Elwood Blues:
It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago.
We've got a full tank of gas,
half a pack of cigarettes,
It's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.

Jake Blues:
Hit it.


Introduction:

I am deeply shocked and appalled by the fact that there hadn't been a proper writeup on The Blues Brothers yet - It is probably one of the funniest feel-good movies ever made, with some of the greatest music and a few of the greatest car chases in the history of film making.

But the Blues Brothers aren't just a film. They are a band. Actually, they are the band that revitalized the musical genre of Blues - at first as a mere coincidence, and later with more and more determination.

So here I sit (when I should really be writing essays for my course work) and I am watching the Blues Brothers movies. I'm listening to the soundtracks. Watching the "making of" footage on the DVDs. Doing a writeup and dreaming about how great it was when my friends and I would sit hours on end, drinking beer and watching the Blues Brothers.

I have an idea that this will be my longest writeup ever (added later: I was right) but bear with me - these guys are worth it!

If you haven't seen the movies or heard the music - do something about it!


The Band:

The Blues brothers began in 1976 more or less as a joke by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as a gag for Saturday Night Live. They dressed up in suits and dark sunglasses and had the Saturday Night Live Band play up some of them "good 'ole" Blues licks.

One night, when Aykroyd and Belushi were on the plane together, they amused themselves by making up two completely fictional characters, Jake and Elwood Blues. These characters started evolving, and The Blues Brothers were born.

The gag was massively popular, and at some point in 1979, Aykroyd and Belushi were invited to start doing warm-up acts for other Jazz and Blues artists.

Dan Aykroyd recalls; "I was making more money than the prime minister of Canada" while working at the 505 club, before he started doing the Blues Brothers. However, he had always been a Blues and Soul fanatic, and decided that he might be able to do something for his favorite music genre.

During this time (1978), they released an album, Briefcase full of Blues. The LP sold 3,500,000 copies - not bad for something starting as a gag!

When Aykroyd decided he wanted to put a band together, he was afraid the whole project would not be taken seriously. This was why he strove to get the cream of the crop blues and jazz artists to join the group

Many hard-core blues fans hated the Blues Brothers for dragging their music into the mainstream, and at the same time (inevitably, really) removing part of its soul. Aykroyd, on the other hand, promises this was not his intention: "I love Blues - and I believe the fact that we have gotten millions of people to like blues again proves that the Blues Brothers have been a good thing"

In 1982, John Belushi died from a drug overdose, seemingly killing off the dream of a continued Blues Brothers. In 1988, however, several of the original members reformed, reviving the group. They even released a new album in 1992, featuring guest appearances of Dan Ayk..sorry.. Elwood Blues.

The Original Lineup:

The Music:

The Blues Brothers have been described as Blues with a Memphis rhythm section with a New York horn section - This mixture of rural electric blues and urban brass was actually quite a phenomenon.

The Discography

  • 1978 - Briefcase full of Blues
  • 1980 - The Blues Brothers (OST)
  • 1980 - Made in America (Live)
  • 1981 - The Best of Blues Brothers
  • 1992 - Red, White and Blues
  • 1993 - Blues Brothers (Highlights)
  • 1995 - Montreux Live!
  • 1997 - Live from the house of Blues Brothers and Friends.

 


"Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of the blues brothers has been approved"
-from Blues Brothers (1980)


Blues Brothers - the first movie

The original Blues Brothers movie was released in 1980, and the production cost a formidable amount of money. Directed by John Landis (Schlock, Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, Spies Like Us and The Twilight Zone: The Movie)

This movie was written by Dan Aykroyd, who never had even seen a film script before. Aykroyd ended up writing a 324 page script (more than double length of a "normal" film script) which John Landis later edited down to a manageable size. The legend has it that Aykroyd gave the script to Landis in the covers of the Valley yellow pages to take the edge off the fact that he had overshot his writing limit by roughly a hundred pages.

Director John Landis' view of the movie sums things up quite nicely: "It's always frustrated me that the movie is not seen as a musical. The movie has more music than musicals". it is very notable that they have spent considerable time choosing the music to go in the movie. As Aykroyd recalls on the "making of.."; "We picked the songs because they seemed to fit, and songs we liked... That's how easy it was"

The movie is filled with insane car chases, many of which go straight through downtown Chicago - during several days of the shoot, they had to shut down entire mile-long stretches of road - tens of city blocks - to be able to shoot the movie safely. In one of the car chases, they find an abandoned mall (how often do you "find" an abandoned mall?). The shopping mall they dove though was the Dixie Square Mall on the far south side of the city. It was about to be closed anyway, so the owners let them wreck it. (The building was never torn down and it still stands today, but it has been overrun by a pack of stray dogs). They filled the parking lot with brand new(!) cars, they filled the mall with goods, and then they did a full week of shooting stunt footage of police cars racing through the mall - a completely immortal sequence.

Plot:

Jake and Elwood's old church will be demolished unless they manage to cough up $ 5000. They decide to put The Band back together, to make the money. Now they are on a mission from god...

Needless to say, getting the band back together involves loads of funny episodes and car chases, destroying a large part of Chicago in the process. Of course they manage to raise the money - but how :)

Starring:


"Walk away now, and you walk away
from your crafts, your skills, your vocations.
Leaving the next generation with nothing but
recycled digitally sampled techno grooves.
Quasi-synth rhythm, pseudo-songs of violence laden gangster rap.
Acid-popping simpering, suckering, soulless slush."

- from Blues Brothers (2000)


Blues Brothers 2000

After John Belushi died in 1982, the whole Blues Brothers project died. What would the Blues Brothers be without (the one and only...) Jake Blues? 15 years after the original movie, however, Dan Aykroyd decided to give it another shot. Scripts were written, people were cast, and in 1997, the filming began. (The movie was launched in 1998, despite its name)

In many ways, BB2000 fumbled. Personally, I believe it got too goofy, too silly. As a matter of fact, the first time I watched it on DVD, I turned it off half way through and watched the original 1980 version instead. I really shouldn't have done that....

Okay, so the plot isn't all that great (Elwood becomes the mentor of a 10-year-old kid and decides to get the band together - in other words, the true motivation lacks. No mission from God this time...), and although it is cool to see 50 police cars crash into each other, I must admit I lost interest after about 29 police cars.

There is a brilliant reason to watch the movie, though..

The final challenge for the Blues Brothers in this movie, is a "Battle of the Bands"... The Blues Brothers "battle" against a sorry-ass little band from Louisiana. Except they are not so sorry-assed after all.

As a matter of fact, I think nobody needs to review Blues Brothers 2000 - the theater trailer sums it all up:

It's not the hats...

It's not the suits...

It's not the glasses...

It's the music....

And what else could it possibly be, when Blues Brothers is starring all of the following:


"Stay away from drugs, gangs,
cyberporn on the Internet,
and you could be president of the United States one day"
- from Blues Brothers (2000)


Special thanks to: Oolong and BrooksMarlin for help and additions

-30-

Following the famous "It's 106 miles to Chicago" line, Jake and Elwood Blues eventually make it to the Loop, followed by what appears to be every single police car in the city of Chicago ("The use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers has been approved").

A little bit of creative driving ensures that every single one of those police cars crashes, and if I'm not mistaken, establishes a record for the largest number of automobiles crashed in a single movie which still stands today. The Chicago Police Department was so irate that for the next couple of decades, they refused to allow their cars to be used in any movies, anywhere, for any reason.

The latest release of the video for this movie has contemporary interviews of the actors involved, and one of them argues that the car crashes are part of the musical, that there's a real music, a Harmony of the Tires if you will, in all these car crashes. It's true. But you won't believe it unless you've seen it for yourself.

I realized this was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen when I was watching my new copy (I'd always watched my dad's copy before) and found myself laughing before the jokes even happened.

Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi) has just been released from prison on good behavior. His brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) forces him to visit "The Penguin," a nun who raised them. She tells them that the orphanage is going to be sold because the church doesn't want to keep it badly enough to pay the property tax. The brothers want to help, but Penguin refuses to take stolen money.

At the urging of Cab Calloway (playing an older man who taught them music at the orphanage), they go to a church where James Brown is the head preacher and Chaka Khan leads the choir. Jake is hit by a beam of light coming through the ceiling and gets the idea that they can raise the money for the orphanage by putting their band back together. Hence Elwood's recurring line, "We're on a mission from God."

Of course, they do more illegal things in trying to earn money with the band than they would have if they'd simply stolen the money. Along the way they piss off a lot of people, from the cops they lead on a high-speed chase through a shopping mall (incidentally, they really did drive through that mall; it was about to be torn down anyway) to the entire Illinois Nazi party.

Other cameos include Aretha Franklin as the wife of one band member, John Lee Hooker as a street performer, and Ray Charles as the owner of a music store. And of course, Carrie Fisher as Jake's ex-fiancee who's trying to kill them.

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