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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » John Lee Hooker: That's My Story
John Lee Hooker: That's My Story
Docurama // Unrated // June 24, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted August 3, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:

John Lee Hooker definitely falls into the category of lifelong bluesman. Until his death in 2001 he wore his trademark hat and sunglasses on countless stages, growling and moaning his dark traditional blues as well as other musically mischievous styles. Having come from a preacher's family and a sharecropper's lifestyle he was the epitome of deep blues and no matter what collaborators he took on (Canned Heat, Carlos Santana) he always oozed legitimacy.

John Lee Hooker: That's My Story, a 2000 documentary of the man made for German television tries to paint a picture of the legendary musician through little details. While unusually contemplative for a musician biography, the piece never really comes together, often flitting from topic to topic without real cohesion. Hooker's history is a bit vague (in the film his agent Mike Kappus attributes the poor documentation of his life to the bluesman's general illiteracy) and the film does a nice job of filling in some of the mystery. The selection of interviews is also good, including legendary musicians like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray as well as Hooker's family and associates. Still, somehow the piece feels like it's missing something. A lot of footage shows random shots of San Francisco, where Hooker lived in the last part of his life, but this adds little.

The best parts of the film are the most specific ones. His nephew Archie, for instance, gives a detailed description of Hooker's cars, which is funny and revealing. Pointing to a Jaguar the young man says "It's not really for him. It's for the ladies." Of course, John Lee Hooker was in his 70's at the time.

A few moments are quite affecting. Kappus, who really seems to respect his client, helps Hooker sign some guitars, pointing out where the older man has left out an "o" in "John." It's a sweet moment and probably says something about their relationship.

The other strong point is the music. Even though few songs get to play uninterrupted for more than thirty seconds this is obviously the reason the disc is here. John Lee Hooker's low-down dirty style epitomized the blues and his performances from his youth to the end of his life were super-cool. The film includes footage of a young John Lee Hooker at the Newport Jazz Festival as well as plenty of footage of him as an older performer, sitting at the front of the stage, tapping his foot. This is the real reason to watch: Even when he's just saying "Hey hey hey" John Lee Hooker is singing the blues.

VIDEO:
The anamorphic widescreen is fine. The film was shot on video and occasionally seems to display some trails, like a smeary movement. It's hard to describe and I wonder if it isn't related to the video originally having been produced for European video standards.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital audio is good. The music sounds clear and crisp and the interviews are also clear.

EXTRAS:
Only text bios for the subject and the filmmaker. There are also trailers for some other Docurama releases.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Not a superlative music documentary John Lee Hooker: That's My Story is good viewing for fans of the blues and particularly of the subject. Still, it doesn't quite get at the heart and soul of the viewer.

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