A smoky juke joint somewhere in the backwoods of Mississippi, the building bursting with music from a shoddy three-piece on the day before Sunday, maybe an intense craps game going on in back, people guzzling corn whiskey as they get down. Or: A black man sits on a chair at the side of a feed shop, lemon-pudding eyes half open from sips of home brew, sliding a piece of broken bottle neck on his beat-up guitar as he sings about women, drink or the devil.
Such is the imagery of many past incarnations of the blues documentary form, from 1991’s “Deep Blues” to Martin Scorsese’s two-hour contribution to the 2003 docu-miniseries “Feels Like Going Home” — going on location to the shanties and beer joints of the Delta to interview the greats in their natural habitat. There is no mistake: The blues was created as a response to tragedy and hard times; but through sharing, teaching and understanding, it has crossed genders, races, oceans and genres and has inspired hours of hoochie-coochie booty joy for yours truly.
With “Lightning in a Bottle,” director Antoine Fuqua makes his own pilgrimage to the blues mountain and does it with more music and less talk.
Filmed in February 2003 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the concert gathers a long, long list of blues royalty — octogenarian David “Honeyboy” Edwards (nearly 89 at the time), Ruth Brown, Buddy Guy, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Solomon Burke and, in a moving finale, B.B. King. In between the footsteps of giants, the concert features various contemporary artists stepping in to do their tributes to the genre: Keb’ Mo, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck D. of Public Enemy, IndiaArie, Natalie Cole (who we, note is extremely statuesque and sang the HELL out of “St. Louis Blues,” credited to W.C. Handy as the first recorded blues song), Macy Gray (nailing down Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”), Dr. John, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and the Neville Brothers — and this isn’t an exhaustive list.
The producers managed to gather most if not all of the living blues artists that blues lovers would give their eyeteeth to see, with younger artists doing admirable work filling in for those greats long since gone to the Great Juke Joint in the Sky.
If a complaint has to be made, perhaps more attention should have been given to the trance-like, Cherokee-influenced sound of the hills of North Mississippi (Otha Turner, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Paul Wine Jones, Junior Kimbrough, et al) — though R.L. Burnside was mentioned in a short segment.
In the end, “Lightning in a Bottle” is a flashy, entertaining concert chock-full of amazing living blues legends, and the younger artists who will carry on their legacy in all genres when they are gone. It’s a truly joyous celebration of a music fathered by tragedy, hard living and heartache.
— By Amy Brawner
Though most people take fuzzy images and disembodied voices coming from their television as evidence they should call the cable company, “White Noise” goes in another direction and sets up an interesting premise: What if our passed-on loved ones can communicate with us from The Other Side via our electronic devices? Worse, what if those communications include calls from the cosmic telemarketers — evil, soulless beings that might lie, deceive and scare you into doing their bidding?
The idea is a mind-bender, sure, but “White Noise” proves that it’s one that should have been left as stuck-in-traffic daydreaming. Once director Geoffrey Sax tries to stretch this particular stick of taffy into a full-length movie, it quickly disintegrates into an unfrightening goo that can’t really be molded into anything, though it takes a stab at love story, potboiler, serial-killer yarn and old-fashioned ghost story before the unsatisfying third reel.
“Noise” is the story of Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton), an architect married to an equally successful author, Anna (Chandra West). Soon after the titles roll, Anna comes up missing, her car found near the edge of the river. Her body is recovered some time later. The cops’ best guess: She had a flat, slipped and fell into the river and drowned.
Soon after Anna’s funeral, Rivers is approached by a man named Raymond Price (Ian McNeice, who might be the oddest-looking actor ever committed to film. This reviewer is too fat to throw stones at anyone, but McNeice). Price tells Rivers he has been receiving messages from Anna through his television, recording them on a cobbled-together rig that looks like something out of “The Matrix.” Reluctant at first, Rivers’ grief soon brings him around. After a few sessions, however, when Price turns up dead and with his house ransacked, Rivers turns to another of Price’s “clients” for help, and soon begins receiving the messages himself.
From there, however, what had been amping up to be a sleek dip into the uncanny and a turn on the consequences of meddling with God’s answering machine sort of turns to mush, falling back on Hollywood horror cliches — shadowy figures, possession, spirit guides and demons — to finish out the last reel.
In the end, “White Noise” is one of those films that left me feeling like I could probably understand it a lot better if I watched it again. The problem is, I saw enough of it the first time to ensure that I won’t.
— By David Koon