JEFF SAWTELL discovers the birth of rock and roll and finds out why the defenders of religion had no love of this new art.
HONEYDRIPPER by name and honey-dripping by tone and texture, John Sayles's new film is a resonant tribute to the African-American rhythms of life that provided the roots of the rock'n'roll revolution.
Contrary to public ignorance, rock'n'roll wasn't invented by Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis or any of those other interpreters of white working-class country music.
Rather it was a hybrid from the other side of the tracks and developed naturally from the blues, jazz and soul music with exponents such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, T Bone Walker and Little Richard.
No wonder Protestant preachers called it "the devil's music," since it originated in speakeasies and jive joints stretching from the impoverished south to the industrial centres of the north.
Sure, country music was an essential ingredient to the development of rockabilly, but the reels and rhythms of formation dancing couldn't capture the sheer, improvisational sensuality of jazz jiving.
John Sayles - Matewan, City of Hope, Silver City - has a track record of writing, directing and editing films that centre on the dialectical diversity of cultural and political struggles in US history.
His latest film opens in Harmony, Alabama, in 1950 with two children playing their imaginary instruments before wandering over to the Honeydripper Lounge to hear the magnificent Dr Mable John singing the blues.
It's the establishment of Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis (Danny Glover), a piano player who is desperate to bring back the crowds that have deserted him for the new jukebox joint across the road.
Cue the young drifter Sonny Blake (Gary Clark) looking for work with his guitar, who is sent on his way before being picked up by the corrupt local sheriff (Stacey Keach) and set to slave in the cotton fields.
However, when Pinetop decides to go with the flow and hire the famous Guitar Sam to boost his audience and pay off his debtors, he's forced to swallow his pride and asks Sonny to play in his stead.
With an accompanying love story blooming between Sonny and Pinetop's daughter China Doll (Yaya Dacosta), Honeydripper is as warm and witty as it is serious about issues the shame of slavery in the land of the free.
Elegantly filmed by Sayles's long-time cameraman Dick Pope, the pace lulls you into a state of reverence before Sonny suddenly struts his stuff across the screen like Chuck Berry.
This was the electrification of culture, the time when the have-guitar-will-travel musician was hooked up to a portable amplifier to produce a sound that relegated the saxophone to the sidelines.
With Keb Mo acting as a "street spirit" or chorus to comment on events, the music has been conjured from traditional sources with some new songs Sales and Mason Daring and all the actors performing the songs.
Simply, Honeydripper's a magical fable about a time when people escaped the pains of life by indulging in the pleasures of a music that stretched between classes and cultures before conquering the world.
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