“Jesus H. Tap-dancing Christ!”, “The Blues Brothers” is a Catholic Classic!
“The Blues Brothers” is a unique blend of great music with outrageous humour and over the top manic car chases packaged with cool and a humorous poke at the Catholic Church. Among its fans it has reached cult status where it is routinely honoured by tribute bands all over the world endeavouring to recapture its spirit. At the same time “The Blues Brothers” has outraged some Christians as it seemingly mocks the Church and Christian values. Nevertheless, in June, 2010 the L'Osservatore Romano (the “official”) newspaper of the Vatican chose to declare the film a Catholic classic. Essentially elevating it to a level on par with films such as Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” in the message and the values the film tries to convey. “The Blues Brothers” is a great example of how popular culture and religion interact with each other and how, as Gordon Lynch describes, the Church has appropriated this film to deliver Christian values to the people. Clearly the L'Osservatore Romano has understood “that film can be construed as a meaningful and fertile medium for the articulation of religious belief in contemporary society,” and in choosing “The Blues Brothers” they have taken a film looks unsuitable for inclusion and found that it does have some value. This essay will attempt to look beyond what perhaps the L'Osservatore Romano saw on the surface and present a deeper diagnosis in relation with how religion is presented in popular culture and how religious groups react to that representation and see if it can be considered alongside the aforementioned classics. “The Blues Brothers” is a film about unsuccessful criminals Jake and Elwood Blues who set about saving their former home, a Catholic orphanage in Chicago from closure. Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) who co-wrote the film with its director John Landis says of the birth of the brothers came about one night in Aykroyd’s illegal speakeasy in downtown Toronto where he introduced John Belushi (Jake Blues) to his rhythm and blues collection of albums. The Blues Brother’s started out as a band that toured North America as an opening act for comedy giant Steve Martin and then as a warm up act on Saturday Night Live. Aykroyd explained the film “came from a newspaper story. The story was that the city was going to levy taxes on orphanages with schools located in them. So this is where we came up with this idea of dealing with state and religion …. I think we used that as a starting point.” The film opened in 1980 and helped reinvent the careers of blues and soul music stars Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles as well as giving Aykroyd and Belushi’s musical choices credibility and a world-wide spotlight on the very talented Blues Brothers Band. The story begins with “Joliet” Jake Blues’ release from prison and a visit to the orphanage where they learn from Sister Mary Stigmata, who they fondly call The Penguin that it is threatened with closure because the tax on the property is overdue. Her request for help and her demand that they redeem themselves leads them to a neighbouring Baptist Church led by the Reverend Cleophus James (Brown) where Jake receives enlightenment that begins their “Mission from God” which is to save the orphanage. To achieve this and they do save the orphanage, they reassemble their band, they are chased and evade the Illinois Nazi Party, the police, assorted rednecks and a woman (Carrie Fisher) trying to kill Jake. It is cool, it is lively, and at times it is a hilarious musical feast. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of “The Blues Brothers” original premiere and the occasion of a special DVD release of the film Professor Gian Maria Vian, editor of "L'Osservatore Romano," devoted an entire page to explain why “The Blues Brothers” deserved the honour of being...
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