Monday, November 01, 2010

Film Notes: The Road to Memphis

Martin Scorsese's exploration of The Blues contains seven films made by different writers/producers each of whom have examined a different aspect of this distinctive musical form. Highlights of the series include Clint Eastwood's examination of Piano Blues, Mike Figgis on the British Blues Boom of the 1960s, and Scorcese's own look at the African roots of Blues forms in "Feel Like Going Home".

The Road to Memphis is Richard Pearce and Robert Kenner's contribution to the series, and focuses on the players who congregated around that city in the heydey of the blues movement. While this film does not scale the heights of Eastwood or Figgis' films, The Road to Memphis is nevertheless a charming exploration of a period in history, as viewed through the memories of he participants many years later. Bobby Rush, Rosco Gordon and Ike Turner all make nice performances, but there is no doubt that B.B. King steals this particular show. King always had enviable quantities of both talent and charisma - and was sufficiently individual in his playing and singing to be instantly recognisable despite his legions of imitators. Above all, there is the sweet, sweet sound of his guitar which is heard no better than on the version of "The Thrill is Gone" which King plays on his return to Memphis documented in the film.

Some of the performances in the film are quite eccentric, Rev Gatemouth Moore is in fact almost terrifying; although to be fair not as bewildering as Bobby Rush's backing dancer who is possessed of quite the most extraordinarily agile... The finest moment of the film is without any doubt the film of B.B. King returning to Memphis. The camera catches BB gazing wistfully from the tour-bus and reminiscing about times, places and players of the past. As he does so, his thoughts seem to come alive as archive film is spliced into the bus sequence. As they drive into the famous Beale Street, voices such as Howlin' Wolf and Fats Domino are conjured up.

It's not the greatest blues documentary around - but is a charming slice of history, with some lovely musical moments.

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