Jason is many things to many people. For one, he's a swingin' cat whose game is tight. Even the hipsters with the highest of altitude noses wouldn't suspect for a moment during the jazz band's jam and the clink of two dry martinis that ol' Jason spends his nights with Spider-Man and Dario Argento. Lucky for him then, that I'm about as cool as a Texas summer, so I passed Blues in the Night into his capable hands (that have actually touched a woman in an intimate fashion.)
This is part of the Eastwood Jazz Collection that I've been slowly getting out here over the past month (with only one left to go from Beau...Where are you Beau?) With no further posturing from me, here's Jason giving you the lowdown (that's what the cool kids say, right? Right?) on Blues in the Night....
Alright, Spilldos, by show of hands, how many of you have never watched a black and white movie? Go ahead. Raise your hands. No, Sin City
does NOT count. And yes, you should be ashamed. As I suspected, you’re not alone. I used to be right there with you. Anything made before May of 1977 didn’t exist. Or if it did, its only merit was as a curiosity, a record of a bygone period that had no influence on your full-color life in any regard.
Well, “Blues in the Night”
is a bit more than that, even if it doesn’t rise too high above the staples of the decade. Straight from 1941, this smooth and easy little flick chronicles the life and adventures of a jazz band trying to make it big. From scene one, Jigger
), the too-talented-for-this-dive piano player, assembles his Fellowship, a crew of swing virtuosos with names like Nickie
), and Character
). Their cadence is rapid fire, delivered in the breathless patois of the times. Even though they all start to sound the same, their look and mannerisms make them easily distinguishable, even memorable characters. Can you imagine if you and your buddies ran around spouting out lines at that speed? Lines like “Take it away, sister!”
or “Scram, kiddo!”
People would think you had a head full of crystal meth.
The troupe lives to play, traveling via boxcar across country to spread their music and name. At one point, my heart skipped a beat when an angry hobo entered their car. I was hoping for him to shed his skin and devour the trumpet player, or demand that they make an offering to the Dark God of the Rails, but I wasn’t so lucky. He just mugged them. They encounter sirens, scamps, and scam artists, along with murder, robbery, and car crashes. All the while, their demons threaten to tear the group apart. Sadly, these demons were of the figurative variety. It’s a hardscrabble life, but the style of film is so alien to modern audiences, that everything is rimmed with a surreal light. Consequently, the drama never seems dire. In spite of all the hardships, it’s all steeped in melodrama and you know another lively, bluesy number is just around the corner. It’s difficult to take any of it seriously. Nonetheless, this is light, classy, and harmless fun.
As with most of the film making of the era, this is a no frills affair. There are a few big names here, but known probably only by the biggest of film buffs. The camera angles are strictly functional – no bullet-time or agonizingly long De Palma
-style tracking shots. The editing, naturally, has none of the sudden chops and cuts of today’s cinema. I’m not criticizing, mind you. The simplicity of these old films allows you to focus on what many consider the meat of the film, the characters and story, without any distractions. All in all, it’s charming. I hate to dismiss it as merely quaint, but it’s hard not to see it as such through the lens of 2008.
Of course, the music is the real star of this film. The sweeping, swingin’ score is one that any lover of retro lounge, swing, or jazz would love to have in their collection. The extras on the disk not only highlight that, but enrich it with a handful of fun, non-traditional extras. There are two musical shorts, one of them Oscar nominated, that function more or less as music videos. The nicest surprise was the inclusion of two Warner Bros cartoons from the era. Touches like these make this a shiny time-capsule of early 40’s Americana.
This is a DVD that if people catch wind of it, will be swallowed up by hipsters, even 10 years after the swing revival of the late 90’s. That said, the movie won’t hold a lot of merit unless you’re a fan of that sliver of American history, when men were ‘fellas’
and women were ‘dolls’
. It’s kitschy. It’s cool, but perhaps it works best as background music to an upscale soiree.
CLICK HERE TO BUY "BLUES IN THE NIGHT" ON DVD