John Landis is a movie director, writer, producer and actor. Among the films he has directed are "The Kentucky Fried Movie," "Animal House," "The Blues Brothers," "An American Werewolf in London," "Trading Places," "Three Amigos!" and "Coming to America." He has also directed music videos, notably Michael Jackson's "Thriller." In connection with the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of "The Blues Brothers," I interviewed Landis on August 23, 2005. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.
IR: I noticed that the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of "The Blues Brothers" contains two different versions of the moviea theatrical version and an extended version. Can you tell me the difference between the two versions?
JL: No, I'm sorry I can't.
JL: The main difference is about 15 minutes. What happened was that "The Blues Brothers" was a roadshow. It was designed for an intermission.
[Note: A roadshow movie was intended to be an event film that initially screened only at select large and beautiful theaters charging a higher-than-normal admission. Music from the movie typically played before and after the showing, as well as during intermission. "Gone With the Wind" and "Cleopatra" are examples of roadshows.]
IR: Uh huh.
JL: And at that time, before [President Ronald] Reagan struck down the antitrust act, you had exhibitors who had a lot of power in terms of booking pictures. And the exhibitors would screen the movie, and your fate rested on that. And unfortunately, it was a very different time in 1979. They really saw the picture as a black movie. And we had this bizarre backlash, where they actually had theaters telling us, "We don't want blacks in our theaters." Very, very unpleasant. And so Lew Wasserman [head of Universal Studios] called me into his office and discussed it with me and said "You know, John, if you cut it down so they could have an extra two showings a day, so they could sell more popcorn, we might be able to fight this." So I took the finished movie and made a lot of lifts and trims. And we took that new version and previewed it at the Picwood Theatre on Pico [in Los Angeles]a beautiful theaterno longer there; it's now like a mall or something. And then I made more lifts and trims, and that's the theatrical version that came out. In 1990 Universal Home Video came to me and said, "Would you restore the movie to its roadshow." And I said, "I'd love to." Of course we discovered that in 1985 Universal, in its wisdom, had thrown out everything. All the cuts and trims. Even the negative. Gone.
IR: That must have been infuriating.
JL: Absolutely. But you understand this stuff was always considered industrial waste. It's only now with DVD and stuff that people understand the value of software. So I thought that's that. And then for the 20th Anniversary Edition five years ago, Universal had located what was called the Picwood print, which had been stolen by the son of the manager of the theater. It was in excellent condition and had all this extraabout 15 minutes worthof extra stuff. So we re-put in a lot of the stuff that was removed and that was released as what is called the expanded version. So, for instance, James Brown's number is longer. John Lee Hooker's number is longer. Cab Calloway's number is longer. There are a number of scenessmall scenes and big scenesthat were lifted that are back. It's still not my original roadshow version. But it does have 15 more minutes of the movie.
IR: As close as you can get, given the circumstances.