By Bryan Newbury
August 3, 2010
Being a product review, as the film review by Michael Sragow precludes any further efforts at reviewing the film, which shall be discussed presently…
Aficionados of old time music, to understate matters a bit, tend to be completists. They may specialize in one genre or even one artist. Some, given the right conditions and resources, fill rooms with 78’s and hard drives full of obscure material. Others are named Joe Bussard. Regardless of what category an OTM obsessive falls under, there is little doubt that he will be purchasing a copy of Terry Zwigoff’s unsurpassable Louie Bluie, the DVD Edition of which is soon to be available from The Criterion Collection.
If for nothing else, the film is worth owning based on footage alone. Yank Rachell trading quips with Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong… Armstrong giving longtime partner Ted Bogan endless grief while haggling him out of a pair of Technicolor trousers… Armstrong reminiscing with an old acquaintance in La Follette, Tennessee… Armstrong back in Chicago, sharing his indescribable work, ABC’s of Pornography… and then, there’s the music.
These would certainly be enough to merit repeated viewings. That Zwigoff crafted the film with an uncanny dexterity is simply a bonus.
Louie Bluie does what all good documentaries on the subject should do, provided the film has the advantage of firsthand footage of the performers: it gives the viewer the impression of being a visitor, taking in the scenes as they happen. Zwigoff eclipses such outstanding filmmakers as Les Blank in his deft touch, convincing the viewer that he is such a visitor, while interspersing the straight interview material in such a way that he feels that the archival footage comes from a story and the pictures of earlier days were sat on your lap in the form of a large album, the kind with defective adhesive and stubborn vellum paper. It could be argued that a character as immense as Armstrong might have deserved more lionizing treatment, (this is a man who, despite the storybook childhood we all expect – that of poverty, fish fries, barn dances, a preaching father, etc. – managed to speak enough Italian to get by in Chicago’s immigrant quarters, boasts a calligraphy that is immaculate, and parallels artists as imminent as Louis Paul Boon in his literary pornography), and no doubt a study of Armstrong the autodidact would be a very worthy undertaking, but that is another project altogether, and one Zwigoff hadn’t the resources to accomplish. Besides, that would be a profound turnoff to the OTM enthusiast, this film’s primary audience. Read the rest of this entry »