Tuesday Editor’s Pick: The Blues Brothers (1980)

by on November 15, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Tue Nov 22 at 7:00* at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
*Q&A and book-signing with director John Landis


Do we really have to say much?



BAM runs “See You Next Wednesday: 8 Films by John Landis,” and their house favorite stops by Nov 21 and 22 to promote his new book “Monsters in the Movies.”


Landis discusses his new literary opus:


Brad Laidman for Film Threat:

I am never not amused by the Blues Brothers. So many scenes are so enmeshed into our cultural consciousness that they immediately unfurl at you when you hear just one descriptor. The penguin scene, the shrimp eating scene (look for waiter Pee Wee Herman), “Rawhide,” the entire band with Murray Sline in the sauna, and enough car crashes to personally bring the American auto industry back to life. Any future carnage from films derived from Saturday Night Live sketches shouldn’t be held against their amazing screwball innovator, not even “It’s Pat” or the unnecessary sequel where John Goodman, Joe Morton, and a little white kid try to bridge the chasm of the death of John Belushi. Belushi only shows his eyes once here, but even with him covered in mud it’s one of the more lovable shots of the twentieth century. Chicago is forever in their debt.


Click here to listen to Aykroyd discuss the movie upon its 25th Anniversary, on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Kenneth Anger reports on offscreen shenanigans in Hollywood Babylon II:

Picture a big plate of pure cocaine – I’m talking about big bucks here – piled high in a fucking glittering white pyramid, and then picture the sweaty, coarse, pig-faced comedian – Low comedy, very low – going down in that pile toll he came up sputtering for air, a white-faced parody of Pierrot. Then the go-fer girls a-plenty, Playboy centerfolds all, called over by said power-tripping comedian – after all, he paid for it, or was paid off with it – to lick if all off his big fat moon face. Gross Out by John Belushi. Cocaine Clown. On the Road to Chateau Marmont.


It happened in the bar Chicago Mayor Byrne granted immunity and a 24-hour-stay-open-permit, during the long, long location shooting for The Blues Brothers.



Landis gives Adam Lowe some context, for Hey U Guys!:

Blue Brothers has a truly eclectic cast, and you also populated it with all those legendary R&B recording artists. How difficult were they to corral and get onboard?

You have to remember that in 1979 when we made the movie, rhythm and blues was basically over, and the number one music in the world was Abba, The Bee Gees and disco, so when people ask, how did you get the likes of Aretha Franklin and James Brown, it was easy. We just called them and said “wanna job?” One of the things I’m most proud of in the film is the music reflected Danny and John’s passion for those sounds and they did something unique, which is they exploited their own celebrity to basically shine a light on these great American performers.


To give you an idea of how outré it was at the time, Universal Studios and Decca Records refused to release a soundtrack album! They said no one would buy the music from the film. Atlantic records, which was a so-called ‘race label’ took on the soundtrack album, but even the label boss, who I ended up having a big fight with, would not put John Lee Hooker on the album. His exact words were he’s too old and too black. About four years later when John picked up his first Platinum album, the first call I made was to Atlantic’s boss, who picked up and said immediately, “I know – you told me so!”



Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Blues Brothers is the Sherman tank of musicals. When it was being filmed in Chicago in 1979 — with dozens of cars piling up in intersections, caroming down Lake Shore Drive and crashing through the Daley Center — it seemed less like a film than a war. The movie feels the same way. It’s a big, raucous powerhouse that proves against all the odds that if you’re loud enough, vulgar enough, and have enough raw energy, you can make a steamroller into a musical, and vise versa.


This is some weird movie. There’s never been anything that looked quite like it; was it dreamed up in a junkyard? I was saying the musical numbers interrupt the chases. The fact is, the whole movie is a chase, with Jake and Elwood piloting a used police car that seems, as it hurdles across suspension bridges from one side to the other, to have a life of its own. There can rarely have been a movie that made so free with its locations as this one. There are incredible, sensational chase sequences under the elevated train tracks, on overpasses, in subway tunnels under the Loop, and literally through Daley Center. One crash in particular, a pileup involving maybe a dozen police cars, has to be seen to be believed: I’ve never seen stunt coordination like this before.


What’s a little startling about this movie is that all of this works. The Blues Brothers cost untold millions of dollars and kept threatening to grow completely out of control. But director John Landis (of Animal House) has somehow pulled it together, with a good deal of help from the strongly defined personalities of the title characters. Belushi and Aykroyd come over as hard-boiled city guys, total cynics with a world-view of sublime simplicity, and that all fits perfectly with the movie’s other parts. There’s even room, in the midst of the carnage and mayhem, for a surprising amount of grace, humor, and whimsy.



Ivana Redwine (which sounds like a character name for Aykroyd in drag) also interviews Landis:

IR: The screenplay for “The Blues Brothers” is credited to Dan Aykroyd and you. Can you talk a little about how the screenplay was developed?

JL: “The Blues Brothers” was a development deal before they were on “Saturday Night Live.” That’s one of the reasons NBC and Lorne Michaels [creator and executive producer of “Saturday Night Live”] are not involved. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the “The Blues Brothers” before “Saturday Night Live.” I met them both, you know, on “Animal House.” And Danny was always into blues and rhythm and blues. He really is a maven. He’s a very skilled musician. He really knows his stuff. He really has a love for it. John was really much more into heavy metal. But John, during “Animal House,” really got into the blues in Eugene, Oregon, where he met a guy named Curtis Salgado who was in a blues band. And Johnny really got into it and became as passionate as Dan—became Danny’s disciple sort of—and made up these characters. And the idea was to do a movie about them eventually, and what happened was, with the success of “Saturday Night Live,” John and Danny started performing as Jake and Elwood at the Lone Star Cafe in New York backed by Delbert McClinton’s band. Gosh. Leon Russell, Willie Nelson’s band, and the Grateful Dead. They had a lot of backup bands. [Chuckles.]


IR: Wow.

JL: And they were performing. They used to warm up the audience on the show as Jake and Elwood, and finally they were able to perform on the show as Jake and Elwood, and the response was so huge that Steve Martin invited them to be his opening act at the Universal Amphitheatre for a summer tour. So Danny and John took this very seriously and put together with Paul Shaffer this extraordinary band—the Blues Brothers Band. And that opening act was recorded live by Atlantic Records and became this gigantic, successful album. So you had this situation with this triple-platinum album “Briefcase Full of Blues” with John and Danny. John and Danny being the stars of the hottest show in the world and John being the star of the hottest movie, “Animal House.” Universal went, “Hey, wait a minute, don’t we have the rights to make a movie?!” They sort of put us into production very quickly. I’m still amazed we got away with it.


IR: “The Blues Brothers” was originally released about 25 years ago. Looking back on it now, what do you feel the most proud of about the movie? Do you have any favorite scenes?

JR: I don’t know. I think the thing I can say with 20/20 hindsight—25 years of hindsight—was how successful it was in terms of what John and Danny were trying to do. I made fun of Danny in the script—that whole “mission from God” makes fun of Danny. He’s really evangelical about this. In ’79 all the music on the radio was disco. It was all ABBA, and the Bee Gees were a big act, and Danny and John did something unique—they exploited their own celebrity to focus a spotlight on these great artists. In that way the movie was very successful. You would never think that the blues—rhythm and blues—was in disfavor now. Now it’s acknowledged for the great American music it is. And I think that has a lot to do with the movie. I’m quite proud of that.


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