Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Blues Brothers Movie/The Blues Brothers Part 2

Blues Brothers Movie Poster

Mrs. Tarantino: Are you the police?
Elwood: No, ma'am. We're musicians.

Part 1 Of A Series Of 4
The Blues Brothers:

The story of Blues Brothers early days entertained us on our last stop on Route 66 in Chicago, Illinois. Today we move forward in the story of the group and look at the famous 1980 film and take a look at that car chase I mentioned in our last post.

In early 1979, a second John Landis film with John Belushi, 1941, was closing production. Belushi was ready for a new project, as he was also in his last season with Saturday Night Live. Big stars can get pet projects made and Belushi was given a green light to begin producing a movie based on the characters.

John Belushi wanted to work with John Landis again. Aykroyd had written a screenplay and gave it to Landis. Akroyd had never written a screenplay before and it was excessive by Hollywood's standards. It was over 300 pages long, when most scripts are closer to 120 pages. It was typical of the excess involved with the production.

John Landis said that the script was too long. He began chopping away, bringing it down to a reasonable length. Several scenes of back story were removed. Finally Landis had a script of manageable size to work with.Wikipedia summarizes the plot:
The story is a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake and his brother Elwood, who take on "a mission from God" to save from foreclosure the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage's property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a destructive "mystery woman", Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

The concept of the film was unusual and many involved weren't sure if they were making a musical, a comedy, or a car chase movie. It was all of those things. In the course of rounding up the band members, audiences are treated to several Blues Brothers songs as well as cameo performances by James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker.

As much as this movie was about music at seemed to be about the car chase. As parody artists, Landis, Akroyd and Belushi carried the parody of the chase to scene over the top. Again, excess.

The chase begins when Elwood is pulled over after running a yellow light, the police finds he has a suspended license and he tries to drive away and lose them, the follow and chaos ensues. For most of the movie the Brothers were being chased. The car chase scenes were remarkably impressive in scale with a lot of vehicles involved in imaginative crashes.

The Bluesmobile was the non-human co-star of the movie. It was a 1973 Dodge Monaco, Actually it was 13 of them, purchased from the LAPD at auction. They were repainted to look like the same beat up Mount Prospect police car and they were each individually customized for performance. Some were modified for speed and others for cornering or jumping. One was even rigged to fall apart on command.

A closed mall was rented and raced through with much destruction in at the beginning of their ever expanding epic chase.

Destroyed mall
Chasing Through The Mall (Wikipedia)

Illinois Nazis begin chasing the Blues Brothers later in the movie. In a memorable scene the Nazi leader's Pinto station wagon went of the edge of a very high overpass that was under construction. To shoot the scene a Pinto station wagon was filmed as fell after being dropped from a helicopter from over 100 feet in the air. This  required special clearance from the FAA.

Chicago and places in the greater area were mentioned and prominently featured in the movie. Akroyd commented in an interview that the city was one of the main characters of the film. It was the largest production in the cities history with 3.5 million being spent for the city to cordon of large chunks of downtown on Sundays during the summer of 1979. The result were car chase scenes the downtown Chicago with two 100+mph runs under the El train and an impressive number of destroyed police cars.

Production began to run over budget and behind schedule almost from the beginning. The budget was 17.5 million dollars, but when it was done 27.5 million had been spent. Obviously the cost of all of those cars and permits for road closures and FAA clearance were going to add up. Not to mention the amount of crew involved. The star blues musicians that made cameos also had expenses and record label clearances that required entertainment lawyers and contracts.

The biggest expense, not so much directly, but indirectly came from 1970's Hollywood culture and its obsession with cocaine. During the filming of The Blues Brothers it was everywhere, They had set up a bar for the cast to use during filming and reportedly the bartenders could get anything needed in the way of intoxicants and cocaine was the drug of choice. The white powder was even included in concealed lines in the films budget.

A Costly Kick (Flickr User Valerie Everett/CC)
Belushi in particular was quite strung out through the filming, His binges would often cause delays , further driving up the expenses on the production. He was becoming so unreliable that Landis would beg visitors to the set not to share any drugs with Belushi. The trouble was Belushi was in many ways one of the biggest stars in the late 1970's drug culture and everyone wanted to be able to brag that they had "turned on" Belushi. Near the end of the filming an intervention by Aykroyd and Belushi's wife was held and Belushi cleaned up enough to finish production.

Troubles kept coming though, Just before they were to film their big concert scene at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, John fell off a skateboard seriously injuring his knee. That was a big problem since his character danced intensely and even did cartwheels as part of his act. One of Los Angeles top orthopedic surgeons was called in and his leg was numbed up enough to film the scene as intended,

Filming was finally over. but still the film had challenges. it was long. It clocked in at 2 and a half hours with an intermission. After viewing an initial screening, the Universal executive Lew Wasserman who had approved the project demanded the film be shortened. With Wasserman already furious at the production delays and extensive budget over runs, there was no argument.

Racism reared it's ugly head when Ted Mann, owner of Mann Theaters, the largest theater chain in the Western United States decided that he would only show the film in theaters in black dominated areas, Mann had concerns that Belushi might be dropping in popularity as Belushi's last film 1941 was not tremendously successful. His also had the racist reasoning that whites would not be drawn to a film featuring aging black musicians and he was concerned that blacks would drive in to white neighborhoods to see the film if it was shown there.

History shows that Mann was acting like a moron. The Blues Brothers was released in 594 theaters on June 20, 1980. It took second in box office gross that week, being beat only by the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. At the end of the year it was the 10th most successful film of 1980. Grossing over 150 millions dollars in domestic and international releases it is the 9th highest grossing musical and the 10th highest grossing comedy of all time.  Mann was quite wrong about the films demand.

Other facts about the film include that it was the first American film do better overseas than in the United States. Maybe that had something to do with Mann's obstructive distribution? There have been a lot films based on Saturday Night Live sketches over the years. The Blues Brothers is the second most successful one, only Wayne's World did better,

A record at the time, 103 cars were destroyed making thew movie.  The current record is 300 cars used up in The Matrix Reloaded. Ray Ban glasses experienced a huge surge in sales that they attribute to the the success of the film.

To this day the film is still popular. Frequently shown on syndicated TV, it is also a popular midnight movie cult film. In one theater in Australia fans act out scenes from the film at its showings a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. At Halloween, Blues Brothers costumes are a perennial favorite.

Halloween Party Goers
The Blues Brothers Are Frequent Halloween Party Guests  (Flickr User Isaac Wedin/CC)
The chase scenes in the movie have become a cliche for excess in movie destruction. YouTube reveals fan recreations in Lego and and video gaming formats.

After the success of film and it's soundtrack, the group hit the road in a promotional tour. This led to another Universal Amphitheater concert that would be released under the title Made In America. The track Who's Making Love from that album would peak at number 39 in the charts.

Belushi took some down time while his wife collaborated with family friend Tino Insana to write the book Blues Brothers Private, which expanded upon the story of the the Blues brothers as depicted in the movie.

A greatest hits record was released in 1981 with hits from their first three albums. It should have been a time to regroup and begin a second (or third) stage to the bands career. It was a time when some great changes were about to occur.

Sadly, those changes were not to come from creative achievement. On .March 5, 1982 John Belushi finally partied too hard. He was found dead from an overdosing on speedballs, a lethal combination of heroin and cocaine.

Jake Blues was no more. The story of the Blues Brothers did not end there, however. It continued on and that will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Playlist Additions

The obvious addition here is the Soundtrack to the film. It was the first album the duo recorded in the studio and for some reason it did not do as well their live albums, The cameos are included and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.  As I considered video playlist additions I realized that many songs in the film were not included in the soundtrack album. Also, the soundtrack album does not match the order in which the songs appeared in the movie. In the video playlist I used the musical numbers from the film in order.

Album: The Blues Brothers Soundtrack Various Artists

  • She Caught The Katy The Blues Brothers 4:10
  • Peter Gunn Theme The Blues Brothers 3:4
  • Gimme Some Lovin' The Blues Brothers 3:08
  • Shake A Tail Feather Ray Charles 2:51
  • Everybody Needs Somebody To Love The Blues Brothers 3:22
  • The Old Landmark James Brown 2:59
  • Think Aretha Franklin 3:17
  • Theme From Rawhide The Blues Brothers 2:39
  • Minnie The Moocher Cab Calloway 3:24
  • Sweet Home Chicago The Blues Brothers 7:51
  • Jailhouse Rock The Blues Brothers 3:20

Signing Off and Coming Attractions

We have not finished the story of the Blues Brothers and Chicago continues to be a bottomless vein of musical lore. Luckily we have been putting some miles in on the other routes. Speaking of putting on some miles, do you have a favorite line or chase scene from the movie? I know that "We're on a mission from God" has been heard many times in my life,

Next Week: Its back to Highway 101 in California, where we approach the end of our visit to Old Town San Diego
Two Weeks: A drive North on Interstate 95 in Florida brings us to Vero Beach and a major stop on the Spring Training trail.
Three Weeks: Our Route 66 trip remains stalled in Chicago, Illinois where we will see what happened to the Blues Brothers after the death of John Belushi.

Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/1012 Tracks/303 Videos/41 Posts
Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/614 Tracks/319 Videos/29 Posts
Interstate 95: 123 Miles/1 State/87 Tracks/139 Videos/14 Posts

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