EXCLUSIVE: The Coen Bros. told an audience at New York's Lincoln Center earlier this month that they were working on a music-related film, but didn't offer any specifics.
Now a clearer picture is emerging on the subject of that movie: the Greenwich Village folk scene seen through the eyes of its larger-than-life patriarch.
The Coen Bros. are working on a script that's loosely based on the life of Dave van Ronk, said a source who was briefed on the project but who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the filmmakers' behalf. Van Ronk is a legendary musician who presided over New York city's iconoclastic coffeehouse period of the mid-20th century,
The musician, who died in 2002, was known as the uncle of the coffeehouse scene, a big personality famed for his musical acumen, left-wing politics, general erudition and entertaining storytelling. On his watch, era-defining musicians such as Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell were discovered and cultivated. Van Ronk also was a noted blues guitarist in his own right. A spokeswoman for the Coens did not immediately have a comment on her clients' behalf.
Van Ronk, who died in 2002 at the age of 66, published a posthumous memoir three years later titled "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" which a collaborator helped collate. The source said the Coens are drawing in part from material in the book.
The Greenwich Village figure, a noted supporter of progressive causes, was also arrested during the neighborhood's famous Stonewall Riots, an event that gives a van Ronk movie a certain relevance in light of the New York State legislature's move to legalize gay marriage on Friday.
At the Lincoln Center talk, the Coens compared their movie to "Margot at the Wedding" (Noah Baumbach was on stage with them) suggesting that, like that film, their new work will offer natural dialogue and a feeling of being dropped into the middle of a world. They also said they expected the film to contain musical performances. "We’re working on a movie now that has music in it [that's] pretty much all performed live, single instrument," Joel Coen said.
The Coens, who had what was by far their biggest success box-office ever with the western "True Grit" last year, are often known for tackling wildly disparate subjects from film to film. They've made one notable music-heavy movie before, spotlighting a decidedly different era in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Dave Van Ronk (extreme right), with Bob Dylan (second from right), Arlo Guthrie (second from left) and Dennis Hopper (extreme left) at Madison Square Garden in 1974. Credit: Ray Stubblebine / Associated Press