A wanna be blues guitar virtuoso seeks a long lost song by legendary musician, Robert Johnson.A wanna be blues guitar virtuoso seeks a long lost song by legendary musician, Robert Johnson.A wanna be blues guitar virtuoso seeks a long lost song by legendary musician, Robert Johnson.
Eugene Martone, considered a prodigy on the classical guitar, is a young Long Island man attending the prestigious Julliard Music School. Problem? He prefers the blues over classical. And he's on a quest. He uncovers evidence that blues guitar legend, Robert Johnson, composed 30 songs. Since only 29 were ever recorded, he becomes obsessed at finding the 'lost' song number 30 (and being the first person to record it). And, after some sleuthing, he finds an old photograph and a news clipping -- pointing him toward the only living person who would know that song and who, fortunately, lives nearby. His name is Willie Brown (aka Blind Dog Fulton, aka Smokehouse Brown), a friend of Robert Johnson who traveled and performed with him (harmonica/vocals). Brown lives in a penal facility for old people (a criminal's nursing home). At first, Brown denies his true identity. But confronted with a photo of himself next to Robert Johnson, Brown finally admits the truth. And, he agrees to teach Martone the lost song -- but ONLY if Martone breaks him out of the facility and takes him back to Mississippi.
The catch? Martone knows that lore surrounding Robert Johnson says he sold his soul to the Devil. What he doesn't know is that it's fact, not lore ... and that Willie Brown did the same thing. And Martone doesn't know that Brown's reason for going back to Mississippi is to return to the 'crossroads' where he and Johnson sold their souls in hopes of getting the Devil to release him from his contract. This culminates in an eerie finale where Martone gambles his soul in a blues duel with the Devil's own guitarist, Jack Butler ... to save Brown from eternal damnation.
Director Walter Hill is masterful, combining music, drama, alternate history, fantasy, and horror into a single plot. Kudos must also be given to screenwriter John Fusco for giving Hill a masterful script to work from. But contrary to most people, my favorite scene isn't the blues duel. It's the scene where Martone wakes up to find out a girl he met in his travels with Brown (and had a romantic interest in) has unexpectedly left them to go her own way. And immediately after that, Brown admits he lied... that there never was a song number 30. At that moment, Martone, who'd been merely a good blues 'player' up to that point picks up his guitar and begins to play a sad blues song ... one certainly coming from his soul, not from his memory of what others have played. It is that momentary 'graduation' scene (the transition between blues 'player' and blues 'man') that sets the stage for the duel ... with film watchers knowing Martone is as ready for it as he can be.
- Mar 10, 2003