Thank you, dear readers, for indulging a bit of a holiday for me. I have not been slacking, actually, but compiling what I hope will be a useful tool for you and for new readers alike. I have put together a list of my favorite films of all time, with cross references to other films, so that when you feel like watching a video, but don't feel like browsing--or risking an evening wasted on empty celluloid folderol--you can get a highly recommended pick from Gooden Worsted, your humble cinematic servant.
On this list, coming to a Web browser near you, you'll find great films of all genres. You'll find The Blues Brothers, a classic, astonishingly fun action-comedy-musical starring Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi at the peaks of their careers.
In 1980, there was no House of Blues, and Ackroyd, now a non-threatening actor and blazing entrepreneur, wore more of his soul on his sleeve. The fact that he was heavy into blues music overshadowed his inherent wonkyness so that it was the music, not his fanaticism, which was most visible. Teaming up with Belushi, who lived fast and carried the reputation of a wild man, Ackroyd launched the Blues Brothers with the able writing and directing assistance of John Landis (who also directed Michael Jackson's Thriller).
The movie is a classic in many ways: it features great blues music from its pioneering performers. It has the familiarity of whammies and car chases, customized, as you would expect, for this film. But The Blues Brothers also treads some new and rather treacherous ground by reworking the concept of the musical. Arguably an American art form (though descended from European opera and light opera), musicals have had a long history of being rather hokey from a post-1980 perspective. The 80's attempt, Newsies, bombed. Steven Sondheim had to take on a decidedly intellectual bent in order to be taken seriously. (Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods are rather good, but aren't particularly fun.)
The Blues Brothers is undeniably a musical, yet it is hardly ever thought of that way even though characters suddenly burst into song and dance. Furthermore, without the music, there would be no story, no character, no nothing. Perhaps it manages to seem un-hokey because the music is the subject of the film. Many musical numbers stem from true-to-life musical situations, like John Lee Hooker playing "Boom Boom Boom" on the street and Cab Calloway delivering "Minnie the Moocher" from an auditorium stage and James Brown, as a preacher, singing "Old Landmark." Other numbers are only small steps from reality: Ray Charles, as a musical instrument salesman, uses the song "Shake a Tail Feather" to demonstrate the worthiness of his wares.
Of course the Blues Brothers themselves deliver "Rawhide," "Stand by Your Man," "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," and "Sweet Home Chicago" from the stage. And other songs are simply soundtrack ("She Caught the Katy," "Peter Gunn Theme") or source music from the radio in the Blues Mobile (Sam & Dave's "Soothe Me" and "Hold On, I'm Coming").
Even still, there is one song that is a perfect example of the musical genre, where a character bursts into song and dance to express a plot point. Aretha Franklin sings "Think" to Matt "Guitar" Murphy trying to convince him not to go back on the road with the Blues Brothers. Maybe its because this is the only musical-musical number that it doesn't burst the bubble of the movie's earthiness that the movie is still safe in the no-hoke zone. Even though Ray Charles' song gets an entire street full of people dancing, the fact that these people were cast right off the street makes the dance number ring true. It's silly, to be sure, but not embarrassing. By contrast, there's a song in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo where everyone in Los Angeles begins dancing at the same time. Because they are all obviously dancers, and because they are all dressed in high-80's pastel sweatpants and tees, the cheese overwhelms the scene, and it is off-putting.
The Blues Brothers is more than a musical, though. It also has some historically large-scale car chases. I can't think of another shooting script that would read:
INTERIOR MALL NIGHTTIME
The story is plain enough, but provides many places to hang songs, gags, and action sequences. Jake Blues is released from Joliet prison and is picked up by Elwood, his brother. They have no plans, so they go see the nun at their old orphanage. In a funny scene, she gives them the tragic news that the city is going to foreclose on the property, shutting the orphanage.
Hence, the Mission from God. J&EB set out to raise the money to save the orphanage. There's only one way they can do it that is legal: to put their old band back together and do a concert. And that's what they do. Road-trip one takes them around the state to gather up their musicians, now all with various other jobs and commitments. On this trip, they make enemies of the Illinois law-enforcement community. Road-trip two takes them across the state to build an audience for their show and then to get to the show on time. On this trip, they make enemies of the Illinois Klan and a homicidal country-western band. (But Ackroyd manages to woo Twiggy.)
The final leg of their journey takes them to Chicago's government buildings to save the orphanage. On this trip, they make enemies of the fire department, the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the Gestapo, the Boy Scouts, The Animal Liberation Front, and The Secret Brotherhood of Pouncers. It may seem overboard, but when you get the mall-demolition scene within the first 40 minutes, you have to realize that there's nowhere to go but bigger.
If you haven't seen it, see it. It's funny, it's action-packed, and it has great music. It has it all. The DVD carries many scenes that were deleted from the cinematic release, so it's worth revisiting if you've enjoyed the film already.
As for the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, I know little about it, which makes me think it is probably a pale shadow of the first. I know it resorts to including a 10-year old in the band, and that can't be a good sign. If you've seen it, or would like me, your humble servant, to preview it before you rent it, please let me know.
(PS: A bonus ten stars to Mike Cruz for the loan of this DVD.)
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.