Director Robert Mugge has made quite the name for himself over the years heading documentaries that tell the history of America’s music. More specifically, they present the roots of music, such as zydeco and the blues. The most recent of those docs came in 2018 the form of Ship to Shore: Launching the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Review, which focused on the famed cross country music tour. Now Tuesday, one of his even older docs — 1991’s Deep Blues — will get renewed attention when it is re-issued through Dave Stewart Entertainment/Film Movement Classics/Bay Street Records. The documentary will appeal to a wide range of audiences in part through its main feature, which will be discussed shortly. The bonus content that accompanies the doc adds even more to the record’s appeal. That all taken into account, it makes the re-issue’s pricing important in its own right. That item will also be examined later. Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of the re-issue’s presentation. All things considered, they make this doc a welcome addition to the library of any blues aficionado who might not already own it or any of Mugge’s music docs.
The forthcoming Blu-ray re-issue of the Robert Mugge-helmed 1991 documentary, Deep Blues is a presentation that any blues aficionado will find entertaining. Set for release Tuesday through Dave Stewart Entertainment/Film Movement Classics/Bay Street Records, the 91-minute documentary (which is actually adapted from journalist Robert Palmer’s book, Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta) focuses on the music of the Mississippi Delta and deep south. It follows the same format of so many of Mugge’s documentaries in its main feature, which audiences will especially appreciate. For those maybe less familiar with Mugge’s work, he does not present his docs as some slow, extended lecture about the music’s history, but rather, he immerses audiences in that history with first hand interviews and performances with and by the figures who helped make said music great. Here, audiences hear from the likes of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Big Jack Johnson along with so many other greats. The humility and genuine personality that each figure presents both just talking and performing is so enthralling. The simple, humble venues where the performances take place adds to that sense of humility. It and the almost guerilla style cinematography and editing (again for which Mugge is known) further immerses audiences in the history, really making for even more engagement and entertainment. The overall feature here is a great half and half of history and entertainment that, again, follows a familiar format from Robert Mugge. That familiarity will appeal just as much to those who are familiar with his documentaries and those who are new to his works. It makes this presentation just as much a history lesson about the blues as it is a love letter to the genre. To that end, it is reason enough in itself for audiences to take in the documentary. It is only one part of what makes the documentary so engaging and entertaining in its new re-issue, too. The bonus content that accompanies the documentary adds even more to that noted appeal.
The bonus content that accompanies the documentary is not necessarily expansive per se. It consists mainly of a feature-length audio commentary provided by Mugge, as well as some bonus performances that did not make the final cut for the main feature. Additionally, the essay penned by Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis serves as its own bonus content through the background that it provides, too. Mugge offers quite a bit of insight throughout the course of the documentary’s 91-minute run time. Right from the feature’s outset, he reveals that Eurythmics star Dave Stewart did not want to appear in the documentary, but that he [Mugge] convinced Stewart to appear as a means to broaden the documentary’s audience. He points out in his commentary here that Stewart’s appearances in the film would help pull in more than just the typical blues devotees. That was a wise move on Mugge’s part. Another interesting revelation made by Mugge during his commentary is that when now legend R.L. Burnside was originally interviewed and featured in this documentary, he was not the star that he would go on to be. He points out that a documentary that Mugge did about famed blues label Fat Possum Records actually played into Burnside’s rise to fame. It is an unintended pat on the back, but really helps audiences to understand why Burnside was living in such a humble setting at the time that his performance and interview was filmed. This is, again, something that longtime blues fans will especially appreciate in their understanding, and yet more proof of the importance of Mugge’s commentary. In yet another interesting note, Palmer (who serves as a semi-host of sorts throughout the documentary) sits in a hotel room at one point, singing a note in the hotel about why the water there was brown. What he has to say afterward versus what Mugge reveals is somewhat troubling to be honest. Mugee reveals the real reason that the water in the hotel (and town in which the hotel sat) was dark brown. The revelation is enough to make anyone second guess drinking it despite Palmer’s light hearted joke. Between these discussions that Mugge brings up, and his multitude of discussions on the filming for the performances, audiences get so much insight throughout the documentary that was not available in the doc’s original presentation. That in-depth background offered by Mugge builds on the appeal established through the main feature to make the presentation that much more engaging and entertaining.
The bonus performances noted here build even more on that engagement and entertainment. The sound is expertly produced (just as with the performances that made the final cut). That they are so intimate adds even more to their appeal. It leaves one wondering why they were not added to the final cut. Regardless, that they were included here completes the original presentation and in turn makes the presentation truly complete.
DeCurtis’ notes add their own appeal to the whole by building even more on everything discussed by Palmer and Mugge in the main feature and audio commentary. At one point in his essay, for instance, DeCurtis points out the roots of the blues really go back to the days of slavery. He additionally sets the stage for the experience that audiences will have as they watch, painting such a rich picture through his written tapestry. What’s more, DeCurtis also points out that the majority of the figures featured in this documentary all went on to some level of stardom as the years went on, not just R.L. Burnside, adding that at the time though, none of the featured performers were stars. This is interesting to note because audiences never get a sense of ego from any of them. It is all pure humility; Humility that would continue on through their respective careers. It really serves to strength Palmer’s statement at one point that at the time of the documentary’s debut, blues was still not a major genre, but that it was beginning to see a rebirth of sorts in that popularity. One can only imagine then, that the documentary served to help bring more attention to each figure and to the blues and its importance as a major form of American music. Considering everything noted here and so much more, it should be clear at this point that the bonus content featured with Deep Blues is just as important to its presentation in its re-issue as the documentary itself. Keeping in mind the overall impact of the documentary’s main and secondary content, it makes the Blu-ray’s pricing positive in its own right.
The average price point of Deep Blues – using prices listed through Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy – is $29.12. It was not listed through Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Books-A-Million. However, Barnes & Noble Booksellers did list the documentary on DVD along with Walmart and Best Buy at an average price of $26.63. Again, considering the breadth and depth of the content discussed here, those averages are not that bad, especially being that this is an independent release. In the case of the re-issue’s DVD listings, Best Buy lives up to its name, giving audiences the best buy with a listing of $22.99. Barnes & Noble Booksellers has the most expensive of the DVD’s listings at $29.99 while Walmart’s listing of $26.92 is the middle ground here.
In the case of the documentary’s Blu-ray platform, Target offers the least expensive listing, at $26.59. Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy each list the documentary’s Blu-ray presentation at $29.99, so it is more expensive overall than the doc’s DVD presentation. At the same time though, that noted listing through Target is still less than $30, and that really brings this discussion to its crux. The point of all of this is that while the averages are a bit high, the separate listings do have some relatively affordable price points that will not break anyone’s budget. Adding that realization to the amount of content featured in the re-issue and that content’s impact, the whole makes this overall presentation such a positive new take of one of Robert Mugge’s many music documentaries.
Dave Stewart Entertainment/Film Movement Classics/Bay Street Records’ upcoming re-issue of Deep Blues is a wonderful new take of the 1991 documentary from director Robert Mugge. It will resonate with audiences in part through its main feature. That is because just like with all of Mugge’s other music docs, it immerses audiences in the music and its history, rather than just presenting it as some long-winded lecture. This is the kind of presentation that is certain to keep audiences engaged and entertained. The breadth of the content in the main feature builds on that appeal and ensures even more, viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment. The secondary (bonus) content that accompanies the documentary this time builds on the appeal ensured through the main feature. That is because of the added background and other information that it provides through each bonus feature and item. Keeping in mind the noted overall content and its impact, it makes the documentary’s pricing its own understandable positive, even looking at the slightly higher averages. The separate listings are, by comparison, mostly affordable and will not break any viewer’s budget. Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the documentary’s new re-issue. All things considered, they make this re-issue a work that will appeal to audiences across the musical universe.
Deep Blues is scheduled for re-issue Tuesday through Dave Stewart Entertainment/Film Movement Classics/Bay Street Records. More information on this and other titles from Film Movement is available at:
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