Elwood: You don't like it?
Jake: No, I don't like it...
...and neither did most of the 250+ fans in northwest suburban Chicago who gathered to pay tribute to one of their favorite films.
Tonight's special 25th Anniversary event, hosted by National CineMedia brought out the die hards. The atmosphere was much like a Comic Con merged with a midnight showing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, complete with fans dressed like Jake and Elwood accessorized by briefcases handcuffed to their wrists. Most attendees however were a mixed bag of fanboys and fangirls, from early twenty-somethings to late fifty-somethings, some sporting decades old Blues Brothers t-shirts that had not fit properly in quite some time.
The theater doors open, in anticipation of the 8:30p "Live via Satellite" Q&A taking place in Los Angeles. As we waited and the theater filled, one could hear fans barraging each other with favorite lines, witness seat dancing to recreated choreography, or listen in on obscure production trivia and stories of where certain scenes were filmed. For example, did you know that SNL and "Late Show" bandleader Paul Schaeffer was scheduled to appear in the film? Apparently he was tied up with producing and arranging the music for Gilda Radner's one-woman Broadway show and was replaced by Murphy Dunne -- son of Illinois Cook County Commissioner George W. Dunne (which means little to anyone outside of Chicago).
The video came alive with images of a packed house at Mann's Chinese Theatre (all sporting black 25th Anniversary fedoras) and host Gordon Meyer stepping up to introduce the panel of guests. Unfortunately, the video was all we got. Sound issues forced us to miss the start of the event as director John Landis, James Brown, Steve Cropper, Henry Gibson, producer Thom Mount, and co-writer Dan Akroyd (from Toronto) were introduced. The crowd got ugly as we listened over and over and over to the looped instrumental intro of Jack Johnson's "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" -- disturbingly appropriate.
The Jack Johnson fades out and the audio comes in, but it wasn't from LA. Rather it was two guys casually talking about Hurricane Katrina which had battered the Gulf Coast states for the past 24 hours. So, it's back to Jack Johnson, then no sound at all, aside from the snide audience commentary in true MST3K fashion.
We're still reading lips, bearing witness to this absurd theatre for the deaf whose sign language interpreter had the night off. Were other theaters around the country experiencing the same painful silence?
The audience cheers as Jack Johnson returns and just as quickly goes silent once again. Angry audience members began to exit one by one, each planning to hunt down the theater employee and extract a pound of flesh.
A theater employee enters the lion's den to apologize and assure the crowd that they are working to correct the situation. Needless to say his meager voice is no match for the agitated mob, who are still surprisingly self-entertained and well behaved. The problem appears to be something external to the building, but few believe it. The theater does offer refunds to those who wish to leave. Few do.
A boisterous segment of the audience begins to loudly proclaim that the hurricane is to blame for the problem, while another more astute segment begins dissecting the career of John Landis and the role he played in the tragic death of actor Vic Morrow.
The audio comes alive, just in time to hear the panel share their favorite John Belushi stories.
Dan's Favorite John Story (Quicktime)
Dan's Favorite John Story (Windows Media)
Unfortunately, five minutes later host Gordon Meyer wraps up the discussion and thanks the panel for their time. The screen goes dark and the audience hunkers down for the film to begin, only to be greeted by a "Brief Intermission" sign and the return of, you guessed, Jack Johnson. Now they're pissed.
The Universal logo appears and the film is underway. I have to admit, it's been a long time since I have seen an uncut version of this classic comedy. More often than not, I've caught it on cable TV and suffered through that g-rated overdub to relive some favorite scenes. It's a treat to see the actual film, live on the big screen again. I'll have more to share in my full review of the new DVD, but suffice to say that I was not impressed with the image quality. Granted, the film is 25 years old, but it appears that little has been done to restore the source print. Evidence of dirt and scratches (more prevalent in the opening 10 minutes) continue to plague this transfer, and the colors are in dire need of a facelift. One particular segment of the Chez Paul scene has Elwood basking in a purple tint on one of side of the table, while Jake appears seasick in a green tint on the other. Perhaps the theatre was having projection issues as well. What we saw tonight was the expanded version. To be honest, the only new material I caught was an expanded military presence as the boys were cornered within the Cook County Building in the film's climax. I'll examine more closely the differences between the two versions of the film included on the new 25th Anniversary Edition DVD, as well as rundown the many new bonus features created specifically for this release.
The sounds of "Jailhouse Rock" and "Sweet Home Chicago" fade out as the credits come to an end, and a vintage "When in Hollywood, Visit Universal Studios" sign appears, suggesting we "Ask for Babs." The few audience members who remain let out one final cheer as we all head for the door. Imagine our surprise as the Regal Cinema manager is handing out Re-Admission passes to everyone. Some complain loudly that they have driven hours to see this film and these passes are useless to them. However, it was a classy move on the part of the theater for what turned out to be a mixed experience if not altogether disappointing for most. Yet it's somehow fitting that we all left singing the blues.