Monday, 30 September 2013

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: THE BLUES BROTHERS

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

3. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980, dir. John Landis)

30/09/2013

I originally studied film in order to learn more about how to write for television, thinking that knowing how to write with pictures needs to begin at the source - perhaps, this is just as well, seeing how the big TV series of the last few years, typified by like "Mad Men," "Homeland" and "Breaking Bad," are more cinematic than ever before, fully using its ability to devote time to a story like a couple of hours in a cinema cannot compete with.

One film made me interested in studying films by themselves, and I know that putting the title of it at the top of this article means I cannot build any sort of tension. "The Blues Brothers," at the time, took a small series of sketches from a TV series, "Saturday Night Live," and created a mythology of its characters in a way that TV in the 1980s did not have the time or inclination. It used cinema as an excuse to explode the possibility of the original idea onto a large canvas indeed, evidenced by the sheer number of police cars destroyed in the chase scenes.

Film also meant three-dimensional pictures, from any and all angles, instead of the flat, theatrical TV setup. Elaborate song and dance numbers, flying cars, and a crackle to every scene, it is fair to assume that John Landis was given Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video to direct as a result of "The Blues Brothers" as much as for "An American Werewolf in London".

"The Blues Brothers" is viewed as a classic now, but not upon its release. Its songs, then out of fashion and cheap to buy the rights for, were cut in length, to make the film shorter, and the appearances by James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin were made at a time when their careers were flagging. Two of the Blues Brothers Band members, Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunne, originally part of Booker T and the MGs (Cropper having originally written "Green Onions") had wound up as part of the band on "Saturday Night Live". It is quite fitting that now, if you want to buy a copy of the film, you can only buy the longer, pre-cut version.

The above is probably a case of what goes around, comes around, because the action seems to be taking place on TV, now that we have larger screens, larger episode budgets, and film stars from above and below the line turning to what they see as a greater opportunity. 

I should end by saying that in no way should the above deter the fact that "Blues Brothers 2000", a remake/sequel by the same people, is bloody awful, apart from when they sang "Funky Nassau"...

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