It’s Movie Time: The Blues Brothers

Some time after I moved to Halifax, I heard that during the summer, there was a series of outdoor film showings called the alFresco filmFesto, in which movies were projected onto the wall of one of the waterfront buildings downtown.

I thought this was a very Cool Idea. And while it took me a few years to finally get there, the first show I attended was a good one – a double bill of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by a midnight showing of Jaws.

Unfortunately, I didn’t dress properly. It had been a hot day, so I was in a tank top and shorts, completely failing to take into account just how cold it gets by the water once the sun goes down. In the hour between the end of Raiders and the beginning of Jaws, I shivered so much I had to leave, which was a bummer. But I was hooked on the experience.

Ron, who was away in another province for most of that year, had listened to me burble over several phone calls about how excited I was to attend in the lead-up to my going. And our first call after the show – we were on the phone with each other a lot that year – he got to listen to me burble about how much fun it had been after the fact. It was so fun, in fact, that I wanted to go back, but none of the rest of the movies interested me.

He asked me what else was playing, and as soon as I said The Blues Brothers, he told me I had to go see it. Now, I’m not much of a fan of comedies, and I can’t stand Saturday Night Live, so the idea of watching a comedy film based on SNL characters didn’t appeal to me. But Ron (gently) pushed me until I agreed to go, insisting I’d enjoy it.

And dammit if he wasn’t right. As usual.

That night was when I learned how important it is to watch comedies with an audience, or they just aren’t funny. At least, that’s generally how it works for me. I don’t so much laugh at the movie as laugh along with the rest of the audience, and re-watching The Blues Brothers at home with only one other person really drove that home. I’d bought the movie because I’d laughed my ass off at the filmFesto, and yet the couple of times I’d watched it since then, the humour had been kind of meh.

Although I do snort at Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) saying they’re “on a mission from God” every single time.

Unfortunately, some of the humour hasn’t aged well. The scene where Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood break up a Nazi rally by simply driving their car straight at them and forcing them to jump off a bridge into a river? Not so funny when it brings to mind the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, in which a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many others. And given the ever-increasing number of shootings of black men in the US, and just shootings in general, the scene where Ray Charles, playing a music store owner, fires at a kid trying to steal a guitar, is a little hard to take

But in reality, as funny as I first found it, I don’t watch The Blues Brothers for the jokes.

I watch it for the music.

The musical lineup in this film is simply incredible – Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, James Brown. It’s amazing musical number after amazing musical number, and even if the humour is a little rocky in parts, it’s worth it for the music.

And if you can manage to watch it with a group of people at a unique showing – say, projected on the side of a building while camped out on lawn chairs in the heart of downtown – well, then it’s pretty damn funny, to boot.

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