Film: In The Begining, There’s The Blues

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

By Karl Williams
Wednesday, February 20, 2008.
I feel as if I’m going on a journey; a sweet, soft, almost maple syrup mellifluous journey, where I can almost taste the musical atmosphere emanating from the screen.
Set in 1950’s rural Alabama during the cotton picking season, the HoneyDripper tells the tale of one man’s struggle to maintain his take on the Blues of the time and his reluctance to walk the line of the day’s musical genre.
However, you need to pay your keepers. In the HoneyDripper, we have the liquid man trying to keep the juices flowing in the juke joint; food via the chicken-man feeding the cotton-pickers and the local army recruits, whose money and custom breathe life into Harmony, Alabama.
It’s a make-or-break weekend for the HoneyDripper Lounge and its owner, the piano-player Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis, played by Danny Glover, who hatches a plan aided by his shape tongued sidekick, Maceo, to lure the town’s folks away from Touissant’s, the rival joint across town.
After laying off his regular talent, the Blues singer Bertha Mae, Tyrone announces to Maceo that he has hired the famous electric guitar player, Guitar Sam, for a special one night only gig: pack ‘em in and save the club.
One morning, Sonny Blake walks in, fresh from his stint on the freight train. Tired, hungry and looking somewhat disheveled, Blake’s piercing eyes were eating the food off Tyrone’s plate. He offers to play in the HoneyDripper, but Tyrone is not interested. Sonny proceeds across town in search of work, only to be arrested by the omnipresent Sheriff Pugh, for vagrancy and rented out as an unpaid cotton-picker to the highest bidder.
On the big day, the train arrives but Tyrone’s savior, Guitar Sam, is nowhere to be seen. Tyrone is forced to take drastic action. He makes a deal with Sheriff Pugh to release Sonny, the new kid in town.
When Sonny takes the stage and launches into his first scalding electric licks, Tyrone will learn if it’s lights out for the HoneyDripper or if his luck has changed: he might just be another man saved by rock n’ roll.
The film gives warmth and authenticity to its subject matter; be it our young star Sonny, or the beautiful, heart-felt eloquence depicting the vocal intimacy, which carries the film to the gospels within.
The HoneyDripper features an all-star cast starring Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Mary Steenburgen, Yaya DaCosta and Sean Patrick Thomas; as well as such notable musicians as Keb’ Mo’ and Dr. Mable John. It also introduces a major new talent, Gary Clark Jr. who makes his electrifying film debut as Sonny.
This is the 16th feature film by the iconoclastic John Sayles, who  continues his extraordinary examination of the complexities and shifting identities of American sub-cultures in Honeydripper.
With his usual understated intelligence, Sayles immerses us into the rhythm and the soul of the citizens of Harmony, Alabama, and into the Jim Crow south. It’s a fable about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, a quintessentially American subject, but with a fidelity to the time and temperament that is unusual in an American director.
The HoneyDripper’s preview, plus a questions and answers session is on this Thursday, February 21, 2008, at Curzon Cinema, Mayfair, London, UK. John Sayles and Maggie Renzi will be there to take your questions.
Curzon Mayfair – 38 Curzon Street, W1J 7TY
0871 7033 989  £15 / 12.50 concessions & members.
The HoneyDripper goes on general release on May 9, 2008.
Karl Williams is The New Black Magazine’s motoring editor and a London-based freelance writer.
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