Saturday, March 05, 2005

On a mission from God

I've used the phrase "train-wreck television" here before. By that I mean a television program, or a movie being broadcast on television, which — like a train wreck — compels you to watch, no matter how awful it may be.

One such movie is on American Movie Classics as I type: John Landis's monument to music and mayhem, The Blues Brothers.

Judged critically, The Blues Brothers is not a good movie. It is loud, crass, ridiculously silly, clumsily written, illogically frenetic, and improbable in the extreme. No one in the film can act, with the exception of the two leads, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, who here are only required to play cardboard caricatures — we only know they can act because we've seen them in other films where they proved they could. The rest of the performances are uniformly embarrassing. The editor appears to have used a chainsaw to cut the film together. The cinematographer appears never to have placed a camera before, given the inordinate number of badly framed shots. Landis directs the proceedings as if he had a plane to catch and thus had to move things along in double-time.

And yet, there's something about the darn thing that sucks you in.

Part of it is the music: rousing R&B production numbers by such luminaries as James Brown, Ray Charles, the immortal Cab Calloway, and — in the film's best scene — Aretha Franklin yowling (in laughable lip-synch) "Think" in a greasy spoon diner, wearing an apron and fuzzy pink slippers. Aretha also gets off the best line of the film: When Ackroyd as Elwood Blues utters the film's tagline, "We're on a mission from God," the Queen of Soul jabs a stern finger in his face and warns, "Don't you blaspheme in here!"

Part of it is the movie's cheerfully relentless energy; just about the time you think it's about to grind to a thudding halt, it leaps up and barrels off again.

Part of it is just the opportunity to witness the late, great Belushi in action, and imagine what might have been. My guess? He'd have gradually wandered from the broad slapstick that made him famous into more serious fare. Belushi's last two films — the romantic comedy Continental Divide (a surprisingly charming picture costarring the underrated Blair Brown) and the dark, creepy Neighbors — were tentative steps in this direction.

Anyway, back to the movie. I have to see whether Jake can persuade Princess Leia not to pump him and his brother full of hot lead.

4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger allaboutgeorge offered these pearls of wisdom...

I'm ashamed to say that the car chases are part of what do it for me.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

To be honest, I'm not even sure I've ever watched Blues Brothers all way through. Doesn't that somehow seem wrong?

6:09 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

George: No shame in that at all. Car chases (and crashes) rock, and the ones in The Blues Brothers were, at the time, the most expensive ever filmed.

My favorite movie car chase: To Live and Die in L.A.

8:36 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Janet: All that proves, once again, is that you are more sane than most of us.

8:36 PM  

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