On This Day: ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Hits Theaters in 2000

by Matthew Wilson

It’s been 21 years since George Clooney made his great jail escape and odyssey across the South. The classic “O Brother, Where Art Though?” hit theaters on Jan. 12, 2000.

Clooney is joined by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as a trio of chain-gang convicts, who escape prison. The three begin a journey across the Deep South in the 1930s. Along the way, they meet a cast of colorful cast of characters, dodge the constant pursuit of the law, and somehow become country music stars.

Even the actors knew they were part of something special. Clooney signed without reading the script based on The Coen Brothers’ reputation alone.

“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,” Turturro told Nelson while on the set.

The film was based on Homer’s Greek epic “The Odyssey,” despite the Cohen brothers never reading that tale. Instead, they read a graphic novel version. But the references and homages are still vast. The title heralds from the 1941 film “Sullivan’s Travels.”

‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Wins a Grammy

While the acting is on point, the music is the real star of the show. After all, who can forget the catchy “I am a Man of Constant Sorrows,” which played several times throughout the film? Clooney and other actors didn’t actually sing the song themselves. Instead, Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright filled in for The Soggy Bottom Boys, the stage name for the convicts.

Nelson did sing himself during the film, performing a soulful rendition of “In the Jailhouse Now.”

The film featured several gospel hyms like “I’ll Fly Away,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “O’ Death.” That last one, performed by Ralph Stanley, silenced the studio in awe.

“Ralph coming in was kind of funny. You know, everyone’s sort of hanging out and playing, picking, whatever, and then Ralph walked in,” Joel Coen said. “It was like they’d wheeled in one of the heads from Mount Rushmore. The whole room just kind of fell silent for a moment.”

For the music, the film’s soundtrack won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, the last soundtrack from a film to do so.