INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Joel and Ethan Coen’s re-creation of the Greenwich Village folk-music milieu, set over a few days in the winter of 1961, came into focus for me about halfway through. The Coens’ Job-like title character, played by Oscar Isaac, has hitched a ride back from Chicago, where he’s failed a last-chance audition. The owner of the car is fast asleep; Davis is driving in a snowstorm in the middle of the night. He’s got the radio on, and for a moment an old folk song comes through the speakers: some impossibly addled, a cappella, doo-wop version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
It was funny. It was fun. It was bizarre, like the Drifters’ imp-of-the-perverse 1953 version of “White Christmas,” and like that record, this unexpected “Old MacDonald” was in love with the music for its own sake, on its own terms, as an opportunity to play, to dart in and out of the corners of the
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