Friday, February 18, 2011

Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me (Greece; Nicholas Triandafyllidis, 2001)

  This revealing documentary is a must-see for any fan of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, big or small. Whether it serves to introduce him to new generations or to satisfy the nostalgia of his long-time supporters, Spell on Me paints an honest and uplifting portrait of the deep-voiced, voodoo-inspired soul man, a genuineness much strenghtened by having Hawkins do much of the explaining himself. Following him throughout Greece during his final tour in 1999, the film uses interviews and stock footage to essentially summarize his life and carreer; from his POW days in a Japanese prison camp, through his early Alan Freed-promoted days and his stint with the Fuzztones in the 80's. Interviews with the likes of Bo Didley and Jim Jarmusch help shine some light on this eccentric performer who initially set out to offer something different; and boy did he ever. From the bone in his nose to Henry, the skull resting atop his voodoo stick, Hawkins' image was far from traditional. This is reflected by the live footage included into the picture, comprised of numbers both from the past and the actual tour. However, as much as it is joyfully exhilirating to see him perform his unique brand of showmanship, it seems that many of the musical numbers are cut-short, cross-cutting to testimonials in the middle of a song then cutting back to its conclusion. Apart from the editing choices that sometime break the groove started by Hawkins' performances, the film still feels like a privileged treat, if only for the fortune of spending 90 minutes in the presence of this legend barely months before his untimely death.  

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