Owing to its combination of ‘blues’ (in a very broad sense) music and classic SNL comedians The Blues Brothers has long been a favourite movie of mine, but, until I slid the recently released Blu-ray edition into my PS3, I hadn’t realised there was an extended cut.
Now I have watched the extended cut… well… it is far from essential compared to the original but, as a fan, it is great simply because most of the extended scenes are simply the full versions of songs shortened for the theatrical release.
The movie itself though, whether standard or extended, remains something very special.
The late 70s Saturday Night Live team went on to make quite a few movies in the 1980s with varying success, in fact even Dan Aykroyd (aka Elwood Blues) was in a few of the not so good ones himself, but with The Blues Brothers this team seem to have ridden the razor’s edge of movie making to perfection.
As films go both musicals and comedies seem, to an outsider to the movie-making world, the hardest to pitch right, so combining the two surely is extra hard, but that’s what Aykroyd, John Landis and co did.
While the opening seems to hint that this is the real world, it soon becomes clear, as the Blues Brothers visit their childhood residence and “The Penguin”, that we are actually in a fantasy version of Illinois and its from the set up here that the whole film is allowed to go on its merry way with many surreal and absurd twists without batting an eye lid.
As the leads Aykroyd and John Belushi combine a perfect sense of this absurdism with great cartoon like characters to drive the story ever onwards as they go about their “mission from God” and, as well as great comic performances, their musical side really shines as well, more than I had expected, if I’m totally honest, when I first saw the film.
Many of the rest of the cast are bit part performances from top-level blues, soul and jazz musicians with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway all providing highlights in this regard.
Its here that, for a fan of the films music, the extended cut comes into its own as we see extended versions of not only their songs but also John Lee Hooker’s ‘busking’ performance (amongst others) that really do make it something extra special for the music lovers.
As the movie heads towards its climax the absurdism ramps up further and the film, in its final third, becomes a thing of bizarre beauty that only the USA could produce, and probably only at the time this was made.
So we get a big performance from the band before the car chase to end all car chases heightened by comic artifice to such a degree that, even in this world, it teeters on the precipice of the extreme but never quite goes over the edge.
This leaves the film on a real high that, while structurally it is a little messy, is no doubt a classic comedy and a classic musical all in one and certainly one of the best products of the SNL team of the era, if not ever.
So, as well as the extended edition, there are a couple of other extra bits on the Blu-ray.
First up is an hour long series of talking heads telling stories about the making of the movie – this may sound like a pretty dry thing but the talking heads are all people with genuinely interesting things to say who were involved in the film.
It also doesn’t seem to fall into the trap of many talking heads extras of people just saying how good each other are and actually talks about the production of the movie in entertaining terms.
The second, shorter, talking heads style doc about the movie, Transposing The Music, is something of a waste of time as it doesn’t really add much more to its longer brother, but seems to be a slightly more recent production and has a few different voices.
The final extra is a short tribute to John Belushi, focusing on his work on The Blues Brothers. While nothing particularly deep or enthralling at 9 minutes it is interesting to hear stories about this man who left such a mark from his short career.