Here we go, film number two in my top seven movies of all time (In no particular order), ‘The Blues Brothers’.
Elwood: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
Jake: “Hit it.”
This is, without a doubt, my favourite comedy of all time, and it just so happens to also be a musical about some of my favourite music, which really is convenient, huh?
The Blues Brothers is the story of two brothers, Elwood and Jake Blues, who are trying to save the orphanage they grew up in by raising $5000 dollars to pay its taxes. In order to do this, they’re putting the band back together for one last gig (This film arguably started that cliché). Hilarity and music ensue, which prove to be a winning combination in this case. Dan Aykroyd, the comic genius who co-wrote and co-starred in the film explained the plot as such, “It’s the story of two hoodlums who want to go straight and get redeemed. But they just don’t have it together, and they keep getting into bigger and bigger trouble.”
The idea of ‘The Blues Brothers’ came from a double act that Belushi and Aykroyd used to perform for their friends and at small venues. It didn’t appear in the public eye, however, until it was used as a sketch on Saturday Night Live, where they performed a version of “Soul Man” as the two over-the-top brothers, Jake and Elwood. This small but popular sketch spawned a star-studded film that is now considered a classic around the world, despite having a reputation for being a flop at the box office.
John Belushi called it a “tribute to black American music”, and it definitely fits that description. It has a host of songs from genres like soul, the blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and latin music. This huge variety of music is all contributed by famous artists and bands, with a lot of them appearing to perform their own pieces as integral characters. The Blues Brothers themselves perform blues and soul hits like “Everybody Needs Somebody”, and “Sweet Home Chicago”. However, occasionally they’ll bring out other famous tunes that you’re bound to recognise. Most of the country music appears in a particular scene that provides laugh after laugh. This film is packed with famous faces from both the music and film industries, including James Brown, Carrie Fisher, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and a whole lot more. It’s this casual insertion of celebrities and living legends that help make the film what it is. Throughout it, there’s this sense that all the crazy events and ridiculous characters are completely normal things to happen in everyday life. No one reacts to these incredible circumstances at all; it’s all background noise to them.
Most scenes in this film provide at least one snicker and others will make you cry with laughter (at least I do, anyway). But the thing is, even though all the comedy is outrageous, bordering on the surreal; the characters react to everything with complete dead-pan expressions. So it’s quite often difficult to tell whether to laugh or not at points, since the characters don’t react to the situations at all. I’ll say this though, when I first watched it I didn’t laugh a lot, I just loved the music and the characters. However, once I saw it for the second time it got a whole lot funnier, and every time after that it’s only increased in its hilarity and genius.
This movie has become ingrained within popular culture, with many clichés and tropes having been created in these 148 minutes (extended) of pure comedy gold. And I can guarantee that if you haven’t seen it, when you do watch it you’ll recognise a lot of scenes just from the parodies and references that other shows and films have made towards it. Any fans of the kids show ‘Drake and Josh’ or ‘Family Guy’ will, without a doubt, be able to recall scenes about the film. (On a side note, the episode of ‘Drake and Josh’ when they performed in a talent show as a Blues Brothers tribute band is still the best tribute I’ve seen).
So yeah, if you like feel-good music, great comedy, and action-packed car chases, you’ll love this film. If you don’t quite get it on the first viewing (like I didn’t), watch it again and it’ll be even better than the first time. If you like it then it’s also worth picking up “The Definitive Blues Brothers Collection” CD, it’s a great album of their live music.