Movie Review: Lightning in a Bottle

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
Cuban music has "Buena Vista Social Club," Bluegrass has "Down From the Mountain," and now the blues has "Lightning in a Bottle." "Lightning in a Bottle" was a closing film at the Mill Valley Film Festival this year. Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") with Executive Producer Martin Scorsese, this is a performance documentary that chronicles the concert performed at New York’s Radio City Music Hall last year. More than fifty artists from different music genres and generations give stellar performances. The film shows the week’s rehearsals leading up to the performance. It chronicles the history of the blues from its African roots to America, and its evolution to rock n’ roll and hip-hop. It features backstage interviews and archival footage of performances and interviews of the great early blues musicians.

"Lightning in a Bottle" gives you a front row seat at this exciting "salute to the blues" benefit concert where we see legends from Chicago blues star Buddy Guy to B.B. King, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, legendary icon Odetta, and Mavis Staples to their descendents like The Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, and Keb’ Mo’. One of the highlights was Buddy Guy singing Jimmy Hendrix’ "Red House." Ruth Brown teams up with Mavis Staples and Natalie Cole with a very funny rendition of "Men are Like Streetcars." Some performances are so spectacular that you may lose yourself and want to stand up and cheer.

The-behind-the-scenes footage is sometimes touching and sometimes humorous. There are many references to greats who have died or who won’t be with us much longer. The film explores the musicians’ rough lives of poverty and racism, and how the musicians turned their woes into brilliant music. We see musicians talking to each other backstage about hard times, strokes, heart attacks, being broke, and making it big.

The low points of the film are Steve Tyler and Joe Perry’s rendition of "I’m a King Bee" which make it sound like Aerosmith’s music instead of blues. And Chuck D. performance John Lee Hooker’s "Boom Boom" seemed sacrilegious. It was disappointing that Warren Hayes’ performance was left out. Some of the musicians from other genres were a happy surprise especially India.Arie performing "Strange Fruit," and Macy Gray’s astonishing performance of "Hound Dog." The young Shemeka Copeland’s extraordinary voice is inspiring in her performance of "Something’s Got a Hold on Me."

This performance doc is a treat. If you are a blues fan you will love "Lightning in a Bottle" and leave it wanting more.

In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Lightning in a Bottle
USA/Rated PG-13/Running time: 103 Minutes