Louie Bluie (The Criterion Collection)
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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
Audio commentary featuring Zwigoff
Outtakes and deleted scenes
Illustrations by Howard Armstrong
A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sragow
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Top customer reviews
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.
If you are interested in Old-Time Music at all and don't own this DVD you MUST buy it!!!