Director Daniel cross goes deep into the Deep South blues scene with this terrific documentary. Showing at the Raindance film festival, Cross’s film shines a light on a fading culture, a failing America and a fearsome loyalty to the blues people like Barbara Lynn, Lazy Lester and Little Freddie King still have.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is how beautifully shot it often is. Panoramic shots of towns like Mobil are paralleled with stark close ups of the calloused fingers and ageing faces of musicians. Without even having to sing or speak these icons of the scene have a physicality about them that tells a thousand stories in and of itself. Alongside this visual aspect there are incredible musical performances, moving in the sheer intensity and authenticity with which they are played. And indeed it can be said that for the most part these ageing men and women let the music do the talking for them. While they may struggle to make themselves clear to the audience and to one another, whenever they song to the camera or jam together they are able to get right to the heart of what they want to say. Subtitles are implemented for those speaking with thickest southern drawl, yet this is never necessary during performances. At around the halfway point of the film it becomes clear that being musicians was never really a choice for them, it’s simply how they communicate best.
The film has an unhurried pace that keeps it in toe with the subject matter, the slow hangdog blues music. As such the pacing and structure of the film can be described as being more conversational than analytical. More spontaneous than rigorous. There are no talking heads, or expects recounting the history of blues music and American. Instead each musician is allowed to speak and sing for themselves. Historical or sociological interpretations are left aside in favour of anecdotes and word of mouth myths. For the most part this works great, however it is also this approach to pacing that allows the film to suffer somewhat. It may have been improved by making more of statement or asking some tougher questions of the subjects. Too often these musicians were left to ramble over the same points. As the film drew on I felt myself lulled by the hazy style of the film and losing interest at parts. However this never last for two long. How could it with such entertaining company? There are tales of husbands leaving wives and wives literally shooting husbands. We hear of heartbreaks and setbacks of all varieties, but what sustains all those who suffer is the blues. In this wonderful documentary the men and women of the Deep South do the talking, and they certainly do the singing. They have to though, because they are the blues.
Dir: Daniel Cross
Scr: Daniel Cross
Featuring: Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray
Prd: Daniel Cross, Bob Moore
DOP: John Price
Music: Emmet Henchey
Country: Canada, USA
Run time: 106 mins
I Am The Blues is playing at the Raindance film festival (LONDON, UK) September 27th