conversations have gone better than the introduction
I made to John Landis.
"Are you the guy who sent
me the magazines?" he asked.
"Yes, I sure did," was
my witty reply.
"Are you aware that you got
the quotes wrong in the story about Animal House?"
I started to fade a little as
he proceeded to rattle off the correct lines from
Fortunately, he laughed a little
while he was doing it and that softened the sting
a bit. Being kind of stupid, I still pressed for
a more in-depth interview, and he agreed.
I was determined to make a better
impression on the man who was the driving force
on so many of the movies I loved when I was younger.
I defy you to find a man my age (and no, you don't
have to know how old that is, smarty-pants) who
doesn't howl when he sees Animal House or
The Blues Brothers. Let others watch It's
A Wonderful Life; for me, it isn't Christmas
without Trading Places.
So now that Universal is making
all of us Y-chromosome types happy with a reissuing
of The Blues Brothers with added footage,
I figured this was a great time to talk with the
director himself about both versions, the sequel
and all the points in between.
Why was the footage cut in the first place?
When we made the movie, we always intended it to
be a road show. It would be about two and a half
hours long and have an intermission. The exhibitors
felt it was a 'black movie' and that no white people
in America would go see it at all.
You're kidding me, right? I mean, with the
exposure on Saturday Night Live pushing
the movie, how could it miss?
The studio insisted that the movie would die quickly,
so could we cut it shorter? They wanted me to remove
close to half an hour. Not just outs and trims,
they wanted entire sequences lifted and musical
numbers shortened. I cut this from the finished
negative and the picture was released twenty-six
minutes shorter than we intended.
You, Aykroyd, Belushi and company had the
last laugh, right?
Yes, the film was a tremendous hit, and all of a
sudden everybody was taking credit for it. If you
want to see how much the studio wanted to distance
themselves from the project at first, take a look
at the soundtrack album. They didn't even release
the soundtrack. It was released through Atlantic
What about the extra footage? Surely with
a genuine bona fide hit on their hands, a re-release
would seem like a natural.
A few years later, the home video arm [MCA/Universal]
wanted to release a restored version, and I agreed
to do it. Unfortunately, someone had thrown away
all of the material. It couldn't be found anywhere.
They can find footage from Lawrence of Arabia
[shot in 1962], but they can't find the material
from The Blues Brothers. So that got scrapped.
Eventually, years later, someone found the Pickwood
Print, which was a preview cut that had an extra
twelve minutes in it, and that's the footage we've
restored on DVD.
has to be one of the greatest examples of guerilla
filmmaking ever. Made away from studio interference
with a bunch of then-unknowns, it's all about how
to succeed away from the system. But how did it
get far enough to succeed in the first place?
We had some real problems getting that one made.
Thankfully, Donald Sutherland agreed to be in the
movie. With a name actor, we were able to secure
funding and make the movie we wanted to make.
A quick glance at the credits reveals a
long list of up-and-coming talent that includes
not only John Belushi but also Tim Matheson, Thomas
Hulce, Peter Riegert, Stephen Furst, Karen Allen
and Kevin Bacon. Did you miss on anyone you really
I cast John Vernon as Dean Wormer, and he was terrific.
I originally thought about using Jack Webb. [Editor's
note: For those of you too young to remember Jack
Webb, he was the monotoned detective of television's
Dragnet, the hippie-hating, climb-on-a-soapbox
cop who was the ultimate authority figure in the
turbulent 1960s.] I actually had a meeting with
him, and he looked at the script. Then he looked
at me, trying to figure out how long my hair was.
I never heard back from him.
What about your relationship with superstar-in-the-making
John Belushi and his untimely death?
There are a lot of misconceptions about sudden fame
killing John Belushi. That's not true at all. Like
many young people, John had been using recreational
drugs as far back as high school, where he was a
star athlete. In fact, if anything, fame probably
kept him alive longer because he was able to afford
a higher quality of drug. If you've ever had a good
friend with a drug or alcohol problem, you realize
how powerless I felt. What could I do? Tie him up
somewhere? No, with John it was so frustrating watching
him self-destruct, and I'm still pissed that it
happened. We lost a lot when we lost John Belushi.
Were you stung by the negative reviews about
The Blues Brothers 2000?
We got it from both sides. Half the reviews said
we were too much like the original, half said we
were nothing like the original.
Why do a sequel eighteen years later?
Danny [Aykroyd] had been opening up these clubs
called the House of Blues and appearing as Elwood
with the original Blues Brothers Band and the place
would go wild. So he called me and said, "Let's
do a new one."
We had a script [The Blues
Brothers Meet the Voodoo Queen] that we were
going to use before, but we changed almost all of
it. The Voodoo Queen, Mousette, played by Erykah
Badu, is from the old script. The studio insisted
we have a kid as a co-star, and we had to have it
rated PG-13. We didn't like that. The foul language
was an integral part of the original movie, but
we had no choice, if we wanted to make the movie.
If you look at the sequel, the
one thing everyone praised was the music. The original
had seven musical numbers. The sequel has eighteen.
And everybody associated worked for scale. The musicians
at the end all donated their salaries to charity.
That was the all-time all-star band, too.
There has never been a more distinguished representation
of blues music.
You've got to remember, too, we shot in the summer,
when everybody tours. So there were at least fifty
other great musicians who wanted to take part but
couldn't because of other commitments.
When I first worked with B.B.
King [on the music for Into the Night], he
asked, "Why wasn't I in The Blues Brothers?"
So you can imagine how happy I was to call him and
say "You ready to be in the sequel?"
What do you want to do next?
I'd love to make a small little romance or a real
western. I love westerns, but it's probably not
going to happen any time soon.
is not ready to talk about his next project just
yet, although he has set up a movie for New Line
and says that his next movie will be really scary.
In the meantime, I'm on a mission from God to kick
back in front of the DVD player, slide in the restored
The Blues Brothers and turn the volume waaaaay