July 29, 2021

The divine mission of the Blues Brothers

Everything revolves around one thing, which is to see “the light.”

On and off the screen.

Elwood is at the wheel. You run an amber traffic light turning red. He stops the police. They ask for the card. He knows that all the alarms will go off for a host of infractions. They are going to stop him.

Next to him, as co-pilot, is his brother Jake. He was released from jail that same day on parole for good behavior. He fears that he will return to the teal and blames Elwood for his clumsiness.

-Quiet, they won’t catch us, we have a divine mission.

And no, they don’t get caught. After destroying a commercial area – “this place has everything!” Exclaims the ex-inmate – in the wake of a massive persecution, the two arrive at the dilapidated and minimal shelter that Elwood has in the Chicago Loop, downtown , below the elevated railway line so characteristic of the city. “How many trains are running?” Asks Jake, noting the traffic right outside the window. “So many that you don’t even realize it.”

By then they have already seen the light – thanks to Reverend Cleophus, the living portrait of James Brown – which means they have to rebuild their R&B band and put on urgent fundraising gigs.

That is their resource to fulfill the divine mission of rescuing the orphanage of the church of Sant Helen, where they were raised, which is on the verge of eviction for a debt with the treasury of 5,000 dollars.

Canadian actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd and American actor John Belushi with Cab Calloway on set. Calloway as Curtis, who cared for the Blues orphans, asks them to save the orphanage

Sunset Boulevard / Getty

This is Blues Brothers , the film directed by John Landis that made the dream of two comedians come true, two stars of the mythical Saturday Night Life (SNL) in the late 1970s (they entered the program in 1975). They wanted to become musicians by assuming another personality.

Today his stamp is iconic and much imitated: black boots, black suit, black tie, black hat and dark sunglasses. His long sideburns and his “sporty acrobatic” way of dancing.

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the premiere of what was known in Spain with the unfortunate translation of Rogues at full speed. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had spent several years transforming into the Blues brothers: Jake and Elwood.

Universal studios played hard. They spent a fortune of the time (the initial budget of 17.5 million dollars was increased by ten more), taking refuge in the enormous pull that Belushi enjoyed. When he turned 30 on January 24, 1979, he was still celebrating his unprecedented triple success, harvested in 1978. He had achieved number one with an album (the first from the Blues Brothers, Briefcase full of blues), number one in a television show (SNL) and number one in the cinema with American style riot.

“Fame is not an exact science. The only readily available explanation for John Belushi’s universal appeal is that no one had ever been John Belushi before, at least not on that scale, ”write Judith Belushi Pisano (the widow) and Tanner Colby in the biography titled Belushi.

At the premiere

Critics spoke poorly in their reviews, but the public responded with enthusiasm

The reviews of the film were bad. If the critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Ebert, applauded the film (the metropolis is one more protagonist), David Denby rated it in The Washington Post of “frenzied and stupid.”

“This is a modest movie, which they say cost about 30 million, and what have they done with all that money? Dozens of wrecked cars, many extras, exaggerated dance numbers and an emptiness that certainly was not cheap, “said Janet Maslin in The New York Times.

Everything pointed to an epic disaster. But this is one of those cases where there is a total disparity between the contempt of the experts and the attraction of the spectators, despite the obstacles. A big-budget film premiered in 1,4000 theaters across the country. Blues Brothers He only got about 400 and not the best.

There was resistance. In the aforementioned biography, Landis explains that Lew Wasserman, who was the all-powerful head of Universal Pictures, called him into his office once the work was done.


Many cinemas refused to screen it because it was a black film

There was Ted Mann, the exhibitor who owned the theaters in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. “Ted told me,” recalls the director, “I apologize but we are not going to schedule your movie.”


“Well, because I don’t want blacks in Westwood Village.”

“I was in shock. American theater owners thought white people wouldn’t go see Blues Brothers“, Add.

Something escaped the critics and exhibitors of a work that is not clear what it is, whether a comedy, a musical, an adventure or a hooligan. Or a compendium of all that and more.

American singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist James Brown on the set of The Blues Brothers directed by John Landis. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Reverend Cleophus (James Brown) gives them the idea to rally the gang to do good in the mess

Sunset Boulevard / Getty

The band’s performances are interspersed with cameos – such as Carrie Fisher, Aykroyd’s real-life girlfriend and Jake’s jilted girlfriend in the film – and stellar appearances. In addition to James Brown, starring John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway.

His hiring was not difficult. Except for Ray Charles, the others went through a moment of oblivion and this job catapulted them.


The budget was 27.5 million, a fortune but it raised 115 million, the most

Blues Brothers It grossed $ 115 million at the time, making it one of Universal’s most enduring hits. And it adds up and goes on. It continued to be programmed in numerous cinemas in slutty sessions.

A magazine poll Rolling Stone ranked it among the fifteen most admired cult films, a list that featured Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, Eraser head by David Lynch, A clockwork orange de Stanley Kurbrick he The big lebowski of the Coens.

Dice And Aykroyd

“It is anti Nazi, anti racist and we were prophetic about police militarization”

“This film is still relevant,” says Dan Aykroyd in recent statements to The Hollywood Reported on the occasion of the fortieth birthday. “It is anti Nazi, it is anti racist, it venerates African American culture, it honors black artists. And we were prophetic about the militarization of the police ”, he stressed.

And it can still be added that it addresses the issue of real estate greed. Issues that happened in 1980 and that are more than current in this American society of 2020, as observed in these months of turmoil, after the death of George Floyd, due to the manifestations of rejection of racism, the uneven by the color of the skin and police brutality against blacks.

“I hate the Nazis in Illinois,” says Jake Blues in the film, other of his pursuers, apart from the police, the national guard or a country band, all white, of course.

Dan Aykroyd listens as Ray Charles plays piano next to John Belushi in a scene from the film 'The Blues Brothers', 1980. (Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images)

The men in black surround Ray Charles, who was reluctant at first, but then became enthusiastic about the project

Archive Photos / Getty

The original guide was precisely written by Aykroyd. Although he had drawn up sketches for his theatrical numbers, he had never faced a script or seen one. The usual was an extension of 120 to 150 pages. He got 324. Each of the musicians of the band that they signed had their story. That volume got him stuffed with the coverage of the San Fernando Valley yellow pages. It was as thick as a phone book, said producer Bob Weiss, who was the one who received it.

“I ended up being the co-writer because Danny’s story, while fascinating and magnificent, couldn’t be filmed,” Landis remarks in Belushi’s biography. Its author acknowledges that John thought that this draft was fabulous, but it meant replacing the band’s musicians with actors as there was a lot of dialogue and the project was based on the principle of fidelity.

A story of friendship

Besides everything, this film is the friendship story of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd

Despite the considerations that you want to make, Blues Brothers It is, more than anything, a story of friendship, of the love at first sight that arose between John and Dan.

It was 1973. Aykroyd, a 20-year-old Canadian with various studies, including a seminary, ran the 505 Club, a speakeasy in Toronto. And he was performing in Second City, a famous Chicago-based comedy set that had expanded to Toronto.

One night a 24-year-old guy suddenly walked into 505, wearing an old taxi driver’s cap, a white scarf, and a leather jacket. It was John Belushi, who had been a student at Second City –the two had met there a while before–, but who moved to New York enrolled in the show The National Lampoon Radio Hour. He had traveled across the border in search of talents and discovered his own.

American singer, songwriter, and pianist Aretha Franklin surrounded by actor John Belushi and Canadian actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd on the set of The Blues Brothers directed by John Landis. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The goddess of soul, Aretha Franklin, between the two “brothers”, to whom she complained because she did not want to dress as a waitress

Sunset Boulevard / Getty

He asked Aykroyd to accept the offer to go to the Big Apple and Aykroyd declined. On the jukebox, the jukebox, the Down Childs Blues were playing. “It is a local band. You’re from Chicago, you should know about the blues, ”he told her.

“Nah, I’m heavy metal,” John replied. They started talking about music and forming a band together. Howard Shore (later musical director of SNL and composer of the trilogy of The Lord of the rings) was there that night. “You could call yourselves the Blues Brothers,” proposed Shore.

That’s how the thing started. Total symbiosis between opposite poles. One, Aykroyd, was methodical, scientific, reserved. The other, Belushi, what a crazy goat, expansive in his genius. Aykroyd was dying for the blues and this caused a deep sensation in Belushi.

Three years later, the two made their SNL debuts, doing vocals and playing the harmonica. It was when the transformation began into Jake and Elwood, two classic repeat offenders. “Bad guys, not morally demonic or spiritually evil, just in the sense of breaking the law and wanting to look like FBI agents to appear conventionally behaved,” Aykroyd described in his day. The inspiration for his wardrobe was found on the cover of a John Lee Hooker album, which was given a Hasidic tone.

How it all started

They met in 1973 and the official birth of the Blues was in 1978 with ‘Hey Bartender’

His first performance as the Blues Brothers came in 1976, but without his attire. Its true founding moment came on April 22, 1978, on one of the SNL shows hosted by Steve Martin. In the opening they interpreted Hey bartender con Floyd Dixon.

Months later, Steve Martin himself asked them to be the opening act for his nine concerts in Los Angeles. They faced the same problem as in the movie, the need to recruit the gang. John used almost fictional pressure methods.

Resounding success. From those concerts her first album came out and it catapults her for the film. During the shoot there were several stoppages: cocaine was wreaking havoc on John Belushi’s health.

He died on March 5, 1982 from an overdose. In 1998 a sequel was released, Blues Brothers 2000, following the formula of performances and celebrity cameos.

However, Jake was no longer there to discover the light