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DVD Full of Blues

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 31, 2005 3:34PM

Yesterday saw the DVD re-release of the film that many consider the quintessential Chicago movie: The Blues Brothers. The fanfare that greeted the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition was unprecedented…unless you count the fanfare that greeted the release of the 20th Anniversary Edition.

2005_08_31_brothers.jpgThe multiple retrospectives we’ve seen this year have all led up to this week. On Monday, there was a live simulcast of a Q&A session with Blues Brothers director John Landis and star Dan Aykroyd, the once and future Elwood Blues. LAist attended the event at Mann’s Chinese Theater. There was no screening here in the city though there was one in Lincolnshire. Chicagoist thought Lincolnshire was a small town in England so we ended up skipping the event until we realized it’s way the hell out in northern Illinois. Whoops.

Over the years, it’s taken everything in our power to avoid becoming jaded about the legacy of The Blues Brothers. Through multiple DVD releases, the House of Blues restaurant/hotel chain, the Elwood Blues Radio Hour, the Disney-fied duo that haunts the Universal Studios theme park, the misguided stage show and the execrable sequel (though like its predecessor it’s worth seeing for the musical performances), the Blues Brothers have been franchised, marketed and pimped to death.

Yet for anyone in Chicago who sees the film for the first time, unmolested by the attendant hype, it’s impossible not to understand why the film has a 25-year legacy.

In addition to resurrecting the Illinois film industry and the careers of several R&B greats, here are five more reasons why the film still matters:

* The icons – From Wrigley Field to the Maxwell Street Market to the El to Daley Plaza, the Blues Brothers is a virtual tour of Chicago as it looked in the 1980s. You’d have to turn into a PBS special to find a better historical document of the city at that time.

* The neighborhoods – Many of the other Chicago-based films of the 1980s filmed in the tony Hughesian suburbs. Though portions of the Blues Brothers take place outside the city, the film gives moviegoers a glimpse of the “real” Chicago that’s more Algren than anything seen on the screen before or since.

* The blues – More R&B than straight blues, the music from the film is partly responsible for preventing Aykroyd’s apocalyptic vision of blues music existing “only in the classical records department of your local public library.”

* The quotes – “Three orange whips!” ” “How much for the women?” “I hate Illinois Nazis.” “We’re on a mission from God!” Half of the words that came out of our high school mouths came from Monty Python movies. The other half came from the Blues Brothers.

* The irony – With its car wrecks, budget overruns, and casual disregard for local ordinances, The Blues Brothers virtually ensured that such a production would never again see the light of day.

Click here to read the Sun-Times' recent Blues Brothers retrospective or the Chicago Journal’s visit to some of the film’s locations.