Somehow we wound up new-movie-less last night, so Eleanor asked if I could recommend something offy-beaty from the collection. Something earlier in the day had reminded me of it, so we got out the 1980 Blues Brothers
DVD, and, between last night and this afternoon, enjoyed it and the pretty extensive commentary on the disk.
I know, some don't consider this to be a good film. At least one or two readers of this page (not that I can remember who) outwardly despise it. But it just resonated as a chronicle of a time beyond its time, capturing blues and soul in a way that is far less contrived than so much of what passes for "music" today.
The plot, such as it is, isn't going to win any awards on any night for greatness. The director, John Landis, speaks in the making-of about how Dan Aykroyd's original go at a screenplay (he'd never done one before) was close to three times the standard length, with every shot, every character, every musical number painstakingly developed out. Landis cut it down to around 120 pages of spoken and directed words, and the outputs of Chicago, New York and Memphis blues, and the Big Three automakers' entire 1960s-70s police cruiser production runs, did the rest.
I'd been a Saturday Night Live fan since its first season, and bought the vinyl of Briefcase Full of Blues
(itself a one-off of early SNL appearances when Steve Martin asked them to open for him at a LA ampitheater appearance) when it came out. I learned most of what I then knew about the blues from that record, and gained respect for the original performers that I'd known only vaguely, it at all, before that. Almost all of them (except for Paul "Shiv" Shaffer, whose SNL commitments kept him out of the film, but not the making-of) appear in the movie, along with a host of legendary soul performers who had been largely put out of work by the late 70s disco craze. Landis got the likes of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles merely by asking- and their appearances in the film (Ray's first-ever credited motion picture appearance) revived their careers for years to come.
In addition to the musicians, so many other performers put in cameos that either homaged their past greatness (such as Steve Lawrence) or predicted their future fame (Paul Reubens, Frank Oz and of course John Candy). Oz appears in the making-of, and despite his fame for everything from Piggy to Yoda, his brief if icky moment of fame at the beginning of this film is one that, 20 years on, people still remember him for.
And the music. Landis's biggest disappointment was that critics didn't regard the film as
a musical, even though there is music going in almost every moment of the scene, and almost every genre, from operetta to live performance, is used in it. Even the car crashes are choreographed, as noted Illinois Nazi Henry Gibson notes in the commentary: Those cars were DANCING, baby!
The saddest moment in the reflections is Landis recounting a fight he had with Belushi, which resulted in a passing stoner stopping to pick him up (in full Jake costume) and taking him back, per John's orders, to the Chateau Marmont. That was the star retreat that, two years later, was the site of his overdose and death. The world is a smaller and sadder place without his brilliance in it.
A Jake-less sequel came out in 2000 to mostly yawns, and was one of the last major films Landis has directed, largely because of his ill treatment by Big Hollywood in shaping that final story. The band still does gigs, and Aykroyd keeps the character alive under Elwood's nom de blues
on the House of Blues Radio Hour, which Rochester and Ithaca's NPR stations
air Saturdays at 7.
Those two cities are about 106 miles apart. We have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're still wearing sunglasses.
Current Mood: tired