Tag Archives: musical

Shock Treatment

Shock Treatment blu-rayFor a long time, Shock Treatment, Richard O’Brien’s follow-up to cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a mysterious footnote in cinema history relegated to second-hand VHS or an occasional obscure late night TV showing.

Now though, thanks to Arrow Video, it’s been released in fully restored high-definition from as part of a Blu-ray collectors pack along with the soundtrack CD and the usual other bits and bobs.

The film is, in some ways, a direct sequel to Rocky Horror, continuing the story of the now married Brad and Janet Majors (sadly not Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon but Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper, of Suspiria fame).

Set in the studios of DTV, an apparent Black Mirror-ish all-encompassing reality TV network (long before the phrase came to mean anything) in their hometown of Denton, it echoes its forebear in many ways.

Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper

Brad (DeYoung) and Janet (Harper)

Firstly it has the feel of a series of loosely connected vignettes, secondly the antagonists are a brother and sister/incestuous lover duo played with creepily surreal brilliance by O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (with more than a hint of Riff Raff and Magenta), thirdly it features a selection of suitably rock ‘n’ roll songs to string it all together.

The setting is also very suggestive of ‘The Frankenstein Place’ from the original, with the feeling of being a kind of separate realm to Brad and Janet’s usual reality, but the transition to it is less well handled so we don’t get such a clearly defined other space that it really feels like the film needs to make sense.

Along with this we get some great production design that makes it feel like we are really trapped in a low-budget local TV network along with Brad and Janet, while the selection of cast members is one to behold; from Barry Humphries as a kind Frank like ringleader, to a very young pre-Young Ones Rik Mayal and Ruby Wax to several recurring performers from Rocky Horror which help tie things together, including Charles Gray and ‘Little’ Nell Campbell.

Shock Treatment cast

Mayal, Quinn, Campbell and O’Brien

Not only are some of the cast recurring but the entire main production team also returns, helping the at least stylistic similarities.

While it’s all rather ‘bonkers fun’ (to quote my immediate reaction on Facebook) it’s falls down when compared to its predecessor in a couple of crucial ways.

First is that it lacks a central figure, like Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter, to really lead us through the vignettes. Janet is arguably the lead here but never quite grabs the screen enough, while Humphries’ vampiric TV host Bert Schnick fills the physical space but not the thematic one, though there are hints that in a different world he might have.

Second is that it doesn’t have such a strong over arching message though it feels likes its trying to reach for one. Rocky Horror struck such a chord with its anthemic cry of ‘Don’t dream it, be it!’ while Shock Treatment feels more like a warning against the cult of celebrity and reality TV. In that it is impressively prescient, but it just never quite gets it across in the way you feel it wants to.

Barry Humphries and Richard O'Brien

Humphries and O’Brien

So, while its obvious why Shock Treatment hasn’t found a place in the pop culture pantheon that its predecessor did, even O’Brien admits it’s a mess, it remains more than the footnote it had been relegated to and if it’s anything like Rocky Horror its appeal will grown with familiarity.

 

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver posterFrom the moment Edgar Wright’s latest film Baby Driver begins with a full volume blast of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as we focus on Ansel Elgort’s ‘Baby’ sat in a high-powered car waiting for a heist to take place while rocking out to the sounds of his iPod it’s clear this isn’t going to be a normal crime thriller.

What this instantly sets up is something that has become a hallmark of Wright’s work, just taken to a new level, of combining two somewhat improbable genres at once. So, following the romcom/horror of Shaun Of The Dead, the teen movie/comic book movie of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World we get a musical comedy crime thriller.

A fairly simple plot device sets this up and is very well handled through the tale of Baby’s involvement with a criminal gang and his attempt to remove himself from this life.

While the part of Baby is fairly stoic Elgort brings a great presence and depth to his role and, as he in virtually every shot of the film, delivers a very impressive performance.

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort as Baby

Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx meanwhile all look to be having a great time letting their villainous sides out and pitching it with a great deal of humour but really turning up the threat when needed (Foxx and Hamm switch to a scary level of intensity very impressively).

Like Wright’s other work though the director’s style really is the co-star as the camera flies and spins around to create some of the best driving sequences I’ve seen in along that never lose the point of the story or get lost in cgi and puts the increasingly overblown Fast & Furious movies to shame with its structural simplicity.

Along with this of course Wright adds a matching level of camera movement and action to the most mundane of tasks like making breakfast or buying coffee, making the whole film move seamlessly regardless of what’s going on and even the romantic sub-plot doesn’t feel forced.

Kevin Spacey and the gang in Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey and the gang

What all this does is create a film that takes Wright away from the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ much of his reputation is based on, and show he is more than capable of translating his style into a more action centric movie Hollywood prefers without losing the thing that makes his films what they are, leaving us with one of the most entertaining films I remember in sometime with a soundtrack to rival any in recent memory.

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La La Land

La La Land posterGoing into a film that has just been nominated for a record equalling 14 academy awards sets up a certain expectation. But, along with a huge amount of positive hype there have been some opposers to La La Land, including stories of whole groups walking out of screenings.

Well, even as the strains to the spectacular opening number died away I was pretty sure what side I would fall on. The film sets its stall here as we enter Los Angeles into that most LA of things, a vast freeway traffic jam with a cacophony of car horns, engines and myriad radio stations before it coalesces into a spectacular song and dance number, including a jazz band in the back of a truck.

This serves the purpose of showing us that, while this looks like the real world, we are in the same kind of fantasy land that gave us the likes of Singin’ In The Rain and other classic ‘golden era’ Hollywood musicals, and so it goes from there.

The story at first looks like some thing fairly well trodden and hackneyed as we meet Emma Stone’s aspiring actress/current barista Mia and Ryan Gosling’s down at heel jazz pianist Sebastian, with a nice Pulp Fiction-esque bit of cinematic trickery.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

The pair of course meet and, through a few cracking song and dance numbers, become romantically involved and it looks like we are heading for the happily ever after.

Where the film really wins in this regard though is that at any moment that it seems it’s all going to go ‘a bit too hollywood’ and saccharine it subverts expectations just enough but without derailing its overall upbeat feel.

Of course without the music a musical would be somewhat lost and what La La Land does is ingenious. It bases its musical ventures largely around Sebastian’s love of jazz leading to numbers that are great for spontaneous fantasy dancing, alongside more diegetic moments that help the balance of fantasy and reality.

La La Land

Mia and her housemates head out on the town

Despite this the singing and dancing, while well handled, isn’t the film’s highlight. Though both Stone and Gosling acquit themselves fairly well, particularly during emir courtship dance in the Hollywood Hills, it’s fair to say neither are Gene Kelly or Debbie Reynolds level – though it knows this enough to acknowledge its historical references.

Throughout it feels that the most accomplished dancer in La La Land is the camera as it glides and swoops through lengthy shots and takes both during the musical numbers and otherwise, finding a good balance between over showy camera work and giving the actors a chance to, well, act (often a rarity in mainstream films).

With a story about the downtrodden seeking success and fame in the entertainment industry La La Land is a movie custom-made for Hollywood to love and its classic representation of the American dream, with a slight twist, is refreshing in a world where that dream feels increasingly like it’s been hijacked for nefarious purposes.

John Legend and Ryan Gosling

John Legend and Ryan Gosling

It also manages to attain a feeling of joy I don’t remember seeing in a cinema in this way in a long time and does so in a way that feels like it has some real heart, as well as a point to make about artistic compromise and integrity, all while being startlingly uncynical without a bad bone in its body, making for a wonderful two hours of much-needed escapism.

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Channel Islands Pride Movie Nights – 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret

Fermain Valley cinema

The Fermain Valley cinema

Following the previous Saturday’s parade through St. Peter port, Channel Islands Pride week continued in Guernsey as Liberate staged a pair of film screenings of two rather different movies that’s fall under the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ banner, 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret, at The Fermain Valley Hotel’s small but well appointment private cinema (an ideal location for these kind of events).

The two films fall into very different areas of the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ canon but, in their own ways both tackle a host of issues while also having a far broader appeal than that specific cinematic niche may often thought to have.

52 Tuesdays is an Australian indie drama from director/co-writer Sophie Hyde, that tells the story of a teenage girl (Billie, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) going through many of the usual coming of age rigmarole seen elsewhere with the addition of her mother (James, formerly Jane, played by Del Herbert-Jane) is taking the first steps of transition.

52 Tuesdays posterOn paper this sounds like it could be a fairly heavy-handed conceit but, with the films largely verite-ish style it all just becomes part of the ebb and flow of Billie’s young, often confusing, life – though it’s interesting to note that the transition isn’t portrayed as the most confusing aspect of this experience.

The title of the film stems from the fact that Billie and James meet weekly on Tuesday evenings and the construction of the film follows this showing us (mostly) only what happens on these Tuesday evenings.

This gives the viewer the chance to see, and the filmmakers a chance to show, aspects of James’ transition over the course of a year rather than a more compact period so it allows exposure to many more ‘day to day’ aspects than I had previously seen depicted, and it never suggests that this snapshot of a year is the complete process.

Along with this we get Billie’s transition into young adulthood and the two are juxtaposed and played off each other very well, even if Billie’s side of the story occasionally has the whiff of soap opera. This is counteracted by the style of the production and the performances which never feel anything less than real.

52 Tuesdays - James and Billie

James and Billie

While not perfect 52 Tuesdays is an energetic and engrossing real life drama that largely steers clear of the stereotypical tropes of soap it could easily veer into and highlights the disconnect between the reality of these situations and that usually depicted through mainstream media while also highlighting the issues faced by those transitioning in a way that isn’t like watching an educational film.

The addition of the coming of age storyline then gives the film an added accessibility away from what might be perceived as a niche, one note, ‘issue’ film, making for something that I couldn’t help but feel could connect with a wider audience if they were just given the chance.

Cabaret movie posterFrom low-budget indie drama to a mainstream award-winning film regularly cited as a classic but still falling firmly into the LGBTQ cinematic canon, Bob Fosse’s startling and unique musical, Cabaret.

Set in the dying days of Weimar-era Berlin it follows English student Brian Roberts (Michael York) on his journey into the city’s hedonistic nightlife led by cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza, with a Z, Minnelli).

From the off the style is almost entirely in contrast to 52 Tuesdays as Fosse uses what, at first, feel like almost Brechtian verfremdungseffekt alienation techniques by situating all the music with the Kit Kat Club cabaret, almost commenting on the surrounding action. Here Joel Grey as the master of ceremonies (often referee to as ‘Emmcee’) provides a standout performance at once welcoming and sinister as the story progresses and we get scenes of chaotic decadence juxtaposed with the brutal rise of the Nazi party.

Running alongside the cabaret scenes we get the story of Brian and Sally’s apparent affair which is, for the most part more naturalistic – although the presence of a lot of soft focus keeps it at something of a distance.

Cabaret - Max, Brian and Sally

Max, Brian and Sally

It’s here a more open side of LGBTQ representation and general sexuality appears, away from the potentially seedy and heightened world of the cabaret club, as Brian at first appears to be gay, then later bi or pan, while he and Sally enjoy an explicitly polyamorous affair with playboy baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).

Even today this is dealt with in surprisingly straight forward fashion and it’s no surprise this raised more than eyebrows in the early 1970s, though equally it is all a bit idealised in its way.

More shocking now is the depiction of the rise of nazism in Germany with racial abuse, violence and a clear depiction of the kind of creeping nastiness that I can’t help but see reflected in the world today. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene at a very typical looking country fair type event as the crowd join in with a youthful, blonde haired Nazi in singing a song dedicated to the fatherland.

Cabaret - Joel Grey

The Master of Ceremonies

The culmination of what feels like three nearly independent threads comes in surprisingly melancholic fashion for a big musical with Sally drawn back into the world of the cabaret but with the decadent Weimar audience replaced with brown shirts with red armbands as Brian returns to England.

This leads to an ambiguous feeling of the end of innocence pervading Sally’s haunted delivery of ‘Cabaret’ before the credits roll in silence and we ponder what we all know came next.

As a double bill to show as part of Channel Islands Pride Week 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret were interesting choices but ones that spanned a surprising breadth of LGBTQ issues and experience in their own way and I couldn’t help but think it would be great to make screenings like this a more regular part of Liberate’s work, although the question of how to encourage more than just an already familiar audience into the cinema would be the biggest issue.

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The Rocky Horror Show Live – 17/09/15

rocky horror live posterIn mid-September 2015 The Rocky Horror Show was mid run at The Playhouse theatre in London.

Having been a fan of the show since I first saw the movie in my teens I was hugely excited when I found out there was a live screening of the show happening at Guernsey’s Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts.

Despite not having any suitable fancy dress I went along with a couple of friends and we had a great time along with the others who’d come along making for a not full, but busy enough, theatre.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 3rd October and you can read an extended edition below the clipping.

Rocky Horror Show Live review scan - 03:10:15

Extended review

Richard O'Brien

Richard O’Brien

42 years into its life (and believe me, it is a life) Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show continues to go from strength to strength and this was very much in evidence as many fans, along with a few ‘virgins’, headed into the auditorium at the Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts for a special live screening of the latest incarnation of the show from the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End.

This was my first live stream screening and it was a bit strange going in to a theatre for not quite a live stage show, but not quite a film.

With a few members of the audience in costume (though none seemed to have been brave enough to dress as Frank N. Furter) and all with a sense of general enthusiasm, there was a good atmosphere from the start, as we were welcomed by ‘Bake Offs’ Mel Geidroyc’ on the screen and given a bit of an intro to just what the show is.

Added to this was a brief interview with O’Brien explaining that this was a special charity event for Amnesty International with a host of guest star narrators (a part usually currently filled by the creator themself).

David Bedella

David Bedella

The show itself was ingeniously staged with a lot of manual prop and scenery work all brilliantly melded into the run of the show with high-tech ‘west end’ stage wizardry also present but not distracting from the performances as often seems to happen with some of the bigger shows.

With such a well-loved and well-known show (particularly thanks to its film version) anyone stepping into the roles of Brad, Janet, Frank, Riff, Magenta, Colombia, et al would have their work cut out but all did a great job. For the most part they stayed away from totally aping the movie bringing something of their own to the performance while keeping enough of what made previous versions of the show so popular.

Particularly impressive was David Bedella as Frank N. Furter who combined aspects of Tim Curry’s iconic performance with an extra knowing level and a bit more of the ‘serious actor in a b-movie’ style intended by O’Brien. On top of this, appearances by Stephen Fry, Adrian Edmonson, Anthony Head and (somewhat bizarrely) Emma Bunton as the narrator (or Criminologist) added something extra, with Fry in particular being a stand out and playing up the audience’s ‘partici….pation’ (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty

Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty

Audience participation is a big part of the Rocky Horror experience and, while the Guernsey crowd was a little on the quiet side, those in the theatre in London were more than game and added an extra level of laughs to the original script with what has become a series of traditional, often lewd, heckles.

The actors played along with these excellently and lead to a few moments of corpse-ing that the actors took in their stride and were enjoyed by all on and off stage.

In seeing the show live the climax took on something of a bigger meaning as the ‘floor show’ descends into chaos and Bedella delivered a particularly impressive, at points even moving, rendition of Frank’s torch song I’m Going Home.

Dominic Andersen

Dominic Andersen

For the curtain call Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite were reprised and at this point the Guernsey audience joined their London compatriots in the ‘Transylvanian folk dance’ and, while it felt slightly odd clapping a screen, it felt like part of the whole experience.

And a great experience it was, for both the initiated and the virgins Rocky Horror Show Live was the perfect mix of fun, great performances and some cracking ‘teenaged, three-chord, rock ‘n’ roll’ all in the name of a good cause.

P.S.

A week later I took the chance of a free night in London to go and see the show ‘in the flesh’ and was not disappointed. The cast delivered a performance with the same energy and enthusiasm that made it feel that they loved this show as much as the audience, many of whom were in costume, even in the dress circle.

O’Brien was particularly impressive as the narrator throughout playing off the crowd with a dry style.

Kristian Lavercombe and Bedella

Kristian Lavercombe and Bedella

The whole show had the feeling of being somewhere between a stage musical and a rock ‘n’ roll concert with every character and song receiving wild applause and appreciation while the audience participation took on something of a life of its own with the cast revelling in this somewhat unconventional West End musical that seemed to allow the performers the chance to cut loose much more than others might.

While seeing a screening was great, I would recommend anyone who likes a fun show packed with positivity to catch this live when it tours and if you’ve not seen it, track it down, either live or as the film as its message is one I think everyone could do with hearing and living by.

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West Side Story

West Side Story movie posterHaving picked up 10 Academy Awards upon its release the film version of West Side Story has its place assured as an undeniable classic but its one that always brings a certain nostalgic feeling for me as I took part in a production of the stage musical as a teenager (playing Diesel, conglomerated into Ice on-screen), but, 15 years on from that production, revisiting the film has opened up a new level of appreciation for it.

Once the overture fades into a series of aerial shots of New York we are dropped into a heightened and expressionistic world of teenage street gangs on Manhattan’s West Side. Over the following 10 minutes or so we are introduced to their world as movement and dance are used to tell the story of heightening tensions between the ‘local’ gang, The Jets, and the Puerto Rican newcomers, The Sharks.

As the back and forth dance culminates with a moment of real violence (albeit rendered in now PG, early 60s mainstream cinema friendly fashion) the film begins in earnest and we are led through a surprisingly tight reworking of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet updated for a modern world that still rings true today.

West Side Story - AmericaThis use of dance is one of the highlights of the movie as it goes on to be used as an expressionistic analogue for the venting of emotion whether its like here as tension, in ‘the rumble’ and America sequences as a form of battle or in the astonishing Cool as a means of learning to control emotions in the face of an insurmountable situation.

Focusing on Cool for a moment this is one of the less well recognised highlights of the film as it combines all the elements that make West Side Story work so well, in one sequence. The choreography is extremely tight, but in that, has a freeform feel that is appropriate for a teenage gang of misfits. On top of that the lyrics draw strongly on be-bop and jazz, with a good dose of the Beat movements use of language, to create something entirely of its time and place but also expressionistic enough to be somehow timeless and instantly recognisable as teen-speak (like Nadsat in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange). This combines with great performances and excellent use of the camera to create an enthralling sequence on all levels.

West Side Story movieAcross the film the dance performances are flawless, while the singing varies from spot on to suitably rough bringing a sense of reality to the street toughs, helping it tread the line that musicals always have to fight between the sublime and the ridiculous and the acting is generally of a good standard too (though a few of the Puerto Rican accents wobble at times).

The story itself has enough tonal ups and downs to keep it moving for its two and a half hours with the comedic and ensemble highlight of Officer Krupke being something of a signing off point for the beginning of the tragedy borrowed from the Bard.

It is in the tragedy that the film finds its heart and its message as, while Shakespeare certainly told a gripping tale of young love and ultimate sacrifice, here it is transformed into a warning for the dangers and pointlessness of gang violence. This culminates in an amazingly well delivered scene where the heroine, Maria (Natalie Wood), takes control of the situation and seemingly brings the opposing gangs together, albeit after several of their number have paid the ultimate price.

West Side Story - Tony and MariaTopped off with the classic cinema look of the period have, West Side Story is a highlight, not only of musical cinema, but of cinema in general as it uses every aspect of its production to tell a moving and effective story, put across a message, and is packed with memorable moments and performances.

Rewatching it now, 15 years removed from my first experience of it as teenager, has revealed a new side and appreciation of it for me that puts firmly in among my favourite movies and proves that musicals don’t have to be brightly coloured and ‘nice’ as West Side Story veers from the humorous to the genuinely brutal with genuine grace.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show blu-rayBefore I begin I am wondering exactly why, and how, one is supposed to review a cult film? Oh well, I’m going to anyway so here we go.

Ever since I discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show in my teens, on VHS, I’ve been a big fan, so, as it’s just been re-issued in a shiny steelbook Blu-ray edition, I thought it time to take another look, as its been a while since I’ve actually sat down to watch the movie.

As the new Blu-ray gave me the option I chose to watch the US cut of the movie rather than the UK version which I presumed I was more familiar with. To be honest there is not much difference between the two until the second to last song, but more of that later.

Kicking off with a huge pair of red lips filling the screen, the scene is set as the lips act something like a curtain in a theatre instantly signaling us to suspend our disbelief and just go with what we see while, in the lyrics to Science Fiction, Double Feature, its clear we are heading into b-movie referencing, 1950s nostalgia territory.

Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-LipsThe opening scene is the only one that tries to be set in the real world, but even this has its odd moments with some American Gothic referencing cameos and a billboard in a graveyard that sets the off beat tone for what is to come.

From this scene on its clear that this is adapted from a stage musical, and many of the performers were veterans of that version, so some of the musical numbers have a somewhat stagey feel but, it is to the credit of the direction and editing, that this is varied just enough with cutaways and similar techniques to never become stagey and it actually heightens the non-realism of the movie in the process.

Brad and Janet

Brad and Janet

As our protagonist duo of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) head away from the chapel and into the night the pace picks up and, really, never lets up. My remembrance of the movie was that, despite everything, there was something of a lull after Sweet Transvestite, but for the one hour thirty-eight minutes of it The Rocky Horror Picture Show is non-stop – if it’s not a song, there is something happening pushing the boundaries of taste and absurdity in one way or another and all delivered with a sense of knowing mischievous delight.

This tone really comes through in the performances and, while Richard O’Brien is clearly the heart and soul and giving the most committed performance of his own script as Riff Raff, the whole cast seem to be giving it their all.

Frank N. Furter

Frank N. Furter

The real star is Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter combining creepiness with camp to create a character who varies from malevolent to genuinely empathic at different points and has a truly triumphant pathos drenched end with I’m Going Home.

Across the movie the production values vary wildly so while the sets are all impressive and big design pieces, from Frank’s lab to the floor show finish, the dance routines at times have something of the am-dram to them and there are many moments where both continuity and dubbing go out of the window. But this never really matters if you’ve got swept up in the whole thing, which is where the cult status of the film comes into play.

Rocky HorrorI have a feeling that anyone coming to the film fresh will have one of two reactions; a love they can’t quite explain or they simply won’t like it and will think it’s a bit of a mess, which I suppose is fair enough, though as someone who falls into the first camp, its likely I’ll never really understand the second.

As I was saying earlier, the US cut excises a couple of verses of the song Superheroes which gives the film a more conventionally rounded ending as we see Brad and Janet (and Dr. Scott) escape.

Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff

Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff

This though sits at odds with the overall tone of the film when compared to the cut with the full version of the song which adds a sense of melancholy to Brad and Janet’s ‘escape’ from the Transylvanians and leaves things on something of an ambiguous note that is far more in-keeping with the rest of the movie.

In the end, even nearly 40 years after its release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show stands up as a subversive treat that is at once silly and shocking and epitomises cult cinema in a way very few other films have managed. It merges The Wizard Of Oz with 1950s sci-fi and the kind of movies that only seemed to come out of the 1970s typified by the likes of John Waters all with knowing charm that really shows this could only be the product of Richard O’Brien’s mind and really that is what we are watching translated onto a cinema screen.

As an extra note I’d highly recommend Stuart Samuels’ documentary Midnight Movies as a companion piece to The Rocky Horror Picture Show if you’re in something of an exploratory mood (sorry about the quality of the trailer, it’s the only one I could find)…

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The Blues Brothers – Blu-ray edition and extended cut

The Blues Brothers posterOwing 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.

The Blues Brothers

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi

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.

Aretha Franklin and Matt 'Guitar' Murphy

Aretha Franklin and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy

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.

Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers

Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers

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.

Special features

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.

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