Reaction to The Blues Brothers

by Craig Joseph

I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far in life without watching The Blue Brothers.  It’s a massive hole in my movie-viewing history, so I was surprised – upon watching it – at how familiar the whole thing felt.

Perhaps it’s because the film is – on one level – a love letter to the great city of Chicago, my cherished home for ten years.  As Jake and Elwood drive through the Maxwell Street market, eventually dropping in on Aretha Franklin’s soul food establishment, I recall my own days walking down those sidewalks, years after the market had closed, wishing I’d been around to experience the diversity the market played host to.  The film – unexpectedly – allows me to do that.  The brothers’ cop car careens past the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, triggering memories of a much calmer evening when I sat under that sculpture in the rain, soliciting the attentions of a grad school crush.  Murals appear and I scream at the TV: “I rode my bike past that every day!”  John Lee Hooker strums his guitar and I’m back at a dive bar on the South Side, where I first heard him play.  My twenties – a formative season – come rushing back to me – and I realize how the geography of the Second City is tied to important moments, decisions and turning points in my life.

And yet the whole thing is unfamiliar, too, and frankly, a little weird.  It defies easy genre classification.  It’s sort of a buddy film, and not quite a musical, but also feels like 15 or so Saturday Night Live sketches strung together into a wildly coherent whole.  The humor ranges from slapstick to puns to satire and is punctuated with full-on action sequences and no less than three car chases.  And let’s not forget that Carrie Fisher keeps turning up with increasingly deadly weapons of mass destruction.  WTF, indeed.

But, come to think of it, Chicago is weird.  There was a nun at the rectory on my street whose scowl could make the toughest gang member slink back into an alley.  Mountebanks do drive their megaphone-outfitted cars down your street, advertising their latest humbug – and your whole neighborhood does pay a couple bucks do get in.  And I did live two floors up from a guy who collected Third Reich memorabilia – yes, that’s right, an Illinois Nazi.

If it’s possible for a film to do so, The Blues Brothers feels like home to me.  Sweet Home Chicago.

And it feels like a celebration, which, I’m guessing, is why it remains on Tim’s list years later.  A celebration not only of a city, but of great music, of a great comic talent now deceased, of all the things that make movies fun to youngsters – one-liners, lots of cars getting destroyed, singing and dancing, surprise celebrity cameos and the like.  It’s a really wonderful, still timely, piece of entertainment and – in an age where other films seek to pretentiously do more and fall flat on their face – that is not a bad thing at all.

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