Lightning In A Bottle Antoine Fuqua

Two years ago, some of America's greatest musicians (B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke, Ruth Brown, Macy Gray, Nathalie Cole and others) gathered in New York to pay tribute to the blues. Antoine Fuqua captured this concert in an exciting, smart film. The result, Lightning In A Bottle, rises above the standard concert movie by weaving insightful backstage interviews (Brown, Guy) with prime archival footage (Son House, Muddy Waters) to tell the story of the blues, from rural Africa to the streets of Chicago and beyond. Background visuals of lynching and cotton fields place the music in its proper context. Celebration is in the air, but thankfully not sentimentality. Great performances help. Anjelique Kidjo opens the show with an African song, underlining the primal beat that slaves would carry from its birthplace into the fields of Mississippi. That beat echoes throughout performances as diverse as Mavis Staples (the gospel-inflected "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"), Cole (a powerful "St. Louis Blues"), Gray (funkifying Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog"), India.Arie (the haunting "Strange Fruit"), and Aerosmith's Steve Tyler and Joe Perry (slashing through "I'm A King Bee"). Every interpretation is fresh without sacrificing the power of the original. The picture transfer is sharp and the sound perfectly captures the ambience of Radio City Music Hall. The special features are good but limited. Fuqua explains the film's conception (a call from executive producer Martin Scorsese), lighting scheme (dark, moody) and backstage jitters (Gray was especially nervous) in an insightful but too-brief eight-minute interview. Better would've been a full director's commentary, à la The Last Waltz. The five bonus tracks are all gems. Pity there aren't more. To be fair, we want more because this is a great film. (Columbia/Sony)