Tracing the Blues with ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads

30 May

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Documentaries or biopics about musicians have really taken off since the release of Bohemian Rhapsody. Whether that’s on the big screen or small, Netflix is ripe with ’em. They have Dirt and ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads–to name a few–and I’m sure there’s more. Rocketman is due in theatres May 30th.

Fictionalized takes of these musicians are not always accurate, and I found the look at Robert Johnson‘s life not only the most concise in uncovering his legacy but also intoxicatingly beautiful with the style of artwork used. The drawings are sublime, using charcoal sketches and watercolours to convey a sense of mystery. The beauty in this work is comparable to the animated sequence in the movie, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

Historians traced his life have a reasonable answer in how he got his talent. They say he went home and learned everything again from the ground up under the tutelage of Ike Zinneman.

Folklorists believe he made a bargain with a devil at the crossroads to have the talent. I have my own theory, he mediated on what works and what does not. He also rediscovered the sound that his ancestors brought to the New World and sought to understand the Vodou tradition even further. With all three in combination, he was making his own music and expressing to the world his song.

Playing the guitar like Johnson is not left to skill. His music has an eerie vocal quality which draws you in like a sailor to a siren’s call. These explanations are additional suggestions of why his music is revered.

Director Brian Oakes made sure no stone was left unturned and this documentary goes into places that not even my university studies included (As an elective, I took Introduction to the Blues). No later reference to discovering his parentage is skipped either, including the fact he was one of the early members of The 27 Club, to which a new movie is coming out on home video very soon.

5 Strings out of 5

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