Leisure – 06/19/2020
In Carter’s America, the two comedians thought about kicking off the eighties. That at first they struggled to make their way.
A church-owned orphanage risks closure due to failure to pay taxes. Two brothers, who grew up inside the facility, went out of their way to avoid bankruptcy with a rather singular idea: to bring together the old blues band for a series of concerts around the United States of America. With this plot, the film directed by John Landis, written together with one of the two protagonists: ‘The Blues Brothers’, made its debut on 20 June 1980, after the premiere held four days earlier.
A somewhat unusual plot but suited to the times, given that in the same period, in the USA, it was also thought to tax this type of structure.
It was still Jimmy Carter’s America, Ronald Reagan’s would arrive a few months later. The film, which celebrates forty years this week, despite today being considered a masterpiece and such a cult movie, was not immediately successful. Some historic American newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, cut him off with “final” sentences, such as: “presumptuous saga”, “idiotic weirdness” and “$ 30 million disaster”.
The figure mentioned was actually the sum between the budget spent on ‘The Blues Brothers’ and another film in which the two main actors took part, namely: ‘1941 – Disaster in Hollywood’; and in trying to analyze the reasons for the initial failure and then turn into a real epochal success it is good to go back two years to the release of the film.
Exactly it was April 22, 1978, on Saturday; during one of the last episodes of the third season of the historic ‘Saturday Night Live’ broadcast. Two comedians, who had met in Toronto, Canada in the first half of the 1970s, have two strange men dressed strictly in blue in front of the cameras: dress, lenses and hat. They enter introduced by an orchestra to the sound of ‘I can’t turn you loose’ and after a somersault performed by the lowest and most corpulent actor of the duo they begin their musical performance all to the sound of blues music.
The fictional characters were named Elwood and Jake respectively and were played, respectively, by Dan Aykroid and John Belushi. The latter, just in 1978, was considered the best comedian in America, with his imitations and with that creation created by his friend Dan. But the name, ‘Blues Brothers’, was not chosen by either of them. The inventor was a Canadian composer and conductor, Howard Shore; but the character profiles were made by Aykroyd himself in collaboration with a story consultant for the film Ron Gwynne.
Also in 1978 the Blues Brothers band was founded, also present in the feature film, which published, on November 28, the first long play entitled ‘Briefcase full of blues’. It was precisely the beginning of a success that had to be confirmed on the big screen, because it was in that 1978 that the idea of the film was born. But success did not come immediately. Initially, the budget was around $ 17.5 million and the screenplay was developed by Dan Aikroyd and the director himself, John Landis. The same John Landis who three years later will direct Michael Jackson’s legendary musical short film ‘Thriller’. Filming began in July 1979 and unfortunately the amount allocated increased considerably due to the constant problems on the set, problems caused by John Belushi himself, problems that brought him straight to the grave on the night of March 5, 1982.
The film only grossed $ 57 million at home, but grossed another $ 58 million abroad; for a total of 115 million dollars. Not to mention, in the years to come, the 32 million dollars coming from the old home video market. But why was it not appreciated at home, while abroad? Maybe because comedy was not understood? Yet it was the same coming from the ‘SNL’. Or was it not only the plot and, why not, its development too weird? Between historical hits of black music, exaggerated pursuits and means comparable to a blockbuster superproduction and some situations exacerbated beyond belief. The critics of the time most likely expected something different; instead they found themselves in front of a crazy and unconventional film work. A comedy-musical that moved away from the classics of the genre; at the same time, however, and this is the real driving force, an unrepeatable tribute to blues music, a tribute inaugurated in that further and distant 22 April 1978.
In addition to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, actors such as John Candy, who also came out of the forge of ‘SNL’ talent, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier and Carrie Fisher, were part of this crazy film. Not to forget the suggestive appearances of Frank Oz, of John Landis himself and a very young Steven Spielberg. As mentioned, however, the strong point of all the cinematographic work is the music, genre, blues, present, as a unique and unrepeatable soundtrack mixed with the country turned into blues. From the cover of ‘Soul Man’ to ‘Sweet home Chicago’, from the cover of Solomon Burke ‘Everybody Need Somebody’ to the reinterpretation of the theme of the television series of the 1950s, in which a very young and still unknown Clint Eastwood took part, ‘Rawhide ‘.
Without forgetting, and it must not be done because otherwise it would be a very serious crime, of the presence of singers and musicians. Like James Brown, present in the scene of the Church in which John Belushi is inspired by divine light; Ray Charles flying a battered pianola to the sound of ‘Shake a Tail Feather’, Aretha Franklyn in the iconic diner scene in which she sings the powerful ‘Think’ and Cab Calloway with her ‘Minnie the moocher’. In addition to them, John Lee Hooker is also present with the equally iconic ‘Boom Boom’.
Forty years later, ‘The Blues Brothers’ continues to conquer new generations, keeping its charm unchanged over time. It is not forgotten by ordinary people who on social media, in the last few days, have started posting articles and videos dedicated to the film. His scenes, some lines and phrases have become immortal, like that of John Belushi ‘We are on a mission on behalf of God’. It is an immortal film that has entered the legend almost on tiptoe, which has consecrated the same legend as John Belushi and confirmed Dan Aykroid in his complete ability to be a film author too; he is immortal, perhaps never as in this period, because black and white are seen singing the blues, a single soul. Perhaps with some exaggeration, and paraphrasing the musical revolution that took place in the second half of the 1950s, it is still today a real musical “bomb” on the big screen. Too much simplicity, understood as the naivety of the plot, did not greatly help the immediate success of the cinematographic work. But the time was rightly gentlemanly, it allowed us to discover and rediscover a film that will never be forgotten.
Text by Vincenzo Pepe
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