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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Cast: Howard Armstrong
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Release Date: August 10, 2010
Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:00m:36s
ďI donít know whether itís a liability or an asset...because sometimes I feel like Iím three or four different people.Ē - Howard Armstrong
The Criterion Collection comes through again and offers us an obscure documentary from acclaimed director Terry Zwigoff. This is really going to appeal to fans of both Zwigoff and jazz.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A-
Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff is still best known for his documentary feature, Crumb, despite the fact
that it premiered way back in 1994. Since the success of that film, Zwigoff has branched out to fictional films as
well, shooting the excellent Ghost World, hilarious Bad Santa, and underrated Art School Confidential. While he
hasnít made a film since 2006, what better time than now to look back on Zwigoffís first film, the documentary
Louie Bluie. Made in 1985, Louie Bluie chronicles the late Howard Armstrong, an eclectic figure, to say the least.
A virtually unknown work, pre-Crumb, Louie Bluie can now be enjoyed by all thanks to this excellent Criterion
Howard Armstrong was born in 1909 and spent the best years of his life (his twenties) in Chicago, where he
flourished as a musician. When we first see Zwigoff with Armstrong in the film, heís living alone in Detroit.
Throughout the short, one-hour running time, we journey back to Chicago with both Zwigoff and Armstrong, so the
latter can essentially relive his glory years as heís well past 90-years-of-age. Heís soon reunited with much of his
band, even performing at a handful of clubs in the Chicago area. We then follow Zwigoff and Armstrong to
Tennessee, where we meet the former musicianís family and learn more about the areaís string bands and where he
fits in amidst that world.
Louie Bluie is a brisk, entertaining film that is only an hour long. So Zwigoff covers so much ground in that scant
running time, though, that it seems like the perfect length. We learn a ton about both Armstrong and his music, and
seeing him in action on stage is the icing on the cake. Zwigoff doesnít simply rest on his laurels and show us typical
concert footage, though, as he gives us a great, detailed look at how Armstrong performs. This decision to showcase
his technique makes Louie Bluie both enthralling and educational. Now, Iím not going to even attempt to pick up
an instrument and become the next Howard Armstrong, but seeing the effort and skill that goes into such a craft is
Listening to Armstrong talk is just as compelling as the musical sequences, though, as he is a truly funny man thatís
nearly impossible to turn away from when heís speaking. He has an unending wit and charisma that is extremely
unique, making it all the more positive that Zwigoff chooses to keep himself in the background and just let
Armstrong be Armstrong. So many documentary filmmakers today canít help but dominate their own films,
whether via voiceover or an overabundance of screen time, but Zwigoffís restraint in that matter is a huge plus for
the film. Despite its relative obscurity, Louie Bluie comes to DVD from The Criterion Collection, and itís another
stellar effort from them. For a 16mm film shot in the mid-80s, itís pretty amazing just how good things look. The
original mono audio track isnít as much of a pleasant surprise but itís more than suitable for this material. An
excellent extras collection is buoyed by not only an entertaining audio commentary track by Zwigoff, but also by
an extra 30 minutes of footage that was left out of the finished film. This extra look at Armstrong, his music, and
his life only adds to the already wonderful cinematic experience that is Louie Bluie.
Posted by: Chuck Aliaga - October 7, 2011, 7:58 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: obscure, idiosyncratic, raconteur, string band
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