Rock Docs II

film 2 of 4

Louie Bluie

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 17, 2014

Terry Zwigoff’s biography of country-blues musical pioneer Howard Armstrong has much to recommend it. It’s a direct, straightforward record of any number of piquant authenticities, sharp particulars that hint at deeper currents and patterns. We get vivid characters that suggest vivid pasts, giving us a sense of all sorts of important historical and social and ideological realities. You can see where the servile negro came from. More importantly, you can see where noble Impertinents like Armstrong might have come from. At the same time—allowing for a little nostalgia or affectionate idealization—this also very much takes place in the present tense. As such, it comes across as a pretty important portrait of active, irrepressible old age.

More to the point, at least for this viewer, Louie Bluie also comes across as a celebration of a corrupt, corrupting man. Armstrong is certainly a character, fiercely intelligent, rawly and multiply talented. But in the end he basically registers as a septuagenarian Gene Simmons. Let’s bemoan the fact that the Pat Boones of the world stole the thunder and the revenues from the authentic artists. Let’s dig up the roots, and appreciate the vigour of archetypal art and the elemental artists that produced it.  (The Blues, etc.) But let’s not celebrate Storyville too much.