Movie Review: 'Lightning in a Bottle' pours out the blues
An entertaining history lesson in the form of an all-star blues concert.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language; 109 minutes.
Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.
If my high-school history lessons rocked as much as the one presented in the concert film "Lightning in a Bottle," I probably would have paid better attention in class.
The film, which captures an all-star benefit concert last year at Radio City Music Hall, not only surveys the variety of blues music over the past century but serves as a brisk and emotional history of the African-American experience.
It begins with African-inflected music (a song, "Zélié," performed by Angélique Kidjo), moves through the songs of slaves (like Blind Lemon Jefferson's lament "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," sung by Mavis Staples), through Mississippi Delta blues to the urban centers of Chicago and New Orleans, then adapted into rock by Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile," performed here by Kidjo and Buddy Guy) and hip-hop (Chuck D doing a cover of John Lee Hooker's "Boom, Boom").
Some of the greatest blues players are represented, like B.B. King, Odetta, Ruth Brown, Robert Cray and the imposing Solomon Burke. New stars pay their respects, such as Macy Gray and India.Arie (who does a chilling rendition of Billie Holliday's anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit"). Rockers Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty and Aerosmith demonstrate how the blues inspired them. Fiddler Alison Krauss and rock singer David Johansen give backup to unsung legends: respectively, James "Blood" Ulmer and Hubert Smulin.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "King Arthur") adds the occasional backstage jams and archival footage to deepen the historical narrative, but smartly keeps the focus where it belongs: onstage. "Lightning in a Bottle" achieves the goal of every concert film, to make you feel like you were there - or at least wish you were there.