THE BLUES ACCORDING TO LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS
The main film on this DVD ‘The Blues According To Lightnin' Hopkins', was hailed as a masterpiece in the seventies and won Les Blank several important awards. It was at a time when you rarely saw a film about a folk musician like Hopkins and although cinematic techniques have improved since then, the film still stands as a loving tribute that captures the essence of a Texas blues legend and rural black culture of the sixties.
The camera follows Lightnin' around for a couple of balmy days as he visits a black rodeo, plays the blues at a local barbecue, goes fishin' and takes a nostalgic trip to his childhood home of Centerville. Interspersed with his music, Lightnin's steady and sometimes humorous dialogue relays the origin of the blues as he feels it and gives some down-home advice on how to make your way through life without getting your throat cut. There are evocative shots of Lightnin's rural home territory of rundown shacks and country roads as well as lingering glances at some well-fed black girls strutting their stuff at the barbecue. It's an intimate view of how black people lived their lives in the late sixties - all preserved on film with Lightnin' Hopkins providing the beautiful soundtrack.
The main thing, of course, is the music and we get to see Lightnin' at his best with strong solo performances as well one song with the cantankerous Ruth ‘Blues' Ames and a few with the harmonica player Billy Bizer who works himself into quite a lather as he shamelessly hogs the camera during his three minutes in the spotlight. There's also a dignified appearance from Mance Lipscomb who plays a short version of Cried All Night supported by sympathetic backing from Lightnin'.
‘The Blues According To Lightnin' Hopkins' is not just an important record of how Lightnin' looked and performed at the height of his career but is also a real insight into the culture that created him.
‘The Sun's Gonna Shine' is a bonus short which roams around a sleepy Texan backwater in the heat of the noonday sun while Lightnin' and Billy Bizer play a lazy lowdown version of the film's title song and, as the music rolls along, the hefty black girls get a reprise and there are atmospheric shots of barbed wire, yellow daisies and a dog with fleas.
In ‘Mister Charlie', Hopkins tells an audience of white college kids a rambling story about a stuttering child which eventually segues into the blues Rolling Mill. It might be lightweight stuff but it's still a nice bonus to the main feature.
‘The Blues According To Lightnin' Hopkins' is a rare treat. If you're serious about the blues - it's a must!
Review Date: January 2012