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209 of 216 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 1999
Did Robert Johnson really sell his soul to old Scratch at the crossroads? John Hammond, Jr. explores the life and times of this legendary bluesman. Hammond, a fine blues musician himself, travels through the small towns of the Mississippi Delta and interviews several of Robert Johnson's contemporaries and acquaintances, including Johnny Shines. Hammond even tracks down a woman who claims to have been Johnson's wife. Most of the interviewees are in the later years, giving the documentary a living history feel. The documentary is filled with Johnson's music, much of it performed by Hammond, in Delta settings. It is quite stirring to see Hammond playing Crossroads at the crossroads. If you are a fan of the Delta blues, this is a must have film.
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68 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
If you are a fan of the blues you MUST have this tape, no question about that.
One thing I like about this film is that it is as authentic as original. The is a marked difference in the interview segments when comparing this film with Cant You Hear The Wind Howl. In this film John Hammond Jr is interviewing the woman Robert Johnson cries out for, Annie Mae... in this film when JH Jr plays the song to her she has an expression that she hears a voice from the grave and is visibly affected by the music. In the other film she is inviewed but appearing more relaxed and prepared for discussing Robert Johnson. The corner dueling scene between John Hammond and Johnny Shines is excellent, its as close to the real thing as I will probably see.
This is a most excellent documentary, I hope it is able to find its way to DVD, for blues fans it is a must have documentary.
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76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2006
This DVD offers a wealth of information about the life of Robert Johnson. We meet a girlfriend of Robert Johnson, who claims she knows where his actual burial ground is, and another girlfriend who had a song written about her by Robert (and who hears it for the first time on the DVD). A man is interviewed who claims to be Robert Johnson's son, along with a birth certificate showing that in fact this may be the case. Johnny Shines talks about how they would play the game of "cutting heads" in Helena, with Robert stealing away the audience every time. We get the insight that the person who poisoned Robert Johnson's drink admitted as such to one interviewer, after first presenting an alibi for a question which was never asked. We are also presented with three possible grave sites of Robert Johnson, though none of them can proven to be incontrovertible as such. In short, there is a lot of good information on this DVD about the enigmatic bluesman known as Robert Johnson (and pseudonyms in various other places). This DVD is clearly a window into the past which will slowly disappear as the years go on......Hammond does us all a great service by documenting Robert Johnson's life and that of his contemporaries.

The one complaint I would have is that at times Hammond (an excellent blues singer in his own right) himself is singing RJ's songs, and at the bottom of the screen it will have the name of Robert Johnson along with the songs title. This may leave those with little knowledge of the blues to conclude it is actually Robert Johnson who is singing, when in fact it is not. Also, there are montages throughout the film when they will be talking about Robert Johnson while at the same time showing pictures of blacks in bars and juke joints, without saying that in fact Robert Johnson is not in the photograph, as there are only two known photographs of him, and each one of these show him alone in the picture. To the novice blues fan, they may not know this and think they are actually seeing Robert Johnson, and I think this fact should have been made clear in the film.

Even with the above provisos, this was an excellent documentary on Robert Johnson's life....Hammond clearly has a deep love for the blues and the early musicians of the delta.

**** 1/2 stars.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2003
I purchased this video about a month back and have watched it at least 6 times. I guess the reason that I like it so much is not only my fascination with Robert Johnson but also the connection that I have to the places in it. I was born in Helena Arkansas (mentioned many times during and has it's own segment) and I have also visited all three alleged gravesites of Mr. Johnson. When you travel through the Delta as Mr. Hammond has start to understand a little more about the music and where it came from. This documentary captures a lot of the essence of the Delta but you must visit it yourself to get the true feeling of how life must have been for the Blues Musicians of the Delta in the early 20th Century. The interviews here are candid, honest, and real. Watching this only make you want to look these people up yourself. Watch this video and try to inherit some appreciation for the heart and soul that went into the music that so many take for granted. Then...if you dare...take your own pilgrimage down to "The Crossroads" and see for yourself what all of this is about.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2005
I'm a long-time owner of the "other" Robert Johnson DVD, Can't You Hear The Wind Howl." Obviously, I was wondering if there was going to be much duplication of material between that and the "Search For" DVD when I finally decided to buy the latter. I wasn't disappointed. While "Can't You Hear..." is in itself a fine piece of work, this DVD touches on some details of Robert Johnson's life not covered in "Can't You Hear...". John Hammond's interviews with Mack McCormick and the apparent son of Robert Johnson are particularly fascinating highlights of this film. As a result, I recommend all R.J. fans owning both DVD's--they complement each other well. As for John Hammond's intermittent performances of Johnson's songs, I thoroughly enjoyed them. The only corny part of the movie is when Hammond and Johnny Shines pretend to "cut heads" on the street--not too authentic, obviously, but I guess they were just trying to illustrate the concept. Well worth the price--buy this!!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
What I loved most about this film was how it gave a window into the culture that produced Robert Johnson. When a woman who'd been a girlfriend of Robert Johnson's was asked whether she thought that Robert Johnson had really sold his soul to the devil, she replied "that's what people say." But then she said, (and I paraphrase her), "Why are you asking me? You're a musician, you know how these things work." When John Hammond then said, "I didn't sell my soul." Her reply was an unbelieving "Um-hmm!" Also, when the story was told of how the man who'd poisoned Robert Johnson finally admitted to the deed, his response was "I never thought there'd be all this trouble by killing that man." As though killing most men didn't cause much trouble at all! Anyway, the production is nice, having been shown on the BBC. It's not flashy Hollywood special effects, but for those interested in classic blues its a great trip through the Mississippi Delta.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2005
This documentary was rather disappointing to me. Mr. Hammond is a fine musician but too much of the film is wasted showing him performing Johnson's music. It was interesting watching Hammond and Mr. Johnny Shines 'cuttin' heads' on the street corners of a delta town. However, Hammond isn't a good interviewer and it seems like he just uses this as a platform to showcase his own considerable talent. I would advise anyone to stay away from this one and get 'Can't you hear the wind howl' instead. This is basically a rehash of all the same material. If your a diehard like me, go ahead and watch it but you might be disappointed.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2001
This is good in that not only does this explore the histroy of the great bluesman Robert Johnson, it also gives you an understanding of the Black Delta culture that he came from and we see some of Johnson's surviving friends and lovers talk about him. A very touching scene shows the actual "Willie Mae" mentioned in "Love In Vain" smiling sweetly as she hears RJ mentioning her name in the song. However, while Hammond is a good narrator, being a serious student of the blues, we could do without his forced and strained renditions of RJ's songs and let the actual recordings speak for themselves. Other than that, blues fans will enjoy this.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2003
The film is great for everyone. I saw this film in my humanities class and allowed me to learn about Robert Johnson's life and legends, the myths behind his songs. Many people that actually met Robert Johnson are interviewed in this film so it allows the viewer to learn about this icon in a very personal level. I highly recomend it to anyone who is serious about music and blues and also to those who might just be curious.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2013
John Hammond has done more than any contemporary performer to ensure that the greatest of all the Delta blues singers finally got the recognition he deserved. Sure, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and a host of others are better known, but Hammond has been consistently on message for 50 years now.
What John has done here is not mouldy-fig romanticism, wallowing in the mythology (Johnson supposedly selling his soul to the Devil, etc, etc). This is a thorough piece of oral history, fortunately done before it was too late. Hammond tracks through the documents, talks to blues researchers, goes to the places, talks to people who knew Johnson. Much of this was a revelation when it first came out.
But it is not dry-as-dust history. With the help of Johnny Shines and others, John vividly recreates Johnson's music. We see it mainly in the context of its times Poverty and segregation were facts of life then, but John does not dwell on this. We know the impact of this music on the blues and rock scene decades later, but that is not John's main concern either. He wants us to see an understand the man who created this music, where he did it, and why.
Thanks to Robert Johnson for the music in the first place - and thanks also to John Hammond for such a scrupulous, honest and vivid tribute!
If you miss this, your life will be forever poorer.
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