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This is a really, really good movie and I don't understand why no one ever
mentions it or why it is never on cable.
It has everything that I love in a movie: good story, great characters well acted, fine comedy and powerful touching drama. Ralph Macchio is a brilliant young guitar student, Eugene Martone, at Julliard (or some other equally good music school) who does not want to play Mozart. He wants to play guitar like his idol, a long dead blues guitar legend. In search of his dreams, he breaks an elderly black blues player out of a prison nursing home.
The two of them go on an odyssey to the Mississippi Delta in quest of memories and dreams. As in any odyssey, they meet a variety of fascinating and/or dangerous characters along the way. Eugene must also overcome the obstacles and tests that all those who quest must face - until it is time to face the ultimate test against the greatest blues guitarist in the Delta.
I enjoy music, but my knowledge is superficial. I probably wouldn't know a good guitar riff from a raft, but even I could recognize awesome guitar work in the final sequence of Crossroads.
So, if you like good movies and good acting and great guitar music, please check out Crossroads. If enough of us spread the word, it may no longer be a forgotten classic.
CROSSROADS (Walter Hill's Blues film, NOT Britney Spears'
self-indulgent 2002 fluff) is a terrific introduction to a uniquely
American 'sound', with a remarkable cast and southern 'atmosphere'. It
has always astonished me that the film was not a hit when released, in
1986, but it's status as a cult classic is certainly well-deserved,
with subsequent films like the Coens' O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
'borrowing' the Robert Johnson subplot and many of the visual elements.
Perhaps the film, with it's magnificent Ry Cooder score, was just too
far ahead of it's time, a strange criticism to apply to a Blues movie!
The tale involves young Long Island guitar prodigy Eugene 'Lightning Boy' Martone (Ralph Macchio), a rebel at the Julliard School with his passion for the Blues ("Primitive music," one professor sneers), who is on a quest to recover legendary guitarist Robert Johnson's fabled "30th Song" of 1938. His research leads him to a New York nursing home, where fabled harmonica player Willie Brown (the late actor/singer/songwriter Joe Seneca) is confined. Promising to 'give' the song to the youngster if he can be "busted out" and returned to his Mississippi home, the pair are soon on a cross-country trip, with Martone learning about discrimination, the 'darker' side of Man, and love's loss (through a brief encounter with Jami Gertz, who was never lovelier), providing him with the core of sadness Brown says is essential to truly play the Blues.
The climax of the film is legendary; arriving home, Brown, who had 'sold his soul' to the Devil at the 'Crossroads' as a young man (just as his friend, Johnson, had), attempts to get 'Scratch' (skeletal Robert Judd) to tear up the contract. The Devil informs him that he will, only if Martone can defeat his Champion in a 'Guitar Duel'. If the youngster loses, his soul, as well as Brown's, will be lost, forever. Martone rashly agrees ("I don't believe any of this crap anyway!"), and he and Brown find themselves in a church converted into a dance hall, with demons and lost souls cavorting to the rock strains of insanely talented Jack Butler (Frank Zappa guitarist/composer Steve Vai). With only his love of the Blues, Julliard training, and Brown's 'ju-ju' to aid him, the humbled Martone must play for far more than his life, in a guitar 'Duel' with the rocker (both parts were actually performed by the astonishingly gifted Vai) that is so fabulous that it is amazing that it was NOT included in the soundtrack album!
Walter Hill was no stranger to music-themed fantasies (he also directed another 'ahead of it's time' cult film, STREETS OF FIRE), and with CROSSROADS he took a simple storyline, and turned it into an unforgettable musical experience.
* Minor Spoilers *
Eugene Martone, the 'Lightening Boy' (Ralph Macchio, an actor who presently 'disappeared' from the big screen) is a lover of blues. He studies guitar in Julliard, but he indeed is looking for the thirtieth unknown song of Roberto Johnson. One day, he meets Willie Brown, the 'Blind Dog Fulton' (Joe Seneca) in an old folk's home and is convinced that he possess the lost song. Eugene helps Willie to escape the asylum and goes with him to Mississippi. They can just afford a bus ticket from New York to half way to Mississippi, so the rest of their journey is hitchhiking. In the way, they meet Frances (Jami Gertz, also vanished from the screen), a girl who left home and wishes to be a dancer in Los Angeles. They three together will pass through many strange adventures and situations. The climax of the movie is the guitar duel between Eugene and Jack Butler (Steve Vai).
This movie is the most wonderful tribute to blues ever made. The cast, direction and soundtrack are perfect. Thank you Walter Hill and John Fusco for such a delightful film. The astonishing music of Ry Cooder is spectacular. If the viewer loves blues like me, will certainly not get tired of watching this movie and listen to the CD with the marvelous soundtrack. In Brazil, this movie has not been released on DVD (only in VHS and the soundtrack on CD). This movie is completely underrated in IMDb. I do not agree with the 6.1 user rating in IMDb. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Encruzilhada" ("Crossroads")
Note: On 08 January 2012, I saw this wonderful film again on an imported DVD.
I've seen CROSSROADS so many times I've lost count. And, it won't be
the last time I'll watch it. The music alone would be reason enough.
But, this film is far deeper. And no amount of exposition about it
could ever *SPOIL* it for the virgin-viewer who has never seen it.
Eugene Martone, considered a prodigy on the classical guitar, is a young Long Island man attending the prestigious Julliard Music School. Problem? He prefers the blues over classical. And he's on a quest. He uncovers evidence that blues guitar legend, Robert Johnson, composed 30 songs. Since only 29 were ever recorded, he becomes obsessed at finding the 'lost' song number 30 (and being the first person to record it). And, after some sleuthing, he finds an old photograph and a news clipping -- pointing him toward the only living person who would know that song and who, fortunately, lives nearby. His name is Willie Brown (aka Blind Dog Fulton, aka Smokehouse Brown), a friend of Robert Johnson who traveled and performed with him (harmonica/vocals). Brown lives in a penal facility for old people (a criminal's nursing home). At first, Brown denies his true identity. But confronted with a photo of himself next to Robert Johnson, Brown finally admits the truth. And, he agrees to teach Martone the lost song -- but ONLY if Martone breaks him out of the facility and takes him back to Mississippi.
The catch? Martone knows that lore surrounding Robert Johnson says he sold his soul to the Devil. What he doesn't know is that it's fact, not lore ... and that Willie Brown did the same thing. And Martone doesn't know that Brown's reason for going back to Mississippi is to return to the 'crossroads' where he and Johnson sold their souls in hopes of getting the Devil to release him from his contract. This culminates in an eerie finale where Martone gambles his soul in a blues duel with the Devil's own guitarist, Jack Butler ... to save Brown from eternal damnation.
Director Walter Hill is masterful, combining music, drama, alternate history, fantasy, and horror into a single plot. Kudos must also be given to screenwriter John Fusco for giving Hill a masterful script to work from. But contrary to most people, my favorite scene isn't the blues duel. It's the scene where Martone wakes up to find out a girl he met in his travels with Brown (and had a romantic interest in) has unexpectedly left them to go her own way. And immediately after that, Brown admits he lied... that there never was a song number 30. At that moment, Martone, who'd been merely a good blues 'player' up to that point picks up his guitar and begins to play a sad blues song ... one certainly coming from his soul, not from his memory of what others have played. It is that momentary 'graduation' scene (the transition between blues 'player' and blues 'man') that sets the stage for the duel ... with film watchers knowing Martone is as ready for it as he can be.
Other than "The Blues Brothers," I can't think of another modern film about
the Blues as good as Walter Hill's "Crossroads." In the film, Ralph Macchio
plays Eugene, an aspiring classical guitar prodigy at Julliard who is
fascinated with the blues. He tracks down Willie Brown, one of the last
living blues legends from the 40's, played by Joe Seneca. Eugene thinks
Willie has the last song written by (real life) legendary Bluesman Robert
Johnson, that was never recorded (the story is loosely tied to the life of
Johnson). Eugene believes he can assist Willie is resurrecting the song and
giving it to the world. However, Willie has other plans including teaching
Eugene the true meaning of Blues music that requires a trip back to Willie's
stomping ground on the Delta.
This is Hill's best film. Like "Crossroads", many of his films have interracial lead characters and Hill always gives a unique, honest slant on racism and social differences among these types of relationships (or if its an amicable relationship - the lack thereof). The script may be a little thin for some (Jami Gertz's character is a little weak, and she resorts to overacting too often), but Joe Seneca carries the movie with weathered grace as Eugene's fatigued hero who hopes of correcting his shady past in order to save his future. Ralph Macchio expertly plays a naive, impressionable teenager whose skill and love as a musician ultimately generates his confidence and even bull-headedness: he's a blues guitarist who knows what to play but not how to play it. And who can forget the "cutting heads" showdown at the end of the film? Eugene fights tool-and-nail against master guitarist Steve Vai as Jack Butler. The duel is ABSOLUTELY incredible, and no matter how many times I've seen it, I never get bored.
The tone and pacing of this film is tempered, quiet and casual, with none of its plot twists dipped in melodrama for maximum effect. Willie Brown's description of the South is never fully realized on screen, even it's bleakness is absent of any vivid cinematography, but this is overall a great film. As Willie tells Eugene late in the film, "Blues ain't nothin' but a good man feelin' bad." I love this movie!
Walter Hill is the director of some of my all time favorite movies. His
films tend to be more action oriented, rather than character-driven, which
is surprising since I normally don't like action films. He tends to
establish the characters just enough for you to care about them before
throwing them headfirst into the fireworks. Movies like "The Warriors", "48
Hours", "Southern Comfort", and "The Long Riders" all left their mark and
set standards for their genre.
It's a little strange that he would sign on to do a movie like this, but he
somehow pulls it off.
This kid Eugene (Ralph Macchio) is a classical guitar student with an obsession with the blues. Despite the disapproval of his teacher, he longs to be a bluesman just like his heros of the 30s and 40s. When he gets word of a lost song by the late, great Robert Johnson, he hunts down Johnson's still-living harp player, Willie Brown (Joe Seneca). Willie is a cantankerous old man who spends his days rotting away down at the nursing home. It doesn't take the kid long to track down the old man and make a little deal: If he helps the geezer bust out of the old-folks home, then the geezer will in turn, teach the kid the long lost song. You see, they're in New York and the old man has to get home to the delta to settle an old score. Thus, the road trip begins...hobo-style.
To give much more away would be a crime, but the kid and the geezer are well matched and this gives the movie a lot of laughs and LOADS of memorable quotes from the old man. Joe Seneca was a great actor and I believe this was one of his best performances. Ralph Macchio is perfect as the kid and we really do believe that he is obsessed with the blues. Jami Gertz also gives a credible performance as the temporary love interest. She's perfect for the part.
I really can't praise this movie enough. The music alone, is enough to reccommend it (Ry Cooder rocks as always) and if you're into the blues, chances are you've already seen it. If you can find this one, it's well worth a rental. I guarantee that you won't watch it just once. I can't wait for the dvd. 10/10
Here in Australia at the moment we have a series on the Blues and last
week they were talking about going down to the Crossroads and making a
pact with the devil. All of a sudden I needed to find my old video tape
of the movie 'Crossroads', taped from television when I first saw it in
1986. The movie is one of my all time favourites and I can watch it
time and time again.
Ralph Macchio plays the role of a young teenager, finding the blues and wanting to be a blues player instead of classical guitarist that he is training for. Joe Seneca plays the role of Willie Brown and he lives that role as though he really is Willie Brown. The music played in the scene at the end where Eugene gets Scratch to tear up the contract for Willie's soul is magic and brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Maybe there is a place for both blues and classical.
I feel something for Ralph Macchio, and it is not love. The first time
I ever saw his face, I can swear it inspired greatness. Then he talked,
he act, he spread his talents all around, and no person can deny he was
a natural. The character he created and developed in the first three
"Karate Kids" (the first one is one of my favorite films) was sing of
commitment and skill.
I was experiencing the hilarious "My cousin Vinny" the other day and he played another original character, being that one of his last important roles. Maybe what I feel is compassion because he couldn't make it as an elder man, and I really wanted to watch him grow. Maybe I miss his first and few big breaks, where he literally knocked me down; one of those being "Crossroads".
He was 25 at that time, but still had that 17-year old look, where you would have said: "Wow, he's 17 and in main role" Well, I'd have said that. "Crossroads" is an inspiring tale about life and music; blues. It was not the first time that a filmmaker tried to relate music with life. I have personally never had doubts about it, because music is life for me; but in this film, for writer John Fusco it was about growing up, understanding the gift and use it for good.
Macchio portrayed Eugene Martone, a naive guy, gifted guitar player, crazy driven by the magic of blues. The love for music makes our mind think unconsciously about getting far, being big; and Eugene wants to go to Mississippi to get his chance, but needs someone who knows Robert Johnson's lost melody, knows the way, and has even lived it, if you know what I mean. In this story, that character is blues master Willie Brown (a tremendous Joe Seneca), now forgotten in an asylum, probably crazy (although he says he isn't but some brilliant sequences show him out of place) and without his car. But Eugene will get him out of there and they'll both start that journey together.
What happens next, including the various stops, problems, Ralph Macchio's wonderful guitar playing abilities and encounter with beautiful girl Frances (radiant and talented Jami Gertz) is for the viewer to discover. Now, how the title relates it's touching and interesting, but where director Walter Hill triumphs (and this is something that should never be forgotten for music movies nowadays) is in knowing that the story is there. The heart of his film lies in the development of the kid's and the old man's relationship.
When we now see movies about music that sometimes don't even have a clue "musically" and most of the times there is music to promote an artist in the film, because he/she sings; in Hill's "Crossroads" and in the relationship I was talking about, the discussions, conversations, walks and even music playing, hide some of life's deepest interrogations. And I regret saying blues is always the same, because even when it is, it is one of those musical styles, like jazz, that not many listen but when they do discover their power. It's in the eyes of the musicians when they play where you can see it; they love being in that scenario, and that's just magical.
This movie starts slow and begins moving quickly as we see an outstanding modern version of faust (more like the Devil went down to Georgia). The end is a spectacular show down between Ralph Machio on a classic guitar vs. A rock & roll demon.
I have watched this movie no less than 20 times which is rare for me as I generally don't watch a movie more than 2 or 3 times and that's if I really, really, like it. Everyone in this movie did a fantastic job in my humble opinion.
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