel California" — but the Dude's trippy hallucination set to Kenny Rogers & The First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" is the moment that most clearly speaks to the Coens' budding interest in song-and-dance. Back in 2009, EW 's Owen Gleiberman prophetically stated that, "what that sequence indicates to me is that the Coens should seriously consider making a gloriously skewed pop musical." Little did he know...
2. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
How to pick just one musical moment from this terrific film? There's the seductive song of the sirens; the spiritual baptism hymn; but "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow," sung throughout the film by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, is the soundtrack's crown jewel. The song became so popular that it received mainstream airtime on the radio, the soundtrack sold 7 million copies, and it would go on to win Album of the Year at the 2002 Grammys. Can George Clooney help Hail, Caesar! reach similar heights?
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
This melancholy gem of a film is the closest the Coen Bros. have come so far to making a musical. There's plenty of singing throughout the film, but seeing as how all the characters are musicians, the music is all organic to the story rather than performed in a heightened reality. Like O Brother, there are almost too many good musical moments to highlight just one: "Fare Thee Well," "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me," "Please Mr. Kennedy." But it's this sad song that Oscar Isaac's Llewyn croons in a last-ditch audition for F. Murray Abraham's Bud Grossman that stuck with me long after the film was over. The lyrics to "Queen Jane" are devastatingly sad, the melody is haunting, and Isaac's vocals — especially on the a cappella last verse — are devastatingly vulnerable. If the Coens can recreate just one moment as raw and honest as this in Hail, Caesar!, it will be a success.