Stoner Movie – “The Blues Brothers” (1980)

I’m sure I’m not the only person (well, woman) my age for whom the short, lively career of Jim Belushi is a bit of memory mess of him as a Samurai, or donning a toga and laurels, or in a trilby hat and black suit. Maybe I’m the only one who blurred these together so well that I wrote the Blues Brothers off as basically “Animal House redux,” even after having actually seen the entire movie in my early teens. In my mind, all that endured was a bunch of car chases, drinking n smoking, and scantily-glad girls . . . who, whaddayaknow, aren’t even in this film.  It took the quiet persistence (mainly just constant quoting and Belushi impersonations) of my man friend, and finally a sudden, unannounced viewing of “the Aretha scene,” that made me say, what the hey, I’ll watch it again.

A movie poster featuring Dan Akroyd and John Belushi as The Blues Brothers (By John Landis)
They're on a mission from God.

Now I know what everyone else apparently knew, which is that this is a masterpiece the like of which has never been seen before or again, a subtly and ridiculously funny and deeply soulful movie. The musical numbers are not farcical but real, and fully realized. I definitely want to hear the point of view of Black folx on this film, but I thought about how many “white” movies of that era had highly present, excellent, famous, talented, positive Black characters (few? none?), not as tropes like the “magical negro” but important, vibrant members of the cast. There are tributes to greats like our Aretha Franklin,, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Big Walter Horton, Luther Johnson. A bunch of authentic and talented white musicians in there too. It’s straight up an R & B n blues celebration. Ok, you might say that Aretha is put into a stereotypical “angry Black woman” role as she admonishes her husband in song, but she ends her scene without anger, just a resigned “well shit” because she also lost her busboy and has to run her diner on her own. Ackroyd wrote himself as the straight man, made Belushi the plot pivot character, and made the Blues and, yes, the absolute worship of crashing cars down hills, the main characters.  This movie is hilarious, a mix of Monty Python, SNL, Mel Brooks, and Top Secret.  Top that off with five Carrie Fisher sightings (forgive me–I know she’s not a sympathetic character at all, but it’s CARRIE FISHER), Steven Spielberg, and Frank Freakin’ Oz. The Blues Brothers endures, maybe uncomfortably in our weird era, as blatantly anti-fascist (literally anti-nazi), anti-police (if they ruin your fun), and pro music. Ladies of a certain age, trust me. Watch it again.

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