O Brother, What Happened to the Coens' Documentary?

Coen BrothersSteely Dan and Giant Records

O Brother, What Happened to the Coens' Documentary?

You may recall a story in this column from early last fall. Famed documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was racing to finish up his companion documentary to Joel and Ethan Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The film, called Down From the Mountain, shot in Nashville over Memorial Day weekend last year, recounted a bluegrass concert staged by the Coens featuring all the musicians who performed in O Brother including John Hartford, Emmylou Harris and the film’s cast and crew.

The doc was quickly finished up so it could make the Academy Awards deadline of October 1 for documentaries. Artisan, its distributor, "four-walled" it in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica. And then … nothing.

O brother, where is the documentary?

Even though the feature film O Brother made around $38 million domestically and the soundtrack album was a surprise hit, Artisan has no plans to release the documentary to theaters. Right now it looks like they’re going to do a video release, but even that isn’t certain.

The Coens, according to my sources, even tried to buy back the rights. But Artisan -- which only has an approximate $125,000 investment as co-owners with an outfit called Intertainer -- doesn’t see the point in doing that either. "The Coens are even thinking of doing a sequel to the soundtrack to -- a soundtrack of the documentary -- but it’s all up in the air," one source said.

The problem is that Artisan is on the block, looking for a buyer, my source said, and trying to keep their books clean while they wait. Meanwhile Pennebaker’s wife, Chris Hegedus, who directed the Oscar nominated The War Room with him a few years ago, has her own Artisan release coming soon. Startup.com, which Hegedus made with Jehane Noujaim, debuted to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. It hits theaters the week of May 11.

Grammy Award Doesn't Save Steely Dan's Label

Giant Records officially closed on Friday. The label was the brainchild of rock manager Irving Azoff, a height-challenged giant in the record business, hence the name.

Giant didn’t have many acts of note. Indeed, Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature was its crown jewel. But Nature was 20 years in the making by the time it was released. It also may have been the most expensive studio recording of all time -- $6 million by some estimates.

Not a huge seller, Nature may also been Giant’s undoing. Steely Dan and other Giant artists will presumably be folded into beleaguered Warner Bros. Records, which financed and distributed the label. Warner’s other big boutique label, Quincy Jones’ Qwest, has also been shut down recently.

The lord-high executioner at Warner’s is new label chief Roger Ames, who is quickly winning no friends as he tries to cut costs and staunch the bleeding of money before Warner’s -- no longer a player in pop music except for Faith Hill -- implodes entirely.