I Am the Blues
(Canada, 106 min.)
Dir. Daniel Cross
In what is surely a passion project, Montreal documentary filmmaker Daniel Cross has been following a group of aging blues musicians living out their lives in the American South for the past few years. The result, I Am the Blues, is a lovely film, made with a light, respectful touch. None of the musicians profiled in this delightful niche film is world famous but they’re still talented in their 80s and enjoy playing their music. You might call this film Zoomer Blues.
Bobby Rush, the closest thing to a lead in the film, is in his early 80s. He still looks great–and plays guitar and sings quite well. Rush is in the Blues Hall of Fame and played for the Clintons when Bill was in office. (Maybe Hillary would bring him back.) I Am the Blues is very loosely structured but Rush is interviewed in his car a lot so we can assume that he’s taking us on a bit of a road trip to hear some of his old friends play and sing.
We travel from tiny Bentonia, Mississippi, where bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes runs the legendary Blue Front Café through to the bayous of Louisiana. Many wonderful musicians show up to tell stories and sing the blues: Barbara Lynn, who had a big hit in 1962 with ‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing’; the genuinely superb pianist Henry Gray; singer Carol Fran; the guitarist LC Ulmer and the great harmonica player “Bud” Spires.
In an affecting sequence, Spires, old and blind, talks about death after performing a song. In the next scene, we’re at a small rural church, getting ready to bury Spires. Death, never far away from a blues musician’s thoughts, has claimed another great.
I Am the Blues will only appeal to those of us who enjoy the music. For aficionados, this is a must see. For those who at least like the blues, it’s also highly recommendable. Daniel Cross has made a relaxed and beautifully observed film about a musical form that may disappear in the next couple of decades.
I am the Blues is currently playing in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, in Winnipeg at the Cinematheque, and in Coburg at the Loft with additional cities to come.