Pick of the Week: The Blues Brothers (1980)
As a native Chicagoan, I’ve felt a sense of ownership towards two films, as have other Second City kids. One is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the other is The Blues Brothers. Two wildly different films involving fast cars and avoiding the authorities. One was sweet and coming-of-age, the other was edgy and wildly raucous.
I mention the Windy City because the humor that comes out of this film is so quintessentially Chicago. Of course, actor John Belushi was born and raised in Chicago, and Dan Aykroyd spent quite a bit of type there. Though Belushi and Aykroyd were associated with New York and Saturday Night Live by the late 70s, the type of humor displayed in this film is completely Second City, improv included.
The Blues Brothers is a very offbeat film. There’s a lot of car chases, swearing, law-breaking, and overall crudeness in the movie, yet it still manages to be endearing. The musical numbers in the film, a huge love letter to R&B, come off as fresh and exciting, despite their age. Especially when Curtis, played by the legendary Cab Calloway, dons his zoot suit one last time for a performance of Minnie the Moocher. Only in Chicago can such edgy and hot music be considered sweet and nostalgic.
Probably of all the films that director John Landis has done, The Blues Brothers is his most mainstream. All his other successes, from An American Werewolf in London to The Three Amigos, are genre cult pictures. He belongs to a certain group of geek culture filmmakers inspired by the works of Forrest J Akerman (other directors include Joe Dante, Ray Harryhausen, Frank Oz, Peter Jackson, and in his early years, Steven Spielberg). Here, John Landis directs an SNL act, and that requires abandoning the LA film studio mindset. Despite this, he still manages to slip in a few Hollywood trademarks including “See You Next Wednesday” and cameos by Paul Reubens and Steven Spielberg.
The Blues Brothers was, and will probably forever be, the most successful SNL spin-off flick (alongside Wayne’s World) due to the energy of Belushi and Aykroyd. It’s also, hands down, one of the funniest, most explosive films ever. Its cult-like status has created a certain sense of nostalgia for the 1980s, where parties were rampant and we didn’t worry as much. It’s a dirty, elbow grease, hard-boiled, overindulgent film, but that just makes it all the more fascinating.