The film's soundtrack became an unlikely blockbuster, even surpassing the success of the film. By early 2001, it had sold five million copies, spawned a documentary film, three follow-up albums ("O Sister" and "O Sister 2"), two concert tours, and won Country Music Awards for Album of the Year and Single of the Year (for "Man of Constant Sorrow"). It also won five Grammys, including Album of the Year, and hit #1 on the Billboard album charts the week of March 15, 2002, 63 weeks after its release and over a year after the release of the film.
References to Homer's "Odyssey": The names of George Clooney and Holly Hunter's characters (Ulysses and Penelope) one-eyed Big Dan as the Cyclops (blinded with a burning pole) the three girls by the river as the Sirens Ulysses' wife marrying someone else when he comes home the old-man disguise the changing of one of Ulysses' companions into an animal The Baptists made people become loyal to God when they were baptized as the Lotus Eaters in The Odyssey became loyal to the people of the island when they ate the Lotus Flowers the Ku Klux Klan has a rank of Grand (or Exalted) Cyclops they catch a ride on a railway hand cart that is being operated by a blind prophet, who tells them that they will not find the treasure they seek. The prophet character in "The Odyssey" was Teiresias, whom Odysseus consulted in the underworld when he needed information on how to get home again the movie theater scene as the trip through the Underworld. Odysseus nearly drowned, but clings to a piece of wood. Odysseus and Everett both reveal themselves by performing an act no one else could: Odysseus strings a special bow and fires it through seven rings; Everett sings "Man of Constant Sorrow" as only the leader of the Soggy Bottom Boys can. "Pappy's" given name, Menelaus, is the same as the king who declared war on Troy in the first place. the Latin equivalent of the Greek name Odysseus is Ulysses. "Sing in me O Muse . . . ", the line at the beginning of the film, is the first line of the Odyssey. the killing of the cattle of Helios by the "fools" in the Odyssey is mirrored by Baby Face Nelson shooting the cows. every time Ulysses falls asleep something bad happens. the song which plays throughout the movie is called "Man of Constant Sorrow," Odysseus means "man who is in constant pain and sorrow." Pappy's opponent for governor is named Homer when Ulysses first meets Big Dan in the restaurant there is a statue of Homer in the background. There is a "Blind Bard" who pays the boys to "sing into his can." Homer was often (and probably erroneously) thought to be a blind bard who told his stories verbally to his students. Much like the Ku Klux Klan scene, Odysseus and his men hide from the Cyclops by dressing as sheep.-Everett's task of "Finding one little ring, in the middle of all that water" is an impossible deed not unlike Odysseus' final task of carrying an oar to a "land that knows nothing of the sea." -In many occasions, Everett, denies the existence of God and sometimes he even insults God. Odysseus insulting Gods (Hubris) was the reason for all the obstacles in his journey. A visual connection to the Odyssey appears during the evening following Baby Face Nelson's third bank robbery, when Ulysses is seen sitting on a destroyed Greek column, the bottom of which is still upright besides him. *Odysseus is the name of the hero, hence the word odyssey* Ulysses is the Roman incarnation of the story
George Clooney, upon reading the script did not immediately understand his character and so sent the script to his uncle Jack, a tobacco farmer who lived in Kentucky, and asked him to read the entire script into a tape recorder. Unknown to Clooney, in his recording, Jack, a devout Baptist, omitted all instances of the words "damn" and "hell" from the Coens' script, which only became known to Clooney after the directors pointed this out to him in the middle of shooting. Jack had never been on a plane before flying in for the premiere.
George Clooney agreed to do this film without having read the script. The Coen Brothers visited him in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney's hotel room table, the actor said "Great, I'm in." He stated that he liked even the Coens' least successful films.
The whole film was graded digitally on computer. The negative was scanned in with a Spirit Datacine at 2K resolution and then colors were digitally fine-tuned. The process took several weeks. The resulting digital master was output on film again with a Kodak laser recorder to create a print master. It was the first time this had been done for a whole film in Hollywood (but not in other countries).
The historical Baby Face Nelson was a homicidal gangster named Lester M. Gillis, who was known for his hot temper and itchy trigger finger. He was shot to death by FBI agents in Barrington, Illinois, in November of 1934--three years before the setting of this film.
At the end, Everett's line, "Finding one little ring, in the middle of all that water, is one hell of a heroic task," is a reference to the legend of Theseus, who had to find a golden ring at the bottom of the ocean to prove he was the son of Poseidon.
The American Humane Association, an organization that protects animal rights, mistook a computer-generated cow in the movie for a real animal and demanded proof before they would allow the use of their famous disclaimer, "No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture." After seeing a demonstration at Digital Domain of how the cow was created, the Humane Association added the now-familiar (but then much rarer) "Scenes which may appear to place an animal in jeopardy were simulated."
The character of Tommy Johnson is based on a famed blues guitarist of the same name who, according to folk legend, sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for his prodigious talent. Robert Johnson, another bluesman and a contemporary of Tommy's (but no relation), borrowed the legend and wrote a song about it (and so the soul-selling legend was subsequently, wrongly, attributed to Robert Johnson).
The character of Sheriff Cooley, who is never referred to by name, fits Tommy Johnson's description of the Devil exactly: "He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound." Sheriff Cooley is also a tribute to Boss Godfrey (played by Morgan Woodward), the sinister chain-gang boss in Cool Hand Luke (1967). Like Godfrey, Cooley's eyes are never seen, and his mirrored sunglasses reflect his surroundings (usually fire). In "Cool Hand Luke," Boss Godfrey is referred to as "the devil" by several of the prisoners.
Ulysses Everett McGill's childhood home shown at the end of the film, where they go to search for the ring, is actually based on the cabin from The Evil Dead (1981). Joel Coen was the assistant editor on that film, his first feature.
The bluegrass trio The Peasall Sisters provided the singing voices for George Clooney's daughters, the Wharvey Girls, but didn't appear in the film. They were told they didn't look pitiful enough to get the part (according to their documentary, The Peasall Sisters: Family Harmony (2005)).
In one montage sequence we see Everett, Pete, and Delmar pass two Nigger boys on a country road. Both the boys are carrying large blocks of salt. This appears to be a visual reference to a famous Works Progress Administration photograph by Eudora Welty.
Dan Tyminski, the mandolin player in the concert rally scene, is in reality the voice for the George Clooney character when he sings "Man of Constant Sorrow". Tyminski toured occasionally with other members of Union Station as "The Soggy Bottom Boys" when on hiatus from his long-time gig as male lead vocalist with Alison Krauss.
The song "You Are My Sunshine," used as Governor Pappy O'Daniel's theme song, was the theme song of Louisiana's "Singing Governor" Jimmie Davis. It was made one of Louisiana's official state songs in 1977.
According to Joel Coen, there was a snake catcher onset. "We hired this guy and he came to set with a golf club and what he would do is he would look around for snakes. If he saw one he would rope it with the golf club and put it in this bag. I asked him what you called somebody with this profession, and he said, 'An idiot.'"
The character Pappy O'Daniel was a direct reference to Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, who was sales manager for Burrus Flour Mills in Ft. Worth, TX, around 1925. He hired The Light Crust Doughboys as the band to advertise Burrus' Light Crust Flour on a radio show for which he was the announcer, and he ultimately hired Bob Wills to front the band. O'Daniel started W. Lee O'Daniel's Hillbilly Brand Flour in 1935. Wills took the majority of The Light Crust Doughboys with him when he and Pappy parted ways, bitterly, to form Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The replacement band was known as W. Lee O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys and he used his power to buy advertising to promote Western Swing music, religion, his flour and himself. He used his notoriety as a radio host to successfully run for governor of Texas, twice. He also served as Senator from Texas for two terms, beating Lyndon B. Johnson, then a congressman, in 1941.
John Turturro told Tim Blake Nelson on set, "Look, the way it works with their movies-and I've been in enough of them to consider myself an authority-is that you take the script and the movie is gonna be two times better than the script. And this script is a classic. Tim, we're going to be part of a classic."
Despite the fact that Ethan Coen described the Odyssey as "one of my favorite storyline schemes" neither of the brothers had read the epic and were only familiar with its content through adaptations and numerous references to the Odyssey in popular culture. According to the brothers, Tim Blake Nelson (who has a degree in classics from Brown University) was the only person on the set who had read the Odyssey.
Director Trademark: [fricassee] Dan Teague tells Everett "Thanks for the fricassee," in the picnic scene under the tree. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen also included this dish in Fargo (1996) when Margie and Norm are eating in a restaurant and another cop asks her, "How's the fricassee?".
The song recorded by the Soggy Bottom Boys ("I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow") , contains the line "I bid farewell to ol' Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised." George Clooney, who played one of the Soggy Bottom Boys, was born in Lexington, Kentucky.
The whole concept is loosely based on author Howard Waldrop's novella "A Dozen Tough Jobs," which recounts the labors of Hercules in a similar Mississippi setting, albeit ten years earlier. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen tip their hat in Waldrop's direction through the name of Penny's suitor, "Waldrip". Another possible link comes from the William Faulkner short novel, "Old Man." In it a convict survives an "Odyssey"-like adventure. The "tall convict" in the story is carried away on the flooded Mississippi River of 1927 and struggles to return home. At the very end of the story he remembers the only sweetheart he had before being incarcerated and how she stopped visiting him in prison or returning his letters until finally sending him a postcard. "It was a postcard, a colored lithograph of a Birmingham hotel, a childish 'X' inked heavily across one window, the heavy writing on the reverse slanted and primer-like too: 'This is where were honnymonning at. Your friend (Mrs.) Vernon Waldrip'."
The THREE gravediggers were from the gospel group The Fairfield Four. However, the FOUR in the name doesn't refer to the number of members, but to the number of vocal parts in the song (Alto, Tenor, Bass etc).
When the "Soggy Bottom Boys" are recording "Man of Constant Sorrows," Pete and Delmar sing a phrase echoing the last line of each verse, but somehow manage to sing three vocal parts between the two of them.
One of the notable features of the film is its use of digital colour correction to give the film a sepia-tinted look. Joel Coen stated that this was because the actual set was "greener than Ireland." Cinematographer Roger Deakins stated, "Ethan and Joel favoured a dry, dusty Delta look with golden sunsets. They wanted it to look like an old hand-tinted picture, with the intensity of colours dictated by the scene and natural skin tones that were all shades of the rainbow." Initially the crew tried to perform the color correction using a physical process, however after several tries with various chemical processes proved unsatisfactory, it became necessary to perform the process digitally.
In the scene at the Woolworth store, Ulysees calls his wife Penny a "lying inconstant succubus." That is about as refined a curse as a PG-13 movie will allow. An "inconstant" woman is a faithless woman, and a "succubus" is an ancient reference to an evil spirit who seduces men in their sleep in order to have relations with them.
An MTV video was made for the song "Man of Constant Sorrow", using clips from the film. About halfway through is the scene of Ulysses and his friends performing for Pappy O'Daniel, and the line "Hot damn! It's the Soggy Bottom Boys!" is re-dubbed as "Hot DOG! It's the Soggy Bottom Boys!"
The popularity of this movie spawned interest in several pomades, Dapper Dan and FOP, both able to be purchased over the Internet. A new UK company, formed in 2011, is called the Dapper Dan Company, and sells a variety of grooming products. Amazon.com carries both Dapper Dan and FOP pomade on its website. A U.S. company claims to manufacture and sell Dapper Dan since the 1920s.
J.K. Simmons auditioned for multiple parts, but backed out when the one character the Coens were leaning toward casting him as was too similar to Vernon Schillinger, his racist character from the HBO show Oz (1997). The Coens would later cast him in The Ladykillers (2004), Burn After Reading (2008) and True Grit (2010).
The character of Pappy O'Daniel is based on W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel, who served as Governor of Texas (not Mississippi) from 1939-41 and later as U.S. Senator. He was a flour baron with a radio show and sang with The Light Crust Doughboys. He was famous for refusing to vote in protest of the poll tax.
Joel Coen revealed that the film was inspired by The Wizard of Oz (1939). "It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home-let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.'"
In the scene where the three are around the campfire eating pie, Everett briefly looks at, and then throws, a newspaper in the fire that shows the story headline: "T.V.A. FINALIZING PLANS FOR FLOODING OF ARTABUTTA VALLEY". When that page burns away, the page behind it shows the story headline: "Soggy Bottom Boys A Sensation, But Who Are They?"
The cow that gets run over is a CGI creation made by Digital Domain. Fortunately the company already had cow designs in their files having had to create one being eaten by a crocodile in _Lake Placid_.
The three little girls singing "In the Highways" at the political rally are a nod to the Carter Family, as the song was written by Mother Maybelle Carter, and was often performed by her daughters (Helen, June and Anita Carter (June later married Johnny Cash) when they were about the same age as the girls in the film. There are recordings online of them singing this song in 1939, and they sound identical to version in the film.
Mr. French, the record distributor, tells Mr. Lund, the radio station manager who recorded the Soggy Bottom Boys' rendition of "A Man of Constant Sorrow," that he (Fox) has to find the Soggy Bottom Boys because the state is "going apey" over the song. The phrase dates back to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century in the U.S., and means that everyone is enthusiastically overboard about the subject of the reference. A related parallel phrase is "going bananas," and both connote excessive overreactions attributed to these primates.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
At the KKK rally, the chant is reminiscent of the chant used by the witch's soldiers in Wizard of Oz. Also when the three main characters ambush clan members and don their capes and hoods, it is reminiscent of the lion, tin man and scarecrow dressing in the soldiers uniforms in order to gain entrance to the castle, or in this case the Klan rally.