John Landis was in Melbourne, Australia, last night to attend a special screening of his classic film, The Blues Brothers. The event took place at the beloved Astor Theatre as part of the Melbourne Festival and it included a Q&A with the man himself. Rebecca Marie Taylor, a writer for The Reel Word, was on hand to report on this special event.
Reported by Rebecca Marie Taylor.
Tonight, the Melbourne Festival kicked off as the Astor Theatre hosted a screening of John Landis’ The Blues Brothers, followed by a Q&A with Landis himself. Landis is the director responsible for films such as Animal House and Coming to America. This 1980 tribute to rhythm and blues music has always been one of my very favorites, so finally getting to see it on the big screen was incredible. From one of the most hilarious car chases, to incredibly witty one liners, this movie will keep you invested for the entire three hours (yes, three hours, and I’ve seen it many, many times). The cast is riveting, that’s something no one will question. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as Jake and Elwood Blues, (the Blues brothers), and big names such as James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Twiggy round out the cast.
Not only did I finally get to see it on the big screen, I was able to see it with a thousand people who love the movie as much as I do. When the music played, we clapped in rhythm, when Elwood proclaimed, “We’re on a mission from god”, we cheered, and the energy thrived throughout the show.
After the credits rolled, Landis got on stage and we applauded until he waved our cheers away. He thanked the usual long list of people for making the movie possible, and then opened the floor to questions. There was the expected pregnant pause while the theatre held it’s breath for someone to make the first move. Once some guy towards the front worked up the nerve, they flowed steadily for the better part of an hour. Landis is an animated speaker, and proved to be extremely candid with his stories about filmmaking and his feelings towards his films. While he was speaking I took about two or three pages worth of notes so I will do my best to summarize his statements without turning this article into a novel.
Landis explained how the movie came to fruition through a series of anecdotes about how he met Belushi and Aykroyd. Through casting for Animal House, the two SNL stars convinced Universal Pictures to make a development deal (which Landis says are usually B.S.), for a movie centered around two characters they had created and fallen in love with. Once they began performing as Jake and Elwood on SNL, the studio realized the potential of the deal they’d made, and asked Landis to have it in theatres by August of 1980 – which was less than six months away. When asked what he would go back and re-film if given the chance? “Almost all of it.” Landis emphasizes that this film was about the music, which it highlights well. “I enjoy it, but all I can see are the mistakes.”
When asked about writing the screenplay, Landis emphasized that Aykroyd wrote the first draft, “I’m an okay writer, I’m a brilliant re-writer”. He used the line, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, and a half a pack of cigarettes,” written by Aykroyd as an example. “I added, ‘It’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses’, to the end.”
In the epic car chase scene through the mall, we see many familiar stores get completely destroyed. The filmmakers made deals with companies like Toys ‘R’ Us and Pier 1 Imports to stock the store fronts, on the condition that anything they destroyed would be paid wholesale for. “Imagine telling the stunt drivers, I want you to drive through this store, but don’t hit anything expensive!” There were stunt men and women brought in from all over to play pedestrians in the mall, as it was all real glass flying around.
The other major scene shot in Chicago’s Daily Plaza was filmed in the actual commissioner’s building, but the filmmakers shot the scene on Labor Day Weekend, so no one knew they were there. Mayor of Chicago Jane Byrne gave them her blessing, (and the key to the city!), but none of the buildings’ employees were aware of what was going on. When the film premiered, they were not happy, and told the mayor they could not be allowed to film there. Landis recollects, “All she could say was, ‘it already happened six months ago’. They were furious!”
By the end of the night, I didn’t want to go home. I was prepared to follow John Landis out of the theatre and berate him with more questions. Alas, I realized he’ll be in Melbourne all weekend at ACMI, so there’s the possibility I’ll run into him (and his fabulous costume designer wife Deborah), out for a drink somewhere in the city tonight. Perhaps there will be a follow-up article to come!