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Louie Bluie (The Criterion Collection)

15 customer reviews

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(Aug 10, 2010)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Crumb director Terry Zwigoff’s first film is a true treat: a documentary about the obscure country blues musician and idiosyncratic visual artist Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, member of the last known black string band in America. As beguiling a raconteur as he is a performer, Louie makes for a wildly entertaining movie subject, and Zwigoff honors him with an unsentimental but endlessly affectionate tribute. Full of infectious music and comedy, Louie Bluie is a humane evocation of the kind of pop-cultural marginalia that Zwigoff would continue to excavate in the coming years.

Old-time-music aficionado Terry Zwigoff's first film, Louie Bluie, has been saved from extinction, according to the director's commentary on this Criterion Collection rerelease. The film he shot it on apparently was suffering from a lethal degradation called "vinegar syndrome," but fortunately viewers now have DVD access to the story that inspired this music collector to become a documentary filmmaker. At an hour long, Louie Bluie is packed with information, half about fiddle and mandolin master Howard Armstrong, and half about the history of old-time traveling bands, many of whom were extended families on jugs or strings, as was Armstrong's. Zwigoff shot the film partially in Armstrong's Detroit housing project, recruiting musicians Ted Bogan, "Banjo" Ikey Robinson, and "Yank" Rachell in order to capture Armstrong jamming out with musicians of his ilk, and to extract the same charisma he entertained with in his 1930s and '40s heyday. In the kitchen over buckets of chicken, in a grimy shantytown back alley, or in his sister-in-law's living room, Armstrong sings and plays his instruments between spinning hilarious yarns and reminiscences. Two scene highlights include Armstrong at a Tennessee yard sale, yakking about the invention of porch screen doors, and Armstrong busting out, to "Banjo" Ikey's surprise, his "Whorehouse Bible," a fantastic handmade book of drawings and stories penned by the man himself. Vintage archival photography peppers the film, to contextualize what Armstrong describes from his past, and a trip Zwigoff and Armstrong take to Armstrong's hometown in Tennessee yields some great additional subject matter. While the only real supplementary material here are some excellent jams that didn't make the final cut, Zwigoff's commentary adds much to the film's cultural importance. It also underscores, to reiterate what this innovative director says, that if you've got the subject matter, one simply feels compelled to turn the camera on and shoot. As a character, a comedian, a musical talent, and a living legend, Armstrong is the man. Lucky for us, Zwigoff had the good eye, and the humor, to translate for a film audience this slice of blues music history for posterity. --Trinie Dalton

Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Audio commentary featuring Zwigoff
Outtakes and deleted scenes
Illustrations by Howard Armstrong
Stills gallery
A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sragow

Product Details

  • Actors: Howard Armstrong
  • Directors: Terry Zwigoff
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: August 10, 2010
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003N2CVQS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,604 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Louie Bluie (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David Grim on November 19, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
This is an early documentary by director Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb", "Ghost World") that focuses on an old time music/blues player named William Howard Armstrong. Armstrong was 75 at the time this film was shot, but he was still capable of some blistering playing. We get to see him play the fiddle, the guitar, the banjo, the ukelele, and some hybrid instruments. He appears with the players he has been with for years and years.
Interspersed between the musical shots are slice-of-life vignettes where we get to hear our hero trading philosophy and folksy wisdom, along with some very ribald stories, with his compadres. We also get to look at some of his colorful, "realist" (artist's own description) paintings of African-American life. But the real treat for me was a treasure he has kept locked up since he created it. It's a "prostitute's bible" with folktales, how-to guides, anecdotes (personal and otherwise), cut-out magazine photos, and some charmingly explicit and colorful drawings. I would pay at least $100 for a copy of it. When asked why he keeps it locked away, he replies that he does so to avoid "the man" keeping him locked away. It's unfortunate that this video hasn't been released on DVD, because in effect, its obscurity does keep Louie Bluie locked away.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jazz Man on May 25, 2010
Format: DVD
I've been waiting years for the wonderful little documentary 'Louie Bluie' to make an appearance on DVD. I am overjoyed that it is finally going to be part of the Criterion Collection!

Terry Zwigoff is best known for 'Ghost World', 'Crumb' and 'Bad Santa', but before he made those films he directed this charming and fascinating 1985 documentary. It follows Howard Armstrong (Louie Bluie) a pioneer string band musician who was still going strong in the 1980s. Lovers of the blues will instantly fall in love with Howard's astounding musical abilities and the film serves up a lot of musical scenes. But it also devotes time to Armstrong's opinions on women, art and other subjects. 'Louie Bluie' is a timeless film that provides a valuable snapshot of a kind of musician that just isn't around anymore.

The new director-approved special edition DVD contains:

New, restored high-definition digital transfer (1.33:1), approved by director Terry Zwigoff

Audio commentary featuring Zwigoff

Thirty minutes of unused footage

Illustrations by Howard Armstrong

Stills gallery

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sragow
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John Heneghan on August 16, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Louie Bluie is the greatest documentary about old time music ever made. It is amazing that these musicians were captured on film and preserved at all but with Louie Bluie we get a window into what it was like to be a 1920's Blues musician and we witness a handful of the greatest Blues & Jazz musicians of the 1920's & 30's that ever lived, Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Yank Rachel and Banjo Ikey Robinson as they hang out, B.S. and play music with one another. There is nothing else like it. It's both heartbreaking and hysterical to watch these guys in the twilight of their lives as they fade out of existence nearly unnoticed. Thank God Terry Zwigoff noticed!!!
If you are interested in Old-Time Music at all and don't own this DVD you MUST buy it!!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dom Flemons on September 1, 2010
Format: DVD
Louie Bluie is the greatest film about a musician that has ever been made. I first saw Louie Bluie when a friend of mine passed me a copy of it that he had dubbed from his VHS tape. I was floored. From the music, the man, and the colorful cast of characters I was hooked. The scene in the "Cacklin' Hen affected me so much that a few friends and I named our group after Armstrong's first group, The Tennessee Chocolate Drops changing the local from Tennessee to Carolina to represent two of our memebers home state North Carolina. Beside this just being a great portrait of a musician, this movie is also a great portrait of a black string band musician who's music representd an amazing part of American musicial history. The black string band is a highly underappreciated piece of the musicial puzzle and Mr. Zwigoff's film gives a highly informative and entertaining potrait of one of the greats. Even though it is billed as a documentary, it is far more entertaining than any other documentary that I have ever seen. I could go on and on but just pick up a copy of this film! It will blow your mind!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ArtiztikFoto on September 28, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The magnificent content of this documentary has been covered by others, believe what those who rated it 5 stars have to say. A deeply personal and loving documentary of these Blues gentlemen, who love their music and share a joyous time recounting their memories and meeting at eachothers homes for a good jam session.

Criterion has done an outstanding job of restoration on the original 16mm footage, just compare it to the hour of unrestored "deleted scenes". Too bad they did not restore these too, but do not overlook watching them, they are pure gold. And I also highly recommend Terry Zwigoff's incredible documentary, "Crumb". Howard Armstrong had a love of erotic cartooning, and shows you some of his personal collection in his portfolio of sometimes innocent "porn", actually humorous erotic curiosities. He has a one man gallery showing describing how he made his own paint as a child by squeezing the dye from wet crepe paper. I wondered if his work was a source of inspiration for R. Crumb, who illustrated the cover for the DVD.
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