The Blues is a 2003 documentary series produced by Martin Scorsese, dedicated to the history of blues music. In each of the seven episodes, a different director explores a stage in the development of the blues.
Director Martin Scorsese (The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York) pays homage to the Delta blues. Musician Corey Harris travels through Mississippi and on to West Africa, exploring the roots of the music. The film celebrates the early Delta bluesmen through original performances (including Willie King, Taj Mahal, Otha Turner, and Ali Farka Toure) and rare archival footage (featuring Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker). Says Scorsese: "I've always felt an affinity for blues music — the culture of storytelling through music is incredibly fascinating and appealing to me. The blues have great emotional resonance and are the foundation for American popular music."
Director Marc Levin (Slam, Whiteboys, Brooklyn Babylon) travels to Chicago with hip-hop legend Chuck D (of Public Enemy) and Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess and heir to the Chess Records legacy) to explore the heyday of Chicago blues as they unite to produce an album that seeks to bring veteran blues players together with contemporary hip hop musicians. Along with never-before-seen archival footage of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, are original performances by Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, Ike Turner, and Sam Lay. Says Levin: "When we were shooting Sam Lay and his band at the Chicago Blues Festival, they were playing Muddy Waters' classic, 'I Got My Mojo Workin.' I closed my eyes and was transported back to when I was a 15-year-old hanging in my buddy's basement listening to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band for the first time. My life was changed that day, and 35 years later the music's still shakin' my soul. The feel of that day in the basement is what I have set out to capture in this film."
Director Richard Pearce (The Long Walk Home, Leap of Faith, A Family Thing) traces the musical odyssey of blues legend B.B. King in a film that pays tribute to the city that gave birth to a new style of blues. Pearce's homage to Memphis features original performances by B.B. King, Bobby Rush, Rosco Gordon and Ike Turner, as well as historical footage of Howlin' Wolf and Rufus Thomas. Says Pearce: "The Blues is a chance to celebrate one of the last truly indigenous American art forms, before it all but disappears, swallowed whole by the rock and roll generation it spawned. Hopefully we'll get there before it's too late."
Director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, My Brother's Wedding, To Sleep with Anger) presents a tale about a young boy's encounter with his family in Mississippi in the 1950s, and intergenerational tensions between the heavenly strains of gospel and the devilish moans of the blues. Says Burnett: "The sound of the blues was a part of my environment that I took for granted. However, as years passed, the blues slowly emerged as an essential source of imagery, humor, irony, and insight that allows one to reflect on the human condition. I always wanted to do a story on the blues that not only reflected its nature and its content, but also alludes to the form itself. In short, a story that gives you the impression of the blues."
Director Mike Figgis (Stormy Monday, Leaving Las Vegas, Time Code) joins musicians such as Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Tom Jones, performing and talking about the music of the early sixties British invasion that reintroduced the blues sound to America. During the 1960s, the UK was the location for a vibrant social revolution. London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle all had their own music scenes. Musicians from Belfast and Glasgow moved to London to be part of the club scene there. The post-war traditional jazz and folk revival movements produced the fertile ground for a new kind of blues music — entirely influenced by the authentic black blues of the USA, and, for the most part, entirely ignored by the good citizens of the US. It was new in the sense that certain key musicians took the blues and molded it in an entirely personal way to fit the new awareness of the UK in the sixties. Importantly, for the most part they continued to pay homage to the originators of the music and to make a huge global audience aware of the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Freddie King, etc. Mike Figgis' film examines the circumstances of this vibrant period. Figgis himself participated, albeit in a minor way, in this period of history, playing in a blues band with Bryan Ferry, a band that was the nucleus for the first Roxy Music. A series of musical interviews with the key players of the blues movement is augmented with a live session at the famous Abbey Road recording studios. Tom Jones, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, and Lulu all improvise around some classic blues standards, accompanied by a superb band made up of younger and not-so-younger-musicians. The results are electrifying. Says Figgis: "I'm interested in why there was such excitement about this black music among Europeans. To that end, I've put together a group of these musicians, augmenting the line-up with some younger talent as well. Hopefully the resulting re
Director Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club; Wings of Desire; Paris, Texas ) explores the lives of his favorite blues artists — Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and J. B. Lenoir — in a film that is part history and part personal pilgrimage. The film tells the story of these artists' lives in music through a fictional film-within-a-film, rare archival footage, and covers of their songs by contemporary musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed, Eagle Eye Cherry, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cassandra Wilson, Garland Jeffreys, Los Lobos, and others. Says Wenders: "These songs meant the world to me. I felt there was more truth in them than in any book I had read about America, or in any movie I had ever seen. I've tried to describe, more like a poem than in a 'documentary,' what moved me so much in their songs and voices."
Director — and piano player — Clint Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, Bird, Unforgiven) explores his life-long passion for piano blues, using a treasure trove of rare historical footage in addition to interviews and performances by such living legends as Pinetop Perkins and Jay McShann, as well as Dave Brubeck and Marcia Ball. Says Eastwood: "The blues has always been part of my musical life and the piano has a special place, beginning when my mother brought home all of Fats Waller's records. Also, the music has always played a part in my movies. A piano blues documentary gives me a chance to make a film that is more directly connected to the subject of the music than the features that I have been doing throughout my career."
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