That immortal line was one of the many attributes which helped The Blue Brothers attain the status of cult classic before such a term was commonly discussed and debated about. It’s also a film whose iconic poster adorned the walls of student residences across the land well before likes of Transpotting and Pulp Fiction infiltrated the scene.
Turning two key members of the Saturday Night Live alumni, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, into fully-fledged movie stars, and further cementing the reputation of director, John Landis (who had scored a huge hit the previous year with Animal House), the film still has its many fans and followers some thirty plus years since its initial cinema release.
Now out on Blu-Ray, we recently caught up with Landis to talk about the film’s enduring appeal.
Hi John. Thanks so much for taking time out with HeyUGuys to talk about Blues Brothers.
It’s my pleasure. I’m both amazed and incredibly happy to see that the film is still receiving this attention after all these years.
It’s a unique movie in many ways, but the car chases are still what everyone picks up upon and really loves. There’s an unadulterated joy in watching the Bluesmobile evade a huge fleet of cop cars, all of it achieved in-camera.
The stunts were really time-consuming. I don’t know if you remember the scene when the car lands on its roof, but we had to contact the federal aviation authorities of the city of Chicago and assure them that the car would land where we said it would. I remember (laughs) we had to drop cars in a cornfield first to show we could do it safely. That shot is probably my favourite in the whole movie, and there’s a moment in it where you see this Pinto falling and suddenly the image of the Sears tower comes into view, which at that time, was the second tallest building in the world. It was crazy, but you know, we were drunk with power and we were able to get away with stuff like that, and I’m very grateful for having that opportunity.
Nowadays a scene like that tends to be created by someone sitting at a desk on a computer. Do you think there’s a kind of fun missing from the production side in modern cinema, which is less interested in capturing the real, physical stuff?
My friend Rick Baker, who is a brilliant make-up artist, always says with the state of CGI now, you can basically do anything, but just because you can have two hundred werewolves crawling across the ceiling, doesn’t mean you should have two hundred werewolves crawling across the ceiling! I think CG is a terrific tool but its way overused.
You have to remember that in 1979 when we made the movie, rhythm and blues was basically over, and the number one music in the world was Abba, The Bee Gees and disco, so when people ask, how did you get the likes of Aretha Franklin and James Brown, it was easy. We just called them and said “wanna job?” One of the things I’m most proud of in the film is the music reflected Danny and John’s passion for those sounds and they did something unique, which is they exploited their own celebrity to basically shine a light on these great American performers.
To give you an idea of how outré it was at the time, Universal Studios and Decca Records refused to release a soundtrack album! They said no one would buy the music from the film. Atlantic records, which was a so-called ‘race label’ took on the soundtrack album, but even the label boss, who I ended up having a big fight with, would not put John Lee Hooker on the album. His exact words were he’s too old and too black. About four years later when John picked up his first Platinum album, the first call I made was to Atlantic’s boss, who picked up and said immediately, “I know – you told me so!”
You mentioned that Aykroyd and Belushi were huge fans of the music, but did you feel the same?
Sure! I loved all that music. I put Cab Calloway in there. Of all those guys in the film, Ray Charles was the only one at the time who was having great success, and at that moment he was doing country western music!
It was a strange time for those artists, but I’m really thrilled the movie succeeded. If you talk to any of the surviving musicians from the film, they would tell you the movie really brought it all back with a vengeance.
When Blues Brothers 2000 came along, that was my first experience with the new Hollywood and the corporate studio system, who didn’t get what we’d done in the original. The problems I had with that film were mainly why I didn’t make another film for so long afterwards. I was really pissed off because they didn’t understand at all what we were trying to do once more.
I’m not sure what extra material is due for the UK, because Universal international is not the same as Universal domestic. There was a lot done for Animal House at both the 25th and 30th anniversaries, so much so in fact that Martha Smith, who plays Babs in the film, said during the last time we met up to produce material, “you know John, if we do this again, we’re going to have to call it Animal Home” (laughs).