I saw R.J. Cutler‘s Belushi doc last night, right after watching Emerald Fennell‘s Promising Young Woman. After that exacting but frigid experience I was looking for a little warmth and humanity, and Belushi shared what it had of that. It relaxed me to a certain extent. A feeling of security, comfort, bon ami, even joy. An easy sit. Right away I was muttering “this is good.”
So I’m glad for the 108 minutes that I spent with it. It turns out John was something of a romantic softie at heart, at least as far as letters to his longtime squeeze and eventual wife Judy (i.e., Judith Belushi-Pisano) were concerned. Deep down he was a modest, middle-class guy who was terrified that the world would eventually discover that he was only a rambunctious sketch comedian and that he didn’t have that much to bring to the table.
The doc has four chapters; the first three are worth the price.
Chapter 1 covers the childhood and high-school period in Wheaton, Illinois. (Belushi’s dad was Albanian, and was basically the inspiration for the “cheeseburger cheeseburger” diner sketch.) Chapter 2 and 3 explore the bound-for-glory period between the early to mid ’70s — from the time he joined Chicago’s Second City, and then National Lampoon’s Lemmings and then became a writer, director and actor for The National Lampoon Radio Hour. And then his first three and a half years with SNL (starting in ‘mid 75) and cresting with his breakout performance in National Lampoon’s Animal House.
And then the manic cocaine craziness takes over and it’s down, down, down…the disaster of 1941, the unfunny, slam-bang excess of The Blues Brothers, the brief resurgence of Continental Divide, the disappointment of Neighbors and then his Chateau Marmont speedball death in March ’82, at age 33.
I caught a very early screening of 1941 at Universal’s Manhattan screening room. It must have been in mid November ’79. When it was over I was saying to a friend who’d come with me, “It’s over…Belushi’s big ride is over….this is a major failure all around.” I read a year or two later that Michael O’Donoghue had created a white-type-on-black-background button that read “JOHN BELUSHI — born 1949 — died 1941.”
I saw Belushi live twice. Once at a Blues Brothers concert at Carnegie Hall (10.11.78), and then at an all-media screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark at Leows’ State, which happened sometime around 6.1.81. Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were there together, in fact — they were shooting Neighbors at the time, and Aykroyd’s hair had been dyed light blonde. I can’t recall if Belushi’s hair was partly gray, as it is in the John Avildsen film, but probably.
Belushi, who stood around 5’8″, was right in front of me as we slowly shuffled out of the theatre. He offered a one-word review of the film: “Yeaaahhh.”
It breaks my heart that you still can’t find a high-quality online capture of Belushi’s Joe Cocker impressions on Saturday Night Live. Or at least that one side-by-side performance (Cocker + Belushi] of “Feelin’ All Right” in ’76. There’s a cruddy tape of a Lemmings performance in which Belushi performs “A Little Help From My Friends” [after the jump].
From “Belushi’s Attempted Romcom,” posted on 4.25.19:
“There’s a rough similarity between Long Shot and Continental Divide, but the latter — directed by Michael Apted, written by Lawrence Kasdan — is a much more grown-up, more emotionally earnest comedy — a galaxy apart from Long Shot. As in ‘actually tethered to a semblance of the real world.’
Compared to Long Shot, Continental Divide is a Lubitsch film. And Belushi isn’t half bad as the tough, Mike Royko-like Chicago journalist.