In the fall of my junior year in college, I took a class on the history of American blues music. Outside of another class on the sociological impact of world cities, this was a pretty striking break from an otherwise long stream of film production and theory classes. Prior to taking the class, I wouldn’t have really called myself a blues aficionado—I was only taking the class in the first place because The History of Rock And Roll was all booked up. Thankfully, the blues class turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire college experience, and I relished the homework that sent me out to various blues festivals and concerts around Boston so I could report back on the experience. I came to see blues as not only its own distinct genre, but the ancestor of pretty much all popular American music today, from jazz, to rock and roll, and even to hip-hop. It’s an incredibly eye-opening experience to see the interconnectedness of various musical genres, giving an immense appreciation for all styles regardless of personal taste.
This class was also where I first saw an episode from a documentary series titled THE BLUES (2003), commissioned by director Martin Scorsese in collaboration with several other prominent filmmakers in a bid to chronicle America’s musical heritage through the prism of blues music. Scorsese himself directed the premiere episode, “FEEL LIKE GOING HOME”, which chronicles the genre’s beginnings in the Mississippi Delta region as well as its roots further back in Africa. Hosting via voiceover, Scorsese blends together a mix of archival footage and original video documentary work in a bid to profile some of the biggest names in blues music: Lead Belly, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters (who showed up in Scorsese’s 1978 concert film, THE LAST WALTZ), Son House, and Charley Patton.
Perhaps as a reference to his previous work (2002’s GANGS OF NEW YORK), Scorsese opens the documentary with a drum and fife performance similar to the music heard at the beginning of his historical epic. Indeed, THE BLUES: “FEEL LIKE GOING HOME” is a natural fit within Scorsese’s documentary career, continuing his longtime exploration of rock music and its culture. What’s perhaps most telling about Scorsese’s own personal interests is the significant amount of time he dedicates to the subject of John Lomax, who collaborated with the Library of Congress to travel the country and record authentic regional folk music in the early twentieth century. Scorsese has made something of a side career for himself in his efforts with film preservation, and just as he believes its important to preserve our cinematic heritage, so too does he relate to Lomax’s own bid to chronicle the work of a certain set of people during a certain point of time before they’re lost to the tidal sweep of history.
All told, THE BLUES: “FEEL LIKE GOING HOME” is an interesting foray into the history of blues music, as told by an artist who was fundamentally shaped by the genre and has incorporated it into his own aesthetic.
THE BLUES: “FEEL LIKE GOING HOME” is currently available on standard definition DVD.
Produced by: Sam D. Pollard
Written by: Peter Guralnick
Director of Photography: Arthur Jafa
Edited by: David Tedeschi