In order to turn a profit, the PG-rated, $20 million Can’t Stop the Music needed to downplay The Village People’s gay disco origins and hopefully attract the same clueless pop/teen record-buying audience that never “got” the group’s homoerotic costuming or the gay subtext of songs like YMCA and Macho Man.
|Chaka Khan has a cameo as a member of the Triple Rock Baptist Church choir|
But despite my initial misgivings, John Landis’ The Blues Brothers ultimately did more than win me over, I actually fell in love with it. This ragtag tale of two musical miscreants on a mission of reform took me back to my childhood; the film striking me as a hip update of those overblown slapstick chase comedies like The Great Race (1965) crossed with those all-star cameo epics like Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Set in contemporary Chicago, the tone of The Blues Brothers and its depiction of Black culture is forever skirting the fine line between veneration and patronizing (Black artists are the supporting cast in a film dedicated to the music they invented). But the overall cleverness and humor of the film allows it to coast on a great deal of good intentions, goodwill, and the exhilaration that comes from The Blues Brothers being a bang-up, enjoyably silly musical comedy.
|Kathleen Freeman as Sister Mary Stigmata (The Penguin)|
|Carrie Fisher as the Mystery Woman|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
That The Blues Brothers is now considered by many to be a classic (and deservedly so, in my opinion) has a lot to do with its age (almost 40 years old, a great many of its biggest fans discovered it on cable TV as kids, citing it the first R-rated movie they ever saw); its financial success (it was the 10th highest grossing film of 1980); and the indelible stamp it’s made on pop culture (linked to the glory days of SNL and remembered fondly for its guest roster of musical greats, even if you don’t care for the film, there’s no denying that something about The Blues Brothers seized the public's imaginations enough for the group to become a household name and pop phenomenon). And like the film it most resembles—the equally unwieldy and intermittently funny car chase comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) —The Blues Brothers is a product of a distinct era (the post-‘70s blockbuster days of pre-CGI excess) and features the final or only screen appearances of several so many entertainment industry greats no longer with us. In that respect, it can’t help but look great from a rear-view perspective.
|Twiggy as The Chic Lady|
|Henry Gibson as the Head Nazi|
|Steve Lawrence as Maury Sline|
|The center member of the Soul Food Chorus is Aretha Franklin's younger sister Carolyn|
|Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) as a waiter at the Chez Paul restaurant|
None of this should detract from the obvious merits of The Blues Brothers, just call attention to talking points and food for thought impossible to ignore when watching a nearly 40-year-old film.
I consider The Blues Brothers to be a classic, but to true fans of blues and R&B, Aykroyd and Belushi are a bit like the Jayne Meadows and Nanette Newman of Soul: if you want to see Aretha Franklin and James Brown on the screen, you have to take Jake and Elwood in the bargain.
|Steven Spielberg as the Cook County Office Clerk|
A poorly-received Blues Brothers sequel--Blues Brothers 2000--was made in 1998, some 16-years after John Belushi's death. Co-written by Aykroyd and Landis, this PG-13 misguided venture brought back several members of the original cast (Aretha Franklin, James, Brown, Steve Lawrence, Kathleen Freeman) but to less entertaining effect. Budgeted at $28 million, it grossed something in the neighborhood of $14 million. I tried watching it, but the introduction of that kid Blues Brother did me in.
|Choreographer Carlton Johnson staging Franklin's "Think" musical number|