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401, 401V, 501V: English-Language Reading Diary

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

O Brother, Where Art Thou?



Sorry for the picture quality. I've spent much of the day trying to upload a better-
quality subtitled copy, without success. Feel free to borrow our DVD.

Here's the handout we used when we saw the film:



Homer's The Odyssey forms the basis of this comedy, set in the American state of Mississippi during the depression years. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen wrote, produced, and directed the film.

White-collar criminal and smooth talker Everett Ulysses McGill (played by George Clooney), dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and volatile Pete (John Turturro) are on a chain gang, breaking rocks as part of their prison sentences at Parchman Farm, Mississippi's notorious state penitentiary. Everett persuades the other two to break out of prison with him by telling them that there are $1.2 million hidden at his home, the proceeds from an armored truck robbery. Time is of the essence, however; the hiding place will soon be flooded by a new Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric dam.

As the three fugitives try to avoid the police and their dogs, a blind seer (Lee Weaver as Homer's Tiresias) gives them a ride on his handcar, and tells them that they'll indeed find a great fortune, but not the fortune that they are looking for. On their way to Everett's hidden treasure, they witness a full-immersion baptism (two of them take the opportunity to be baptized); encounter the legendary bank robber Baby Face Nelson (Michael Badalucco) as he tries for a record number of bank robberies in a day; and give a ride to Tommy, a blues singer who has just sold his soul to the devil. With Tommy, they “sing into a can” and accidentally make a hit record as the Soggy Bottom Boys. Later, they encounter three Sirens by the riverside, who seem to have bewitched Pete; they come across a greedy Bible salesman, Dan Teague (John Goodman); run into Everett's estranged wife Penny (Holly Hunter), who has told his daughters that her husband was run over by a train; rescue Tommy from a ritual lynching; and get enmeshed in an election campaign between the incumbent governor and flour magnate Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning) and supposed reformist candidate Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall). All along, they are constantly chased by a ruthless sheriff and his bloodhound.

The film tries to recreate the feel of its period, but it doesn't pretend to present history accurately. The only actual historical figure portrayed in the film is Baby Face Nelson--however, his episodes in this film are pure fiction, and in any case he died a couple of years before the events in this film supposedly took place.
  • "Po’ Lazarus" [opening song]
  • If we take off through that bayou...
  • I’m votin’ for yours truly.
  • gainful employment
  • a road fraught with peril
  • I'm supposed to shoot folks servin’ papers.
  • I nicked the census man.
  • They foreclosed on cousin Bishop.
  • I'm afraid she’s startin’ to turn.
  • That winds up the Pass The Biscuits Pappy O'Daniel Flour Hour.
  • we’re in a tight spot.
  • Pete’s cousin turned us in.
  • I’m gonna kill you, Judas Iscariot Hogwallop!
  • Go back home and mind your pa!
  • I reckon it’ll fetch us enough for a good auto voiture
  • Who was fixin’ to betray us.
  • Delmar’s been saved.--I [have] been redeemed. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out.
  • ... including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
  • I’m not here to make a record, you dumb cracker.
  • Ain’t you gonna press the flesh, Pappy?
  • Don’t tell me how to court the electorate.
  • Greet all the swells.
  • ...your share of that dough...
  • some of your folding money has come unstowed.
  • Grab the tiller, will you, buddy?--Hand me that chopper.
  • Jesus saves, but George Nelson withdraws!
  • I just don’t think it's right keeping him under wraps
  • It's a judgment on Pete’s character.
  • Well, the two of us was fixin’ to fornicate.
  • the word of God
  • that sumbitch Stokes would win in a walk!
  • How we gonna run reform? We're the incumbent!
  • Weepin’ Jesus on the cross. That’s it! Start drafting my concession speech right now.
  • not given to pointless sentimentality.
  • The great state of Mississippi cannot afford four more years of Pappy O’Daniel! Four more years of cronyism! Nepotism! Rascalism! Of service to the interests!
  • Enjoy your picture show.
  • [Give the] Devil his due.
  • Was it the one branch [of Woolworth’s Store] or all of them?
  • I spilled my guts about the treasure.
  • I was sent up for practicing law without a license.
  • And our women, let’s not forget those ladies, y’all, looking to us for protection from darkies, from Jews, from papists, and from all those smart-*** folks say we come descended from monkeys. [Reference to the “mission” of the Ku Klux Klan]
  • The devil's come to collect his due.
  • if you just stick with me, I got a plan.
  • But, Pappy, they's [they’re] integrated.
  • interfered with a lynch mob in the performance of its duties.
  • And I have it from the highest authority that that Negro sold his soul to the devil!
  • There ain't no accounting for taste.
  • he was harbouring a hateful grudge
  • wants to cast the first stone.
  • by the power vested in me, these boys is [are] hereby pardoned!
  • going on relief.
  • Looks like the chair for George Nelson!
  • You have eluded fate and you have eluded me for the last time.
  • I know I've been guilty of pride and sharp dealing.
  • We're gonna see a brave new world where they hook us all up to a grid.

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