As revealed by Noah Baumbach, of all people, the Coen Bros. are working on a film filled with music. According to new information, its also a biopic – strictly, their first.
The subject of the film seems to be Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer about whom I know relatively little, and everything I do know, I learned from BBC documentaries in which he was one of many players. According to the 24 Frames column of The LA Times, the Coens are deriving some of the material for their film from The Mayor of MacDougall street, Van Ronk’s posthumous memoir.
It’s worth noting that the same report says the film will be “loosely based” on the life of Van Ronk, so this may, in fact, be no more a biopic than Barton Fink was The Clifford Odets Story. Having a specific memoir as a source suggests that it’s more likely this is an actual, declared Van Ronk project but I’ve learned already to not second guess Joel and Ethan Coen.
Here’s some blurb from the website of Elijah Wald who collated and organised Van Ronk’s memoirs:
Dave Van Ronk was a founding father of the 1960s folk and blues revivals, but he was far more than that. For one thing, he was a marvelous raconteur, one of the funniest and most quotable figures on the Village scene.
His stories of the fifties and sixties scene, populated by legends like Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee, and then young friends like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joni Mitchell, have a vibrant humor and keen insight unlike any other history of that period.
Dave honed his tales along with his music, while holding court in cafes, bars, and from his apartment on Sheridan Square. As a musician, mentor, and barroom philosopher, his influence was so great that the block he lived on was recently renamed Dave Van Ronk Street.
I know some of you believed, and believed hard, that I was wrong to assume the Coen music project was not actually their adaptation of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Not sure what’s happened to that film lately, but I’d guess its still in development, just in parallel to the Van Ronk movie.