A blues music film rant…

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s arthropod is the very cute and colourful Dogbane Leaf Beetle – look, there, I can see one crawling around your collar as you read this. (DB)

Here is a rehashed piece from the dark days when I was first having a go at blogging on something called Myspace – it is a sort of ‘film review’ of something I had just seen on the TV:

I love blues music.
I always have. I think it is one of the most powerful and emotionally charged art forms there is. Oh, and by the way, I’m not talking about the jazzy ‘classic’ blues of Bessie Smith, or the ‘jazz-blues’ of Billie Holiday, that’s all a bit too ‘nice’ and decorative for me – I’m talking about the real stuff – people like Eddie ‘Son’ House, Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and of course many many others.
There really haven’t been any good movies about the blues; this is surprising as it is the foundation for most of our Western popular music of the last century. One reason, I think, is that although there would be no problem finding suitable actors to play the men and women of the blues (imagine Morgan Freeman cast as Son House, sitting there, with a battered old National resonator guitar on his knee and a glass of whiskey in his hand, he’d look great!) no, the problem would be how to place the music in the film.
As all the old blues singers had such individual voices, and ways of singing, no matter how good an actor you are it would be impossible to successfully ‘impersonate’ them. The alternative would be to include the original scratchy old recordings into the film soundtrack, but that would be aesthetically clumsy and would probably be unacceptable to your average audience.
There was a film about the blues on TV the other night which showed a bit of promise – ‘Crossroads‘ (1986); it was quite watchable and was suitably unsentimental and fairly gritty, but it really nose-dived at the end where the young white wannabe ‘bluesman’ had to engage in a guitar duel with the the Devil. The Devil comes on stage with his guitar and explodes into an amazing and glittering stream of distorted spectacular runs, bends, and screaming whammy bar dive-bombs – Phew!… It was terrific stuff… but, it certainly wasn’t blues.
How will our young hero defeat the flashy Prince of Darkness? Will he step back from all this clever technique, frothiness, and showing off, and play something devastatingly simple, and moving, something imbued with integrity, with the true feeling of the blues, perhaps in the style of B B King, or Otis Rush, or Hubert Sumlin?…
No… He resorts to playing more of the same flashy stuff – even dragging in an ultra high-speed version of a classical piece he learned at college!… He does win of course, but what a cop-out! And, the piece he played – it had to be a piece of bloody Mozart didn’t it!? Doh!…
Hey, what’s that sound I hear in the background?… Oh, it’s all those bluesmen and women turning in their graves…

Here’s a lovely bit of blues used in a film; it’s from Ghost World (2001)
Skip James: Devil Got my Woman.




About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in art, blues, brain, cool, Film, Grumpiness, guitars, history, information, observations, thinking, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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