How the Blues Brothers got made

Vanity Fair's history of the making of The Blues Brothers is amazing, a story as madcap and improbable as the movie itself (though there's a lot more coke in the story of the movie). This is one of my favorite films of all time -- at one point I could quote the whole movie by heart (which created a lot of dissonance when I saw the DVD release and they'd added scenes -- it was like discovering extra rooms in a house I knew so well I could get around with my eyes closed).

Weiss calls Sean Daniel. “Good news,” Weiss reports. “The first draft finally got here.” It is not the typical 120-page draft. “It’s 324 pages,” Weiss says. “We have a lot of work to do.”

The script contains great scenes and inspired ideas but is written in a kind of free-verse style. It includes lengthy, Aykroyd-esque explications of Catholicism, recidivism—you name it. It gets meta, with separate story lines detailing the recruitment of all eight backup musicians.

“The script is never-ending,” Ned Tanen thinks. “It doesn’t really work. It’s like a long treatment or something”—a treatment being a detailed outline the writer produces before writing a script. The Blues Brothers is scheduled to begin shooting in two months.

Landis, script in hand, locks himself away. He cuts, shapes, tones. Then he cuts some more. Three weeks later, he emerges with a script that’s down to size and, as they say, shootable. More or less. It still lacks certain basics, such as stage directions.

Soul Men: The Making of The Blues Brothers [Ned Zeman/Vanity Fair]

(via Kottke)


    1. Judith Jacklin Belushi pretty much took all of Aykroyd’s script material and collated it into book form, published like a dossier Burton Mercer (Orange whip?  Orange whip?  Three orange whips.) had compiled.  It’s some hundred pages of pretty dense information. 

      As a guy who prides himself on knowing the Bluesmobile’s license plate or what kind of gas station Armond Cerami and Steven Williams are hiding behind when they pull over Elwood for proceeding through a yellow light, even I thought it was difficult to slog through at times.

      Nevertheless, I do anticipate enjoying this VF article.

  1. I enjoyed the article because it’s always nice to read about Aykroyd and Belushi in their heyday, but it didn’t say much that I couldn’t have already guessed – John Belushi was coked out? The script was a hot mess? 

    Then, the article concludes with a few sentences about how the movie got limited distribution because the theaters thought it was a black movie – and the next thing it says is that it then went on to make a killing. Ok, how did it go from being this joke of a movie with poor reviews and limited screenings to a megasuccess? What turned the tide? And when it says that the production was such a well-oiled machine, well, I’m curious who was making that happen since it obviously wasn’t the leads.

  2. I tried to like this film. There is something about it though… It makes me think of Bruce Willis playing Harmonica on SNL, which is a terrible thing for some reason. I think “Vanity Piece,” as mentioned in the article, is how my brain processes it. I think under different circumstances I could like it. I just haven’t found the right light to view it in. It’s actually a thing. People I trust like it and it bothers me to not be able to see it in the same light.

    1. Some movies you just see too late in life to really get.  The time in your life where it would have been great has passed.  I tried to get a younger relative into Hitchhiker’s Guide recently, but once you get past college it’s tough to find the time to read about Arthur Dent’s madcap adventures.

      As a side note, your comment reminded me that I saw Bruce Willis play harmonica live with the Allman Brothers once.  Totally surreal.  Like watching a circus act of a dog walk a cat.

    2. I think one of the keys to understanding it is knowing just how serious Aykroyd is about the blues; he owned a blues bar and he is hard core about music. At the time it was made, people like Ray Charles and Cab Calloway were way off the radar screen for the youth culture. It is a silly movie, but what genius to make a movie that appealed to 20 year olds that included all this “old guy” music in it. I think if you have benefited from the blues revival that this movie started – all the alt-stuff that is so hip now, it’s hard to remember that these musicians were moldering away at the time it was filmed.

      1. One of the better stories I heard Landis tell was that Calloway had recently put out a disco version of some of his older songs and was annoyed that he had to do his old blues version when he had just put out a new album showing how hip he was to the kids’ new music!

        1. More big band than blues, of course, but I can believe that–if Ethel Merman could put out a disco album…

    3. The Willis comparison is going below the belt. When you consider the actual beginnings of “The Blues Brothers”, we’re talking about Willis doing his cynical vanity project almost a decade after the fact. In 79/80 traditional R/B and blues couldn’t have been any less popular with people at the time. Blondie, yacht rock, and disco songs were topping the charts, and Led Zeppelin were playing around with synthesizers* to put things in perspective…

      Music aside, I have a hard time thinking of any film that better serves as an elaborate, nuanced, and right on the money *cultural* love letter to a city, than this film does to Chicago.

      *God bless em’.

      1. As a resident of the Chicago region, watching the blues brothers makes me almost appreciate the area for 133 minutes. 

        Then the credits roll and reality comes crashing back in.

    4. For me, the movie has always been a number of great musical performances, by both the band and others, interspersed with some incredibly heavy-handed car-chase slapstick. John Landis, even more so than Ivan Reitman, had the benefit of working with some of the funniest people in America at the height of their game, and falls back on unfunny overkill when his stars can’t bring their own material.

  3. It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.  

  4. Great movie and the soundtrack is also stellar, though it always bugged me that they left John Lee Hooker out of the soundtrack. He has a great cameo in the movie though.

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