Saturday, 15 May 2010


An Amazon 4star review (slightly edited).
Keep repeating: it's only a dramatisation, only a dramatisation.

This is one where you'll probably enjoy it more the less you know about the blues and Chess Records.

It is a good fictionalisation of the Chess story with some excellent performances and great music but I kept shouting out things at the screen, like- Muddy didn't steal Hubert Sumlin from Howlin Wolf, Sumlin needed more money than he was getting from Wolf but he couldn't keep up the frenetic touring of the Muddy Waters Band and went scurrying back to HW. Little Walter was easily replaced by other harpists like Walter Horton and Carey Bell. Etta James wasn't discovered by Leonard Chess but by Johnny Otis. Sumlin didn't play on Smokestack Lightnin which was recorded at Sun and not Chess. Muddy Waters first toured the UK in 1958 (when he shocked the prissy folk-blues purists with his electric blues) not 1967; by then he'd been to Europe several times. What about Phil Chess? And where the hell is Otis Spann, Muddy's essential pianist and blood-brother? And so on.

On the other hand, it may be often factually incorrect but it does get the spirit right in terms of character and period setting. Adrian Brody is great as Leonard Chess, matched equally by Jeffrey Wright's performance as Muddy Waters, both square at the heart of the film. Terrific support by Eamon Walker (whom you'd never guess is an English actor) as Howlin' Wolf, Columbus Short as Little Walter, and I rather liked Mos Def's portrayal of the impish Chuck Berry with a well-hiddden heart of darkness. And, yes Beyonce does almost steal the show as Etta James. A final tip of the hat to Gabrielle Union as Geneva, Muddy's much put upon wife.

The movie flows nicely as it reveals the story of some of the 20th century's most influential music. The Rolling Stones visit to Chess Studios and being in awe of their idol Muddy Waters, who helps carry their bags, is ironically true as the scene comes over as mawkish.

Quibbles and irritations aside, this is as probably as good a dramatisation of the Chess story as we're ever likely to get. It deals with an important but often overlooked subject and is recommended for that alone.

Here's Eamon Walker as Howlin Wolf just arrived in Chicago and meeting Muddy and Leonard Chess for the first time.
Post script.
Does anyone know why an image link I've copied and pasted from Google Images into a post, as with the one above, will suddenly disappear?This is the second attempt at this one.

No comments: