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Monroe Movie Moving Forward

By Bill Graham - Special for the Mandolin Cafe
February 22, 2011 - 6:15 am

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Bill Graham
Bill Graham is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer, bluegrass musician and singer-songwriter.

Perhaps it's a good sign that the music comes first.

The Hollywood movie about Bill Monroe's life and times, Blue Moon of Kentucky, now has some soundtrack cuts in the can.

Producer Trevor Jolly tells the Mandolin Cafe that "we have just completed the first round of prerecords of the music for the movie. T-Bone Burnett and Ronnie McCoury supervised the 10-day recording session in Nashville at Sound Emporium with a huge contingent of A-list musicians, and the initial mixes sound spectacular."

Jolly said former Monroe protege, Del McCoury, will sing the Monroe songs on the soundtrack.

Actor Peter Sarsgaard is set to play Monroe. His wife, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, has told reporters that she will play Bessie Lee Mauldin, Monroe's lover who often toured with the Blue Grass Boys and played bass on stage and in recordings.

Jolly said negotiations are underway with a number of entities regarding production of the film. It's hard for me to imagine a movie tackling a subject as immense to so many as Monroe stands. But sometimes it works, or at least draws more people to our music and the mandolin. Judging by the names involved with the music, Blue Moon of Kentucky is at least off to a good start.

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Reader Comments

MikeEdgerton
February 22, 2011 08:40 AM
At first this seemed backwards, the music before the film but when I think about it, the actors have to be able to hear the music to act like they are playing it.
Jeff May
February 22, 2011 09:57 AM
I'm glad to hear this is moving along, and it's good to know that Ronnie and Del McCoury are involved. T-Bone Burnett doesn't seem like a good fit though. It seems like everything he's touched lately sounds like that Plant/Krauss monstrosity from a few years ago. Even though a lot of people apparently DID like that one, it "ain't no part of nothin", to me.
mrmando
February 22, 2011 03:18 PM
T Bone is an expert/enthusiast in vintage analog recording technology/techniques; let us hope his engineering acumen is his main contribution, and that he allows Ronnie to handle the musical arrangements.
Mandolin Mick
February 22, 2011 03:25 PM
Did you know that Tchaikovsky wrote the music of The Nutcracker to the choreographed ballet not the other way around? Now, that's incredible ...
Jeff Oxley
February 22, 2011 04:32 PM
Ditto your comments, mrmando. T bone has a long and storied past in quality, innovative production techniques ('O Brother', anyone?), but what makes the concept work for me is the involvement of both Del and Ronnie M...gives it the stamp of authenticity far as I'm concerned.

Pretty sure I'll see it on the big screen, too (and I'm not much of a cinema buff)...
Glassweb
February 22, 2011 05:00 PM
From what I've read so far it's apparent this film is doomed from the start. Peter and Maggie as Bill and Bessie Lee... are you shi??in' me? (yeah, i know... ask me how i REALLY feel about this!).
mrmando
February 22, 2011 10:59 PM
Well, you know, "The Buddy Holly Story" is a wonderful film, even if it is a wildly inaccurate biography.

Monroe never struggled with drug addiction and didn't, as far as I know, lose a little brother during his childhood, so it will be nice to see a film about a musician that breaks out of the "Ray"/"Walk the Line" mold.
swampstomper
February 23, 2011 12:28 AM
Who will play Uncle Pen, Malissa and JB, Arthur Schultz, a young Charlie? A talented writer ought to be able to get at the psychology of the formative years. We all know about the shy cross-eyed boy, orphaned as a young teen, batching it with Uncle Pen. If they can evoke those days in the film, and then link it to his legendary stubborness and determination, it could be an interesting movie. Of course, Ronnie and Del are good choices, although Del doesn't sound much like Bill, the voice quality is quite different. Anyway they've already sold me a ticket, good or bad, I will be at the first screening.
thistle3585
February 23, 2011 10:20 AM
I just wonder what the plot will be. I don't think "Bill Monroe invents bluegrass" is enough of a story line. It works for a documentary but not a film. There are a bunch of great stories in his life but there still needs to be something to tie them all together and I just don't see the growth of bluegrass music doing it.
Kirk Albrecht
February 23, 2011 11:19 AM
While I think those two actors are highly skilled, they are just wrong for the parts of Bill and Bessie Lee. Maggie as Bessie Lee? Is she going to wear a fat suit and become a blond? Surely they could have done a better job casting!
Rick Schmidlin
February 23, 2011 11:26 AM
T Bone is a perfect fit as he a great concert event also for Oh Brother.

I used to work with him in the early 80's.
Glassweb
February 23, 2011 11:29 AM
Quote from Kirk Albrecht: While I think those two actors are highly skilled, they are just wrong for the parts of Bill and Bessie Lee. Maggie as Bessie Lee? Is she going to wear a fat suit and become a blond? Surely they could have done a better job casting! End Quote

Thank you.
Perry
February 23, 2011 12:00 PM
I'd skip the beginning and go right to the peak of it all in the forties. Plenty of movie fodder. Baseball teams, tents, tractor trailers, car accidents, recording sessions, fights, women.
mrmando
February 24, 2011 12:12 PM
What percentage of people buying tickets for this film will have any idea of what Bessie Lee actually looked like?

Once I looked at Bob Woodward's photo on the dust jacket of one of his books, and to my utter shock he looked nothing like Robert Redford. But it didn't ruin the film for me...
WBR
February 26, 2011 12:03 PM
@Jeff May

Interesting that you would (incorrectly) criticize T-Bone Burnett because his records all sound the same when Bill Monroe's records all sound so completely different from each other. In fact, and I don't mean this as a criticism, Bill Monroe would hardly allow an instrument other than mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass on his recordings. Everybody knows that. One could say that *all* bluegrass records sound the same. That would be incorrect, as well, but it would be way more right than your comment about Burnett's work. Have you heard National Ransom?

From the International Bluegrass Music Museum web site: "While popular since the 1940s, bluegrass enjoyed an immense resurgence with the release of the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in the year 2000." That was Burnett's work. He had something to do with that "immense resurgence".

What are you talking about? No part of nothing, is right.
Schlegel
February 26, 2011 01:09 PM
Quote from Kirk Albrecht: While I think those two actors are highly skilled, they are just wrong for the parts of Bill and Bessie Lee. Maggie as Bessie Lee? Is she going to wear a fat suit and become a blond? Surely they could have done a better job casting! End Quote

In Hollywood's skewed version of body image, Maggie is at least plump, and dyeing one's hair for a part is scarcely unusual. Anyway, if you require actors in biopics to look exactly like the subject, you are limiting the talent pool massively. Portrayal of speech and mannerisms can be far more important than just looks.
Rick Albertson
February 26, 2011 01:29 PM
I only hope the movie brings as much resurgence to Monroe's music as O Brother brought to roots/bluegrass music in general and that it creates new generations of Monroe fans.
mrmando
February 26, 2011 01:47 PM
...
Jeff May
February 27, 2011 11:22 PM
Quote from WBR: @Jeff May

Interesting that you would (incorrectly) criticize T-Bone Burnett because his records all sound the same when Bill Monroe's records all sound so completely different from each other. In fact, and I don't mean this as a criticism, Bill Monroe would hardly allow an instrument other than mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass on his recordings. Everybody knows that. One could say that *all* bluegrass records sound the same. That would be incorrect, as well, but it would be way more right than your comment about Burnett's work. Have you heard National Ransom?

From the International Bluegrass Music Museum web site: "While popular since the 1940s, bluegrass enjoyed an immense resurgence with the release of the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in the year 2000." That was Burnett's work. He had something to do with that "immense resurgence".

What are you talking about? No part of nothing, is right. End Quote

Interesting that you would characterize my opinion as "incorrect". It's my opinion and I'm certainly entitled to it.

I was actually going to come back to this thread and add my apology for my use of the word monstrosity when describing the Robert Plant Allision Krauss project. It wasn't a monstrosity at all... It just wasn't my personal cup-o-tea, and I haven't particularly liked the sound of many of T-Bone Burnett's latest projects. In my opinion they sound overly produced and "lush" and also in my opinion this wouldn't work well for a soundtrack revolving around Bill Monroe's life and early bluegrass music. I didn't particularly enjoy the soundtrack to O' Brother either, and never found it to be all that "bluegrass". Undoubtedly it did bring some people back to acoustic instruments and the old time sound. I have great respect for T-Bone Burnett as a musician and a producer, but I'm entitled to express my opinion that his style in recent years is not particularly well-suited to bluegrass.

I hope you didn't join the Mandolin Cafe just because you disagree with my opinion. Have a nice day and welcome to the Cafe.
Ivan Kelsall
March 04, 2011 01:19 AM
Please excuse my ignorance re.this thread,but Pete 'who' & Maggie 'who' ?. Re.another point - films as an aid to the 'resurgence of Bluegrass music'. The films that had the biggest impact in the UK,were first off "Bonnie & Clyde",which gave the UK film goers possibly their first ever listen to Bluegrass music,(along with the Beverly Hillbillies in '65), & then an even bigger boost came though the film,"Deliverance". I don't know if those films had the same effect in the US as over here,but 'O Brother',whilst being a terrific film & highly enjoyable,from a non-Bluegrasser's point of view,it hardly made a dent in the musical education of UK audiences - too far removed from the 'roots' i expect. Possibly with the exception of "Man of Constant Sorrow", memorable mostly for the 'hamming up' of the song by the "Soggy Bottom Boys" rather than for the song itself - unfortunately. MoCS is possibly my VERY favourite song as sung by Ralph Stanley.
Returning to the original theme of this thread,i sincerely hope that the film,if it ever gets loose,will portray the actual story of Bill Monroe & 'his' music & not be another 'Buddy Holly style' travesty of his life story. I think that if the film was made almost as a 'documentary' style film,it would lead to more accuracy. Producing a film full of historical inaccuracies is hardly the way to celebrate Bill Monroe's life & music (IMHO),
Ivan
ibanezae
March 04, 2011 07:36 AM
I don't know much about Bill Monroe's life but love his music and look forward to the film. I'm sure it will revolve around a romance or romantic aspect of the man since that sells in Holly-weird and that's how they usually approach the musical biography's ala, Ray, The Doors and Walk The Line.
Speaking of Walk the Line I hope the lead actor has some musical talent. Wakim Phenix did a great job of acting in playing Johnny but the dude could'nt sing a note! Always seemed strange that they chose an actor to play one of the most influential singers/songwiters of the 20th century that couldn't sing.
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