Friday, September 02, 2005

Four fried chickens and a Coke

Which actually sounds pretty good right now, seeing as how it's That Time of the Month again.

Anyway. I need a Hurricane Katrina break, overwhelmed and appalled by the horror taking place in the Gulf states. Please give what you can to the relief organization of your choice; thank you; thus endeth the PSA. Moving on...

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the release of The Blues Brothers movie. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but reading the excellent special coverage in the Chicago Sun-Times has brought the "mission from God" back to me quite vividly. I realize now that it's one of a triumvirate of movies I've seen, in all or in part, probably 40 or 50 times, and from which I can quote reams of dialogue and even mime some of the stage directions (the others? Sixteen Candles and A Christmas Story; make of that what you will), like the dance everyone does in front of Ray's Music Exchange. I can still shake a tailfeather with moderate conviction.

I couldn't tell you how many times I rented it or watched it at someone else's house in middle or high school. We'd put it on like a party game, reciting the lines along with the characters and trying to count the number of police cars destroyed in the climactic chase scene (the Sun-Times suggests around 60).

It's such a weird little movie, alternating between outrageous sight gags and deadpan wit, legendary blues performers and moments of gleeful, delirious destruction. The special anniversary coverage is crammed with fun tidbits. For example, I've said for years that I'm going to keep driving my pink, paid-for 1996 Hyundai "until it disintegrates like the Bluesmobile"; apparently that particular effect tooka mechanic months to rig up. Or: the famous chase in the mall took place in a shopping center that had already closed. Apparently the producers stocked the ghost mall with merchandise ("Do you have the Miss Piggy?") for the express purpose of ecstatically running it over.

The mall scene, man! During my years of academia I worked for a chain bookstore in several different malls, and Christmas was always our most excruciating time, beset for extended hours by deranged shoppers who never set foot in a bookstore the other 364 days of the year but were trying to fulfil Aunt Fanny's request RIGHT NOW, BITCH and wouldn't take no for an answer. I never got punched, during the Christmas rush, but I'm sure it was only a matter of time. Anyway. We also sold videos, and above the cashwrap area was a television on which we constantly played whatever flick Disney was pushing hardest, that season, in a continuous loop. I don't remember whose idea it was, but one year a friend and I, at our respective limits, rented "The Blues Brothers" and, on Christmas Eve day, queued up just the mall scene and set it to repeat. Just the mall, Jake and Elwood plowing through the Sunglass Hut and the supermarket and the Toys R Us, endlessly decimating that fucking mall, directly overhead as we processed last-minute freaked-out shoppers until our hands went numb. It played for nearly three hours before the manager noticed and made us shut it off. Good times.

So. A surprisingly persistent, pervasive little musical action-comedy, that...a love letter to Chicago blues and to a Chicago that largely doesn't exist, any longer. Dan Aykroyd has said that he'd intended it as something of a time capsule, that way: a vehicle to preserve the city and the artists and their music, to share them with a wider audience while he could (with a generous dollop of slapstick and crashing to make it go down easy, I guess). I wouldn't have thought of it this way, before, but...thanks to Aykroyd's efforts, an eleven-year-old white girl in Licton Springs, Seattle knew who Cab Calloway was, and liked it. Thanks, Dan--you done good, sir.

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