Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Blues Brothers - 1980

"The Blues Brothers (Collector's Edition)" - 1980
Dir. by John Landis - 2 hrs. 28 min.

25th Anniversary DVD Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

One of the things that strikes me about "The Blues Brothers" is that the entire thing is about teasing a reveal.  The opening sequence in the extended version (released on DVD in 2005, it's 18 minutes longer than the theatrical cut) runs for a full 7 minutes before you even get a clear shot of John Belushi's face.  I'm not quite sure, but it also seems that you never even see Belushi's eyes until after they've played their big concert, and the brothers are fleeing in a tunnel.  That's something like an hour forty-five into the movie!

There are other examples of this - Carrie Fisher's character repeatedly attempting to attack Joliet Jake with heavy armament with no explanation.  Even the other characters in the movie don't even seem to react, as if it's a daily occurrence to be shot at with a bazooka.  The police, even when buried in rubble from an attack, don't even acknowledge it.  The explanation comes right before Belushi finally takes off his Ray-Bans.

In contrast, there are moments where things are taken to excess; not one, but two police chases ending in dozens of wrecked cruisers, a car containing Nazis dropped literally from a mile in the sky, seemingly full armies chasing down the brothers.

The whole thing sounds pretty simple - get a couple of comedians at the top of their game, stack the movie with great musicians and let them do their thing.  Drop in a couple of car chases to keep people's attention.  But if that could work, a movie like "The New Guy" (also littered with musician cameos) would be an instant classic.  It's just as easy to see why "The Blues Brothers" is a classic, but the reason that sticks with me is that the movie doesn't look like a comedy, and the actors don't act like they're in a comedy.  Again, if this was easy to pull off, everyone would be doing it.  Characters have a clearly defined motivation, and act towards that goal.  When there's a new setting, director John Landis makes sure that you see it and understand where they are.  He keeps the camera at a distance (no tight shots for mugging at the camera) because it's more important how the other characters in the movie react to Jake and Elwood than them tossing off lines and making faces.  Even the performance scenes keep their distance a bit - as a viewer, you need to believe that the Blues Brothers can command a 5,000 seat venue, so Landis lets them.

I know that sounds revolutionary, to actually let performers do what they do best, and maybe it is.  But when you get the right talent in place, it's as much of a skill to know when to get the hell out of the way.

Even though the extended cut of the movie runs nearly two and a half hours, it doesn't feel that long because of the musical interludes.  I don't think there's that many people now who would have debated the greatness of Aretha Franklin or James Brown, but my mind boggles as to how a disco-crazy audience might have reacted at the time.  Heresy, likely.

So yeah, this one is pretty funny, and you might want to check it out.

5 / 5 - DVD

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