Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Return of Jake and Elwood

Not long ago we all sat down and watched The Blues Brothers -- the 1980 movie -- on DVD, which I hadn't seen since it was new. Thirty-one years is a fair chunk of time, so it's no wonder I'd forgotten how strange it was. Then again, maybe Princess Leia blowing up an entire hotel, after which Jake and Elwood emerge from under a pile of rubble and nonchalantly wander off; or speeding cops chasing a speeding car through a crowded mall, but missing everyone; or Illinois Nazis driving off a bridge and falling 100 stories or so into Wacker Drive didn't seem so strange to moviegoers of the time, including a 19-year-old version of me.

Of course it's a musical, and musicals only have to have a nodding acquaintance with reality. But in this case the musical format wasn't just a license for characters to break into song and passing strangers to dance tightly choreographed routines, though those things do happen in The Blues Brothers. It's also a license to defy the laws of physics, blow things up, and wreck a lot of cars. Man, it's fun. Even if you're not 19 any more.

Still, it wouldn't be worth a damn without the music, and there's no quibbling about the soundtrack. I liked it when it was new, but not as much as now. Especially Cab Calloway singing "Minnie the Moocher." That alone was worth the price of admission in 1980 and the price of rental in 2011, though I didn't appreciate that in 1980.

According to director John Landis, Cab Calloway wanted to do a disco version of the song for the movie, and was upset when Landis insisted on '30s style. That's probably not as strange as it sounds, since Cab the au courant showman had recorded a number of versions across the decades in various popular-at-the-time styles, but I'm glad Landis had his way.

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