The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic by Daniel de Visé - review by Charlie Campbell

Charlie Campbell

God, Drugs & Music

The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

By

White Rabbit 386pp £25
 

The pages of my copy of The Blues Brothers started to fall out as I was reading it, just as John Belushi entered the story. It was perhaps fitting, since his considerable talents were matched by a gift for self-destruction. Belushi was at the front of a wave of talented actors and comedians who announced themselves to America on NBC’s Saturday Night, which then became Saturday Night Live. The show, with its mixture of comedy and political satire, launched a number of careers, including those of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.

Belushi and Aykroyd would go on to make The Blues Brothers, the focus of this absolute blast of a book by Daniel de Visé, full of incredible research and fascinating details. Originating in a Saturday Night Live sketch, the film features Belushi and Aykroyd as ‘Joliet’ Jake and Elwood Blues, two brothers ‘on a mission from God’ to raise money to save the Catholic orphanage where they were brought up from closing. It’s a film in the great tradition of Tinseltown lunacy, one of those overblown productions that go way over schedule and budget. Acquired by Universal after a bidding war, the project had no script at the outset, just two stars and their desire to reacquaint America with some of her greatest black musicians and their work – and crash lots of cars while doing so. Hampered at every turn by bureaucracy and a wayward cast, The Blues Brothers might have become ‘a cinematic Vietnam’. That it didn’t is a miracle as surprising as anything that happens in the film. 

Belushi was born in Chicago to Albanian-­American parents. A talented sportsman, he soon found his true calling – performing, singing and improvising sketches in which he mimicked figures such as Elizabeth Taylor. His physical, anarchic comedy took him via Saturday Night Live to superstardom in National Lampoon’s Animal House,

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