It may have been underrated when first broadcast on PBS on consecutive nights in the fall of '03, but executive producer Martin Scorsese's homage to the blues is a truly significant, if imperfect, achievement. "Musical jou... more »rney" is an apt description, as Scorsese and the six other directors responsible for these seven approximately 90-minute films follow the blues--the foundation of jazz, soul, R&B, and rock & roll--from its African roots to its Mississippi Delta origins, up the river to Memphis and Chicago, then to New York, the United Kingdom, and beyond. Some of the films (like Wim Wenders's The Soul of a Man and Charles Burnett's Warming by the Devil's Fire) use extensive fictional film sequences, generally to good effect. There's also plenty of documentary footage, interviews, and contemporary studio performances recorded especially for these films. The last are among the best aspects of the DVDs, as the bonus material features the set's only complete tunes. Lou Reed's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and the ElektriK Mud Kats' (with Chuck D. of Public Enemy) hip-hop-cum-traditional updating of Muddy Waters's "Mannish Boy" are among the best of them; on the other hand, a rendition of "Cry Me a River" by Lulu (?!) is a curious choice, even with Jeff Beck on hand. The absence of lengthier vintage clips, meanwhile, is the principal drawback. For that reason alone, Clint Eastwood's Piano Blues is the best of the lot; a musician himself, Eastwood simply lets the players play, which means we get extensive file footage of the likes of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Nat "King" Cole, as well as new performances by Ray Charles, Dr. John, and others. Overall, this is a set to savor, a worthwhile investment guaranteed to grow on you over the course of repeated viewings. --Sam Graham« less
Bryan A. Pfleeger | Metairie, Louisiana United States | 11/19/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The premise is a good one: take seven visionary directors and turn them loose on a subject like the blues. The result, while for the most part excellent has a slight tendency to lag a little. The Blues takes us on a musical journey through perhaps the only true American art form. The journey begins in the Mississippi delta and winds its way to Mali and all points in between. What we wind up with is a history of the black influence in American and its expansion to the world.The series opens with Martin Scorsese's Feel Like Goin' Home a documentary that takes modern blues player Cory Harris from the Misissipii delta to Mali in Africa to explore the similarities in the music that moved from Africa with the slave transports to the Southern United States.German director Wim Wenders film The Soul of a Man chronicles the lives of three blues players that affected the director. Through fictional recreation and archival footage we get biographies of Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, and J.B. Lenoir.Richard Pearce takes us on a musical journey with B.B King. and Rosco Gordon back to Memphis and Beale Street og the past and present in his Road to Memphis. Also explored is the story of moden player Bobby Rush who continues to travel the "chitlin circuit" of his ancestors. The film culminates in a performance of bles legends at the W.C. Handy Awards.Charles Burnett tells the story of his youthful travels with his southern blues loving uncle in Warming By the Devil's Fire. This film relies heavily on archival footage of the great southern blues artists and explains the differences between the music that was played on Saturday nights in contrast with the gospel music of Sunday mornings. It is interesting to note that in many respects that there was not a whole lot of difference between the two genres in style.Perhaps the most interesting film is Marc Levin's Godfathers and Sons which explores the Chicago blues scene. The film profiles Marshall Chess, son of Leonard Chess and founder of the legendary Chess Records. Chess meets with rap icon Chuck D to take the blues to its next level with a modern recording of Electric Mud. The reunion of the origal band with blues next generation makes for an interesting film.Red, White and Blues by director Mike Figgis explains the blues impact on classic rock in the 60's and 70's. This is a straight interview piece that covers the British invasion by the music and its branching out to the world.Piano Blues is Clint Eastwood's contribution to the series. This film features interviews with piano masters Ray Charles, Dr. John and Dave Brubeck. This piece also includes archival footage of Art Tatum, Theolonious Monk, Fats Domino, and Professor Longhair.The series is a good one if not necessary one that you'll want to watch over and over. The main problem is that there too little emphasis on the actual recordings. The films stress the music but I would have enjoyed hearing more."
Great Stuff, But Expensive
Mad Dog | TimbuckThree, Tennessee | 11/13/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I've been a student of the blues for a long time, reading what I can find and listening to a wide variety of the music. But I still managed to learn quite a few details in this set. I don't consider this set to be the ultimate, but until something better comes out, it's the best you can find. I would have liked to have seen many more tunes in their entirety, but admit that the tidbits are tasty. The special features are a real plus, I admit, but I was left wanting more. The overall video and audio quality are as good as one could expect for the archival material and are excellent for the current material.About the cost: The Amazon discount brings this down to 15 bucks per disc and although I love the material, if I'd had to have paid that price, I would have balked. I would understand the price for individual discs in the set being that high or even a little higher, but in a set, I expect a significant discount. These aren't DVDs you're going to watch over and over like you might some movie box sets, so the cost is a real concern."
David Solomon | East Brunswick, NJ USA | 07/29/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a big blues fan but was very disappointed with this series.
The problem, to me, is the concept: have movie directors make films about the blues. This leads to trying to come up with some "plot" to carry each installment.
In striving to come up with a storyline, most of the directors came up with the same one: a contemporary musician (blues guitarist Corey Harris, rapper Chuck D) travels someplace to find his musical roots in some form of the blues (Delta blues, Chicago blues).
This repetitive storyline leaves no room for the history of the blues.
Another problem is that not only are the storylines repeated, but so are many of the film clips and songs.
I do have to single out the episode Clint Eastwood directed about piano players. It was excellent, and the concept (have piano player Eastwood interview and play with legendary pianists) sets it apart from the other episodes.
My advice: buy the CDs from the series and skip the video. "
Finally a DVD box set thats truly special
David Michaels | New York City | 01/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Pros: Great Films and Bonus Features are top notch.
Cons: You just want more vintage clipsScorsese seems to have decided to use a variety of directors to tell the story of the blues from a new and fresh perspective. Its not as much a history lesson as it is indeed a journey. Some are documentary and some mix fictional segments with historical reality. But whether the high concepts work or not really doesn't matter as much as how enjoyable the music and content is when exploring the set as a whole. There's great documentary footage, interviews, and contemporary performances. One of the best aspects of the DVDs, is the way it was designed to make finding the music easily, more than finding a narative chapter. The bonus material features everything from complete never before seen out takes to extensions of performances and clips seen in the films. The DVD's all open with beautiful graphics and interesting menu design pages. The standard extras like director commentary and bios are there, but there is also so much more including interviews with the directors, no shortage of bonus music most in 5.1 and stereo, and best of all is the fact that the menus, navigation and architechture is state of the art, and the new feature to play just the music from the films skipping the narrative that brackets each tune is a tremendous idea. Although, since some clips are short, it does leave you wanting to hear more in almost every case. The fact that Scorsese used his skills and that of 6 other directors including Clint Eastwood, Mike Figgis, Wim Wenders, Richard Pearce, Charles Burnett and Marc Levin to make these films was overall a very successful idea. The films alone would make a good box set to own, but add the fact that they brought veteran music filmmaker Michael Borofsky into the mix to create the DVD's from the sensitivities of what a serious music consumer would like to do with these DVDs makes the overall package one of the best I have ever owned. David Michaels"
Everybody Hollerin' More Blues
James Ferguson | Vilnius, Lithuania | 11/19/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The videos are rich in material but leave you craving for more. The movies themselves run about 80-90 minutes each, covering a tremendous amount of ground but leave you with just little bits and pieces of the Blues. There are additional tracks on the DVD's but I was hoping to hear more of Ali Farka Toure and instead got more of Corey Harris. I like Harris, and I like the way Scorcese followed him on his pilgrimage from Mississippi to Mali, but Toure seemed so subdued on this recording. It would have been better to see him jam with his own musicians.The movies are reverential in their presentation. The directors seem cautious in their approach, which surprised me given their own stature in the cinematic world. Wenders flirts with his musicians the same way he did on the Buena Vista Social Club, without revealing what really makes them tick. However, there is a great mix of music and some fantastic old footage such as a couple of pieces with Son House. But, it seems to me that Scorcese could have taken this PBS series much further."