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‘Belushi’ TV Review: The Rise and Fall of Superstar John Belushi

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You’ve probably seen John Belushi’s screen test for Saturday Night Live. It has been around the Internet for some time and appears occasionally SNL original documents. Part of the four-minute clip opens RJ Cutler’s Belushi, his portrayal of the comedian premiered on Showtime (from November 22). By the time he arrived at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the 26-year-old Chicago-born Albanian-American player had already become the Tasmanian Devil of Second City stage shows, the star of National Lampoon’s off-off-Broadway satire. . Lemmings and Michael O’Donoghue’s replacement as director of the comedy magazine’s radio show. He had been in a garage band, had met his two soul mates – future wife Judy Belushi Pisano (née Jacklin) and future brother / blues partner Dan Aykroyd – had developed a healthy ego, and tried cocaine. Belushi didn’t want to do TV and told the Canadian producer about this late night adventure. His home television set is reportedly covered in saliva. What could this lower midrange and trash do for him?

Yet somehow, thanks to the kindness of his colleagues and harassment from friends, Belushi found himself sitting in front of a green screen, cameras pointed at him, listening to Lorne Michaels and several unidentified voices. off screen entice him. Contempt oozes from him in waves, but so does charisma and ain’t-Ia-stinker charm. He warms up – a few lashes right and left, half a dozen cartoon eyebrows, a glimpse of the upcoming Blutos and Joliet Jakes – and, on request, does his Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger impersonations. (Watch it all, and you can hear Michaels yelling “John, born do it again ”when Belushi shamelessly assaults for his audience.)

Sadly, we can’t see the rest of his audition, including the rough version of his samurai character that sealed the deal, although we do hear John describe him. But everything else is there in this miniature clip: the anti-authoritarian attitude, the irreverence of the fuck, the dangerous unpredictability, the terribly good mimicry, the chops, the timing, the volume, the way the camera looks. simply swoons over this swarthy. , handsome hippie caveman. You can watch this a million times, and the fear never goes away. Belushi is already a known quantity, an MVP in sick comedy circles, a medium-sized fish in a small pond. The fish and the pond are about to get much bigger. He is about to transform into “Belushi”. This is not his start. But it is, in many ways, the beginning of the end.

Posthumous portraits of artists before their time, supernovas that burned and then burned, all come with a built-in fascination with car wrecks – and Belushi is, for better or for worse, no different. There is a formula to these types of docs, in which we know that the youngster who gets his first guitar, the jock who is bitten by the theater bug, etc., is going to reach great heights; that they will achieve fame beyond their wildest dreams and always remain in want; that they will fill the void with strong and costly sensations; and that the final act is littered with grieving fans, heartbroken loved ones, retrogrades, interventions, and a sickening sense of inevitability. With Belushi, this story is particularly inescapable. He was the ultimate comedian as a ’70s rock star even before taking the stage at the Universal Amphitheater in front of 7,000 people, heading for the mic to do R&B covers alongside the stars of Stax.

And, as the doc recalls, John was also an extraordinary creature of appetites. We know what fame does to these people. “He’s part of the most popular comedy series of our generation, he’s in the most successful comedy film of all time, and now he’s on stage in front of an amazing group,” says his friend Harold Ramis. “My first thought was, how good for him. My second thought was … he won’t survive this.

What Belushi can add to this oft-told tale of John Belushi’s Superstar a treasure trove of recorded interviews used by author Tanner Colby for his 2005 oral history biography. John’s widow was involved, which meant Colby was in able to have a lot of people on the phone who, after …Wired, could have hesitated to speak. The protective nature of his legacy which is normally to the fore in Angry Return (and Love) Recalling is replaced by testimonies with a little more frankness; family, childhood friends, and the usual suspects (Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, John Landis, Ivan Reitman) speak of the sweetness and ugliness that Belushi was capable of. Because these conversations took place almost two decades ago, you can hear the voices of Ramis, Carrie Fisher, Penny Marshall and National LampoonMatty Simmons, among others, is no longer with us once again.

Cutler understands how to use those oral history memories to pump up the reels of the biggest hits (“Told him to channel Harpo Marx and Cookie Monster”; cue Animal housethe cafeteria scene) or to counter the idea that he was nothing but the unleashed identity of Me Decade manifested itself. Sometimes it falls into a retro animation, which doesn’t add or decrease as much as filling in the gaps. Want some rarely seen photos of the star from her high school days or off-peak hours? You know it. The decision to call in Bill Hader to read John’s letters to Judy – some of which were romantic, some of which were conciliatory and confessional, all of which are heartbreaking to hear now – is inspired, not least because Hader is not trying to do so. Belushi’s voice. past a slight Chicago inflection. He leaves for the emotion. There is a tendency to view the star as someone larger than life, which Belushi himself cultivated in his character – the wild man of crude comedy. But he was also a human being, and if that seems to go without saying, it’s easy to overlook when it comes to screen icons. Yes Belushi doesn’t do anything else, he does a great job of resizing it to size without giving up his immense talent.

He also handles his death tastefully if a little too obediently, although once again Cutler knows what he’s doing – he wants to emphasize the tragedy over the tabloid details, the loneliness and despair that Belushi lived that night rather than who he was doing drugs with and what didn’t work. This restraint from rubbing, here and elsewhere, does not prevent the doc from becoming sometimes maudlin or sentimental to a fault. Then again, this is what you would expect with this type of celebrity wake up call. No one is reinventing the tribute-doc wheel here, and the up and down arc remains the same; all that changes are the details. Praise beyond the usual “what a force of nature he was” is scarce. Belushi isn’t about much more than setting the record straight once more, rocking this fedora bluesman again, one last frown before those endless final arcs. That you want to continue to bask in the “Mais noooImitations of! And Joe Cocker and the endless food fight exclamations are the ultimate tribute to him. You’d even be sitting through a rehash of the biggest hits decent enough to see them again.



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