Most film musicals are adaptations of Broadway musicals or in recent times, an amalgamation of popular music in an attempt to milk the love for a favourite song in return for favour (hello Rock of Ages). The Blues Brothers is a rebellious musical that throws away the rule book and revels in a love for blues music and the feeling is reciprocal not faked. Like the raw vocals and dirty riffs of a great Blues track, The Blues Brothers is one big wild party.
From the heavy bass of the Peter Gunn theme to the spontaneous dance moves that spring from Shake A Tail feather, every song used in the film bleeds cool and helps to create the musical world the characters inhabit. The Blues Brothers Band is a rolling tribute to the mystical magic of blues music and made up by some of the best studio musicians of the time. A few music legends appear in person including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown and John Lee Hooker. The musical performances are an absolute treat and subtly push the story along.
The characters Jake and Elwood Blues were born out of the bond Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi shared over blues music during their tenure on the television show Saturday Night Live. The black suits, hats and sunglasses were instantly iconic and helped shape the characters as the mysterious human embodiment of music. Belushi and Aykroyd have a wonderful silent chemistry and you can feel the history between the two characters as if they’ve travelled the world since the first blues riff set fire to guitars and souls. Aykroyd is the straight man to the wild spontaneity of Belushi, a terrific duo.
There is a rebellious theme that runs through the film as Jake and Elwood manage to flaunt the law and anger every group they encounter including a country music band, a jilted ex-lover and the Illinois Nazis. It’s almost a representation of the reaction to blues and the path it led to rock n’ roll as the “devils music” when it was condemned by conservatives in America. Jake and Elwood are on a “mission from God” that enables them to pull off the impossible and even cheat death. Insane car chases and over-the-top destruction are all part of the game and the reckless approach the characters take to everything fits in perfectly to the tone of the music that accompanies the film.
“We’re getting the band back together”
Often montaged or used as a way to introduce a series of characters in an ensemble film, the Blues Brothers provided the template that many films that followed would replicate. From ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ to ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ and up to the recent film version of ‘The Muppets’, Hollywood has been “getting the band back together” in films for many years but it was done with finesse in The Blues Brothers.
Landis understood the heart of the film had to be in the music and constructed the film like a musical but took it to a level of crazy, a similar tone to his previous film Animal House. The mix of music, humour and action let the film transcend into to where it cannot be defined by any genre. The car chases are just as thrilling as the musical performances and every element of the film is ingrained with a frenetic energy and the special brand of kooky that Landis brings to his film. The giant sing-along of Jailhouse Rock that accompanies the credits of the film (with even the entire crew singing a part) shows the level of fun and collaboration built into the production. Landis successfully creates a melodic adventure that’s one of the greatest musical films ever made.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies