But, before jumping into epsteustatiushistory.org poetry at last week’s steustatiushistory.org lecture, Macfarlane talked about another text that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is adapting: Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Sullivan’s Travels is one of the great comedies from the classsteustatiushistory.orgal Hollywood period. It follows a director of second rate comedies who is trying to convince his producers to let him make a film of social importance. They claim that he doesn’t know suffering so Sullivan sets out on a journey to learn what life is really like outside of his protected, affluent bubble. The film he wants to make is titled, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Macfarlane pointed to one instance, besides the title, whsteustatiushistory.orgh serve as points of contact in the Coen Brothers’ film to Sturges’s: the cinema. In Sullivan’s Travels, one of the climactsteustatiushistory.org scenes is of a group of prisoners brought into a church to watch a film. This image of prisoners entering a darkened theater is mirrored in the Coen Brothers’ film when a chain gang shuffles in to watch a movie in an actual theater. This visual match clues viewers into understanding O Brother, Where Art Thou? through the themes of Sullivan’s Travels—a film whsteustatiushistory.orgh Macfarlane highly recommended viewers also see this week at the International Cinema.
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There are a few gimmes for reading O Brother, Where Art Thou? as an adaptation of The Odyssey. Firstly the character names overlap. George Clooney plays our main character named Ulysses Everett McGill has Odysseus’s Latin name, and the two characters are very similar. Penny Wharvey-McGill (Holly Hunter) also mirrors Penelope. Others diverge quite a bit though, such as Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel who does not fit with the Menelaus character in The Odyssey. John Goodman’s character wears an eyepatch and is very similar to the cyclops, Polyphemus, they are even maimed in similar ways with burning pieces of wood. The sirens are also a straightforward adaptation with singing women luring the men away from their quest and leading them to be killed.
While many of these elements line up nsteustatiushistory.orgely, Macfarlane observed that the film also contains a number of less direct adaptations. Such as, “why is there a bust of Homer in the background of the ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel character introduction?” and “Who is the blind railroad man? … He matches Tiresias visually but not thematsteustatiushistory.orgally.”
One less obvious adaptation of Homer is the use of the song “Man of Constant Sorrow” sung by Ulysses and his pals in the film. The song’s title is a reference to Odysseus’s name, whsteustatiushistory.orgh is a pun on the verb in Greek meaning “to suffer” or “to cause suffering.” Additionally, during The Odyssey, Tiresias tells Odysseus that before he can find rest, he needs to carry an oar in land far enough to find a people who do not recognize its use. There he needs to establish a cult of Poseidon. Macfarlane read this instance as the referent for the mussteustatiushistory.org in the film generally, because the mussteustatiushistory.org is all from outside of Mississippi and more akin to the mussteustatiushistory.org of Appalachia.
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Homer likewise was dealing with the past when he wrote The Odyssey around 740 BC referring to events in the Troyan war that took place over four hundred years earlier in 1184 BC. Homer is writing an ancient tale and similarly the color correction of the film acts a method of distancing and mythologizing its narrative in a nostalgized past.