Lightning in a Bottle

Lightning in a Bottle is a great celebration of blues music. It was filmed on February 7, 2003 at Radio City Music Hall at an all star benefit concert. Executive producer Martin Scorcese said that this was a musical history of the blues, and this is true to a point. The concert progressed chronologically, starting songs inspired by African rhythms, then moving slowly northward from the South. A video presentation sometimes accompanies each song, but in order to enjoy the history fully, one needs to be well versed in blues history. This is not a documentary to watch if one wants historical information. There is some given, but not much. This should not detract from the film as a whole. Instead, Lightning in a Bottle is an amazing concert film, full of legendary performers and great music.

The lineup is simply astounding. B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Ruth Brown, Robert Cray, Solomon Burke, Honeyboy Edwards, The Neville Brothers, Keb' Mo', Natalie Cole, Shemekia Copeland, Alison Krauss, Macy Gray, India.Arie, John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck D., and a host of others, all in the same concert. Vernon Reid of Living Colour described it simply (and aptly) with one word, "wow." Although the bill is not perfect (what, no Eric Clapton?) it comes close. This film is simply stars of yesterday and today gathering on stage for some great music. Director Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur, Tears of the Sun) opts for simplicity over everything else. He intersperses each performance with some interviews and practice sessions. He realizes that the strong point is the music, and keeps the focus on the music for most of the film.

It is great to watch King, Brown, Edwards, Guy, and others perform songs they originally wrote decades ago. They are still going strong, and still in good form. Cole, Mo', and Raitt also give rousing performances. The only sour point comes from Chuck D and the Fine Arts Militia. Chuck D. is a gifted artist, and a smart guy who has a lot to say on social issues. But he takes a classic blues song and turns it into a highly political anti-war diatribe which sticks out like a sore thumb. It's fine to have a strong opinion, but he comes off as mean-spirited during a night celebrating great music. Everybody seems genuinely happy to be there, and Fuqua and musical director Robert Jordan did a great job in providing breadth in their musical selections. That's pretty much all there is to the film. Great musicians, and great music.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

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