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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival, in a small 200-seat
Cinema at the top of the main building at the Cannes Film
I absolutely was into it. I love the mix of awesomely made fictional scenes. It is amazing set-design. The scenes look really like they were filmed in 1920ies or 1930ies.
And the music is so nice.
I rate this experience 9/10.
* spoilers ahead *
The Documentary tells about awesome Blues-men, with black-and-white old-looking scenes of the black man playing the guitar and singing. It is really amazing. But this also mixes in new bands and that is maybe one thing I might dislike in this Documentary. It is the too abundant use of links to modern rock-bands playing those Blues songs in a modern way. I didn't really appreciate their trashed way of playing such awesome Blues songs. This is the same kind of un-perfect musical taste I found when watching Wim Wenders Buena Vista Social Club.
The Documentary was such a standing-ovation at this first screening in the little cinema, that the next day this Documentary was shown for everyone and normal tourists on the beach of the Croisette at the open-air cinema. Though the sand, the quality of the projection and the bad quality of the sound probably made it a difficult experience to enjoy for the thousands of people who were sitting in the sand that night.
The documentary begins with setting the perspective to several light
years. The voyager is traveling our milky-way with the sounds of our
earthly lives, as a space monument for (possible?) extraterrestrials.
The documentary contains footage of Willy Dixen, Robert Johnson, Skip James and J.B. Lenoir. The footage of J.B. has never been published before. The narrative is from 'blind Willie' Dixon. However, it's done by an actor. The film shows the work of all these early blues men followed by covers and interpretations by musicians, such as Nick Cave and the bad Seeds among others.
The Death of J.B. Lenoir (John Mayall's song) is a striking event in the story. Lenoir got political engaged and is considered to be of the league of Martin Luther King and peers. His political interests can be found in the themes of his lyrics.
Blues is found to be 'THE' native music of America. Blues is the roots and the rest is the fruits.
The title 'Soul of a Man' is after a Willie Dixon song.
Less fancy than buenavistasocialclub, this documentary about blues music is well mastered and fascinating. It mainly presents two bluesmen of the twenties (blind willie Johnson and skip James)and one of the late fifties/sixties (JB Lenoir). To picture the high time of rooty blues, Wenders shot a reconstitution of the life into music that were in those times. It figures how words of blues came out in the atmosphere of a street, bar or studio, facing its audience. Introducing and concluding the film, an epic blow is given by the images of cosmic landscapes were a space engine has been launched to travel throughout the universe with relics and testimonies of human mind. Songs of Willie Johnson are in it! Although that it is pleasant to hear several artists still playing pieces of music that are now 'classics', it hides some interesting aspects under a decorative bunch of live performances. It would have been good to develop more about JB Lenoir which was a real songwriter, talking about the fight for constitutional rights of the black people, also denunciating the death of many brothers in Nam. Few archives pictures in the film show those matters (remember that lynch mobs were casual on saturday night in the south till the fifties). Maybe Wenders met some limits dealing with copyrights, but clearly his project was to give faces and pictures to a music that has been despised so long by showbusiness. What we can hear and see is that it's still alive.
While all of the musicians that are featured here are great, their lives are not particularly interesting; at least not as far as I can tell from the film. I don't know if their lives were interesting because there is very little information here. It is mostly a mish-mash of performances and re-enactments filmed in the spirit of Hardcopy and Inside Edition (I hear that Wenders and O'Reilly are planning to collaborate on something) The documentary has some interesting performances, but you can get these from the soundtrack album. What's better, the versions on the soundtrack album aren't truncated like the ones in the film.
This really doesn't do the blues justice. It starts out badly with images from the voyager probe and Blind Willie McTell (or was it Blind Lemon Jefferson? Someone blind anyway) apparently narrating from outer space (?) and telling us the life stories of various blues musicians. Corny as it is, this might be the visually most interesting part of this documentary. Afterwards the only thing to see is actors incompetently mouthing the classic tunes, filmed in fake 20s black and white intercut with the likes of Beck and Shemekia Copeland raping the same songs afterwards. This is a good device to show us why the old Blues greats were really so great, but it doesn't make for compelling viewing. There is hardly anything in here that could justify making it a film and not a radio play. Nobody should be forced to see these badly done reenactments. It's a shame for Wenders, Scorsese and especially for the Blues. Avoid at all costs.
This film is deeply disappointing. Not only that Wenders only displays a very limited musical spectrum of Blues, it is his subjective and personal interest in parts of the music he brings on film that make watching and listening absolutely boring. The only highlight of the movie is the interview of a Swedish couple who were befriended with J.B. Lenoir and show their private video footage as well as tell stories. Wenders's introduction of the filmic topic starts off quite interestingly - alluding to world's culture (or actually, American culture) traveling in space, but his limited looks on the theme as well as the neither funny nor utterly fascinating reproduction of stories from the 30s renders this movie as a mere sleeping aid. Yawn. I had expected more of him.
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