The Blues Brothers
An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic
by Daniel de Visé
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Pub Date 19 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 19 Mar 2024
Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press
The story of the epic friendship between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the golden era of improv, and the making of a comedic film classic that helped shape our popular culture
“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd, as Elwood Blues, tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theaters on June 20, 1980. Their scripted mission was to save a local Chicago orphanage. But Aykroyd, who conceived and wrote much of the film, had a greater mission: to honor the then-seemingly forgotten tradition of rhythm and blues, some of whose greatest artists—Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles—made the film as unforgettable as its wild car chases. Much delayed and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft drugged-out stars, The Blues Brothers opened to outraged reviews. However, in the 44 years since, it has been acknowledged a classic: it has been inducted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance, even declared a “Catholic classic” by the Church itself, and re-aired thousands of times on television to huge worldwide audiences. It is, undeniably, one of the most significant films of the twentieth century.
The story behind any classic is rich; the saga behind The Blues Brothers, as Daniel de Visé reveals, is epic, encompassing the colorful childhoods of Belushi and Aykroyd; the comedic revolution sparked by Harvard’s Lampoon and Chicago’s Second City; the birth and anecdote-rich, drug-filled early years of Saturday Night Live, where the Blues Brothers were born as an act amidst turmoil and rivalry; and, of course, the indelible behind-the-scenes narrative of how the film was made, scene by memorable scene. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to Aykroyd himself, The Blues Brothers illuminates an American masterpiece while vividly portraying the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.