Dan Aykroyd Brings the Blues to the St. Lawrence International Film Festival

The opening gala for the St. Lawrence International Film Festival kicked off Thursday night in Ottawa with none other than national treasure and hometown boy Dan freakin Aykroyd introducing the 35th anniversary screening of Blues Brothers.

IMG_3062The Blues Brothers were actually born in Toronto, which is where Aykroyd ran into John Belushi for the first time, at a bar on Queen Street where Downchild Blues Band was playing. Belushi was more into metal and punk but Aykroyd schooled him that night, and the music won him over, and musical director Howard Shore put a little bug in their ear, saying they should maybe start a band, and call it Blues Brothers.

The next time they met, Belushi had some 300 blues records and was already picking songs for a record for a band that didn’t exist blues-brothersyet. As you know, the two went on to be part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live, and they used this little band idea of theirs in a sketch. The rest is history: they recorded Briefcase Full of Blues, which topped the charts and sold 3.5 million albums, then they made seven more, plus the movie, and its sequel, and even a radio show. Belushi died in 1982, so now when the Blues Brothers play, his brother Jim joins Aykroyd on stage.

Aykroyd worked on the script for Blues Brothers while appearing on SNL. In it, Jake Blues (John), fresh out of prison, puts together his old bbrsband to save the Catholic home where he and brother Elwood (Dan) were raised. The film has a little bit of Ottawa influence in it: the ballroom of the Palace Hotel where the final performance takes places was patterned after Aylmer’s Chaudiere Club. And the air-raid siren atop the Bluesmobile was inspired by the one at Our Lady of Annunciation, where Aykroyd attended school in Hull – all in the Assholes’ backyard, as it were.

Aykroyd pulled up to the festival in a Bluesmobile of sorts, and walked the red carpet in his trademark shades. He sat down before the movie and told us that his favourite character to play was fe9d953c8dc8edccde5ad7dec9bdf039Beldar, the coneheaded alien, which he followed up with an immediate impression. I guess it’s not an impression if it’s YOUR character. “I talk at home like that,” said Aykroyd, and we believe him. His favourite movie, though, was Blues Brothers because “I had to use all the skills” – acting, writing, singing, dancing, playing the harmonica, stunt driving, not getting killed by Carrie Fisher. When someone asked about the pinnacle of his career, the question is quickly retracted, the asker not wishing to imply that the pinnacle isn’t perhaps still ahead. “May it please be behind me,” quips Aykroyd, and he’s quick to name the highlight: dancing on stage with James Brown.

Without further ado, he introduces the movie, an extended cut with extra car chase, and assures us IMG_3081that he still has 80% of the moves. Watching him break out into a frenetic dance up on the big screen, you kind of want to call him on it. I’m struck by the tremendous sideburns worn by Aykroyd and Belushi, and by Elwood’s white socks. The movie is full of cameos you can hardly believe – Aretha Franklin is sassy in a stained apron, Ray Charles plays so fervently we can see the reflection of the piano’s keys in his glasses, James Brown preaches to the choir (including Chaka Khan), and John Lee Hooker gets everyone stomping.

Matt’s favourite part was hearing that Beldar bit, but mine is hearing Matt’s giggles throughout the IMG_3101movie (he’d never seen it, if you can believe that). The movie is being screened as a special 35th anniversary edition, and it’s nice to see it on the big screen rather than “in a motel room at 1am,” as Aydan-a-crystal-head-imagekroyd puts it.

Afterward, there’s a gala reception where we are treated to a poutine bar (eminently Canadian) and drink Crystal Head vodka (Aykroyd’s own brand).  Downchild Blues Band is playing for the crowd, sounding just as good or better than they ever did. When Aykroyd joins them on stage, it’s electric, and pretty soon we’re dancing on and sharing the stage with a real live Blues brother.

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55 thoughts on “Dan Aykroyd Brings the Blues to the St. Lawrence International Film Festival

  1. Christopher

    My favorite Blues Brothers moment is one that happened off-screen: during filming in Chicago one night Belushi disappeared. The cast and crew went knocking on doors and one guy said, “Oh, yeah, he ate all the food in my refrigerator and he’s asleep on my couch right now.”
    It was so funny and bizarre I’m still surprised they didn’t find a way to work it into the film.
    And in an odd coincidence just a few weeks ago my wife and I were driving through a downtown area and I saw a store that sold baby clothes. I couldn’t resist saying, “Baby clothes…this place has got everything!”

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    1. Jay Post author

      When they’re in the phonebooth, Elwood asks Jake “Who you gonna call?” and it was all I could do not to shout out “Ghostbusters!” – but of course GB came after BB. Weird.

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      1. Sarah Ferguson

        I have never caught that! And you totally should have. I am pretty sure everyone would have enjoyed it (and if they didn’t, well, they just don’t have much of a sense of humor).

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    1. Jay Post author

      It is! In our honourary Blues Brothers glasses. (weirdly, all 3 of us have real wayfarers, and yet we were compelled these plastic baubles in the spirit of the thing)

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    2. Jay Post author

      Fraggle, I WISH you did, you have no idea! We’re actually going on a shoot this weekend and I can’t wait til you see the results (this is me, hoping likeh eck it all turns out!)

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Courtney Small

    “Poutine bar”…yet another reason why Canada is an awesome country. Look forward to reading about your experiences at the festival. I hear Black Mountain Side is great, missed it when it played the Blood in the Snow Film Festival up here.

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    1. Jay Post author

      It’s screening tomorrow, if we make it, so I haven’t seen it yet either (I just searched your site to discover I’m remember wrong).

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    2. Jay Post author

      The Hunting Ground is good, Courtney. I’m sure you’ll see it soon since you’re a movie machine. It nearly started a riot in the audience though.

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      1. Courtney Small

        I think you guys take the “movie machine” title right now. You are killing it with your multiple festival coverage. I am intrigued more about The Hunting Ground now by the riot aspect. I remember The Invisible War (which I loved) really divided audiences at my Hot Docs screening. He seems to be a director who gets under people’s skins, some passionately love his stuff, others find it too manipulative.

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  3. filmfunkel

    Blues Brothers is one of those films that came together with the right ingredients at the right time in history and can never be replicated. Just love it.

    Did you know there was a whole side story to their car having supernatural powers? They didn’t call attention to it, but It’s in there – just hard to see if not pointed out.

    And I’m with fragglerocking – it does sound like the best time ever. 😀

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    1. Sean

      Dan Aykroyd spoke a bit about that before the movie. He said they basically were lucky to get this movie made at the time (for $28 million, probably most of which was spent smashing up police cars).

      He thought the reason it happened was because Animal House was such a huge hit so the studio execs probably didn’t look past John Belushi and John Landis’ names before greenlighting their next collaboration. But then once it started production he said the execs were second guessing themselves, and today there would be no chance of it ever happening.

      So it was all pretty serendipitous and I think Dan Aykroyd agrees with you: this movie is something that will never be replicated.

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Sean

    It was a really fun event! I loved the entrance when he pulled up in the old police car, music blaring. And then to see him on stage was incredible. Also, his vodka is really good which worked out because it was complimentary!

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. BunKaryudo

    They ran into each other in a bar? What a meeting that must have been! For some reason, I almost expect the bar to have been a smoldering ruin when they left, but I guess John Belushi was as capable of having a quiet drink as anyone else.

    The whole event sounds like a blast. I hope at least some police cars were wrecked in the process and the odd Nazi fell from a great height.

    Love the dark glasses, by the way.

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  6. Birgit

    What a great thing to see! I heard Dan Aykroyd is really quite nice and glad this film is getting love. My brother loves this film and it is fun and great with all the music

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    1. Jay Post author

      When he arrived, there was a police motorcade ahead of him, and before getting to the red carpet, he went over and shook the hands of the officers who were escorting him. So I think you may be right, that felt like a class act move to me.

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  8. reocochran

    I have always watched SNL and found the years still bring out improvisational artists. Dan A. and John B. were great as comedians and managed to work as a team well. I love the “Blues Brothers” movie. I also would have enjoyed this fun filled evening. The Mounties are funny while I am so glad you reminded me of how all this happened first in Canada. 🙂 🙂 Strangely, after seeing Dan Aykroyd in “Driving Miss Daisy” and “My Girl” I welcomed him as a strong actor with talent. There have been only a few other roles which compare to these 3 movies.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I’ve always been an SNL fan too. I don’t catch as much these days as I used to when I would be up all night babysitting – those were the days! But that original cast was really something.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. reocochran

        You are right, Jay. I can start cracking up when I think on the “news cast” poor Jane Curtin was called a slut, was it a “hideous slut?” Shoot, I am bad with my memory in spurts. Then, Rosanna Anna Danna (or something like this) played by Gilda Radnor. You have the cone heads there on your post. Such hilarious “genius!” Thanks for sharing this opening event which was very enjoyable for me. 🙂 Lately, they have great guests and are able to keep on making fun of politics and those who try to run things in this crazy mixed up world.

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      2. Matt

        Actually, Robin, with no offense intended towards Ms. Curin, I believe she was an “ignorant” slut.
        My favourite was always “No Coke. Pepsi. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger”.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Ashley Lily Scarlett

    This is such an upbeat film and it’s one of my favourites. In the eighties I worked in a repetory cinema (before video killed that) and we screened it quite often. There was never another film that guaranteed a smiling happy audience leaving the auditorium. Which was very nice for us staff.
    I love r ‘n’ b and all that dancing was great too. Dan Ackroyd had fantastic legs! 😀

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