Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Son of a Satire: 'Chain Gang' Rattles On

In 1932's "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," Paul Muni stars in the real-life story of a poor schlump who gets roped into years of hard prison labor for no reason at all.

"Chain Gang" is one of the "socially conscious" movies of that time. It was meant to publicize the brutal slave-labor incarceration system in the South.

In 1941, director Preston Sturges did "Sullivan's Travels," which was, in part, a satire of "Chain Gang." In "Sullivan's Travels," Joel McCrea plays a Hollywood movie director who wants to make a socially conscious film, titled "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

He goes on the road to get in touch with "real" people, and gets dragged onto a Southern chain gang. Sturges seems to ask, why make movies that just tell people how bad life is? We all need a laugh instead.

And then in 2000 Joel and Ethan Coen directed a little film called, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"O Brother" was sort of a satire of "Sullivan's Travels," sort of a witty take on Homer's "The Odyssey."

The Coens' film ended up saying ... hmmmm, still not quite sure what it was saying. But it has a great musical soundtrack of early country, gospel and blues.

So, in essence, we have a parody of a satire of a socially responsible film. Quite an achievement.

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