Release Date: 2019 on Netflix
Director: Brian Oaks
Mister Marquee Says: The man, the myth, the legend, the blues.
Music aficionadoes know the story. A young man in the Mississippi delta named Robert Johnson was a novice guitar player. He left, and when he returned a year later, he was a master who could do things no one else had ever heard. The legend goes that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and fell down on his knees. He sold his soul to the devil and was the first of a long line of iconic blues and rock masters to die at 27.
The story of Robert Johnson is legend in part because he played “the Devil’s music”, part because of his mastery, and part for his piece in a morbid legacy of music icons dying young. More than anything, there is a mystique around Johnson because we know so little about his life. Director Brian Oaks does what he can to piece together as much of the true story of the man Robert Johnson as possible, no small feat considering that very, very little is definitively known about him. Much of what we do know comes from estranged family members, including his son who only saw him twice, interviews with his contemporaries like Son House, and interviews with locals in the Delta who knew him.
As little of Johnson’s real story can be nailed down, Oaks is as fascinated, if not more fascinated, with the legend. The stories passed down in generations of music lore about Johnson are brought to life through striking and haunting animation. Johnson sparked an evolution in the blues, even if he never lived to see it. His guitar style influenced musicians such as Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, and Kieth Richards. The evolution of Robert Johnson’s sound laid the foundation for modern blues and rock n’ roll.
Where does the man end and legend begin? Does it matter? Maybe the myth is more important than the man.