Despite their celluloid achievements, Joel and Ethan Coen always wanted to notch up a gold record. Their soundtrack to Southern period piece "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" went one better, going platinum.
The carefully crafted soundtrack, featuring original recordings of old-timey American roots folk music, took on a critical and commercial life of its own, introducing new disciples to indigenous sounds. Spurred by the success, the musicians involved in the soundtrack staged a sold-out concert in May 2000 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the "mother church of country music".
Directed by acclaimed documentarists DA Pennebaker (of "Don't Look Back" fame), Chris Hegedus (Pennebaker's regular collaborator, most recently on internet implosion piece "Startup.com") and eminent cinematographer Nick Doob ("The War Room"), "Down From the Mountain" is the filmed recording of this concert.
Simply and effectively recorded, the concert is substantiated by unobtrusive shots of the rehearsal process and, perhaps most winningly, musicians of the ilk of Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and the Cox Family chatting to each other about their shared passion for traditional American music.
There are minor quibbles. The various luminaries aren't introduced by captions, leaving the uninitiated in the dark about who's who. Also, some background information on some of the lesser-known but genre-defining musicians such as bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and the Fairfield Four wouldn't have gone amiss.
However, the rendition of "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby" will send a shiver down many a spine, and it's impossible to deny the unalloyed joy that the film gives the spectator. Not merely an appendage then, but an important and enjoyable work in its own right.
A special edition DVD of "O Brother, Where Art Thou", also containing "Down From the Mountain", is out to buy on Monday 5th November.