By Tim Barlow
Blues Brothers is a childhood movie of mine, and (like Robin Hood) there was a period where I watched a dubbed to VHS version of it every single day. If I had to guess, this was probably around the age of Kindergarten or 1st Grade, so a little later in life than my time spent with the Disney classic, but regardless of less unstructured time on my hands, as soon as school was over, Blues Brothers would be there waiting for me when I got home. I loved it. But in hindsight, Blues Brothers seems like a strange movie for a Kindergartner to like that much. I’m not sure I really understood it, and a good amount probably flew right over my head. Although, but in a completely different way, I’m not totally sure I get it now, either. And maybe that’s a good thing?
Watching it for the first time in over 20 years brought back a lot of memories. Scenes long-since forgotten coming right back to me. Catchy songs where I still knew every word. Patiently waiting for one-liners I knew would come eventually: “Did ya get my Cheez Whiz, boy?” But it also found me taking a deeper look at what was actually happening.
In terms of comedic styling, Blues Brothers freely blends styles, often within the same scene. Jake and Elwood Blues leading a police chase crashing through the inside of a suburban shopping mall (absurd) while making deadpan comments about the various stores and products (dry). Jake and Elwood exchanging glances as they walk past a horrible statue of Jesus on the cross (dark), and then the next moment being slapped around by a nun with a ruler, eventually leading to Jake falling down the stairs (slapstick, and then physical). And perhaps the most genius part of it all is that none of these moments seem to acknowledge or depend on each other. There’s no wink, there’s no gesture to the audience, a bit happens and then it moves on.
Then there is the matter of the music and dancing. All of which is executed flawlessly and genuinely. Everything else in this movie, ranging from the police force to “Illinois Nazis”, are in this movie’s comedic crosshairs, except for the music. The music is treated with reverence. There are great songs from the Blues Brothers themselves. Fantastic guest performances from the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles and a wonderful soundtrack running behind any remaining moments. Looking at this now, it’s clear that the music was done out of a place of love.
The way these two pillars, the comedy, which in one form or another is almost constant, interacts, almost earnestly, with the music which is genuinely performed and thoughtfully curated, gives me the distinct impression of originality. Not a musical. Not a straightforward comedy. And maybe that’s part of why I loved it as a kid. Too young to bother asking why I liked something, or what genre it really was, or about the crazy plot or ridiculous car crashes, young enough to just sit back and watch a movie that had it all: dance sequences in city streets, buildings being blown up, and a nun hitting men wearing dark suits and sunglasses. And this originality and resistance to being pinned down, this blend of sincerity and irreverence feels current, despite being almost 35 years old, leaving me with the lasting impression that time has been surprisingly kind to this classic movie from my childhood.