Monday 4 March 2024

Book ~ "The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic" (2024) Daniel de Visé

From Goodreads ~ The story of the epic friendship between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the golden era of improv, and the making of a comedic film classic that helped shape our popular culture.

“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy "The Blues Brothers", which hit theatres on June 20, 1980. Their scripted mission was to save a local Chicago orphanage; but Aykroyd, who conceived and wrote the film, had a greater to honor the then-seemingly forgotten tradition of rhythm and blues, some of whose greatest artists - Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles - made the film as unforgettable as its wild car chases. Late and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft drugged-out stars, "The Blues Brothers" opened to tepid reviews at best. However, in the 44 years since it has been acknowledged a inducted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance; even declared a “Catholic classic” by the Church itself; and re-aired thousands of times on television to huge worldwide audiences. It is, undeniably, one of the most significant films of the 20th century. 

The story behind any classic is rich; the saga behind "The Blues Brothers", as Daniel de Visé reveals, is epic, encompassing the colorful childhoods of Belushi and Aykroyd; the comedic revolution sparked by Harvard’s Lampoon and Chicago’s Second City; the birth and anecdote-rich, drug-filled early years of "Saturday Night Live", where the Blues Brothers were born as an act amidst turmoil and rivalry; and of course the indelible behind-the-scenes narrative of how the film was made, scene by memorable scene. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to SNL creator Lorne Michaels and Aykroyd himself, The Blues Brothers vividly portrays the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

I first saw The Blues Brothers in the fall of 1980. I was in my first year in university and they would show movies in an auditorium for $1. My friend and I walked out after about 10 minutes of watching this movie because we thought it was dumb and sucked. I've since seen it many times and can now appreciate the humour. And I like their albums (I saw Matt "Guitar" Murphy a few times live back in the late 1980s/early 1990s in bars here in Toronto).

When I saw there was a book about the movie, I thought it would be an interesting read ... and it was. The book starts by giving us the backgrounds of John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, their meeting here in Toronto, and their friendship and working relationship through Second City, Saturday Night Live (as I was reading the book, I'd stop at times and look up on YouTube scenes discussed) and eventually becoming The Blues Brothers. 

I've read a couple books about John Belushi and thought this one was good. It provides lots of info without being too detailed and boring. It was interesting to see how things worked behind the scenes to get things done and the interactions between people on movies including Animal House and The Blues Brothers

The amount of drugs and booze that were always available to and used by everyone was amazing and scary. Given Belushi's issues and eventual early death, this book tends to focus more on him, which was fine. I didn't find him likeable as a person as he didn't treat people very well at times, especially as he become more famous and drug-addicted. I'm surprised his wife, Judy, put up with him for so long ... my inclination would have been to tell him to get help with his additions or I'd be gone, but she apparently had her own addiction issues. 

My only issue with this book is it would have been nice to include pictures (there were none). I read an ARC so maybe there are some in the final version?

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