Last of the Mississippi Jukes (2003)

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Released 21-Jul-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Animation & Audio
Booklet
Gallery-Photo
Gallery-Photo-Dick Waterman shows photos of Mississippi Blues musicians
Additional Footage
Interviews-Cast-Chris Thomas King talks to Jimmy King
Interviews-Cast-Morgan Freeman: Early years living in Mississippi
Interviews-Cast-Morgan Freeman & Bill Luckett: Mississippi Blues musicians
Additional Footage-Bobby Rush demos his blues harps
Interviews-Cast-Dick Waterman shares stories of Son House & Robert Johnson
Additional Footage
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 86:13
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:09) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Mugge
Studio
Distributor
Starz Encore Ent.
Warner Vision
Starring Morgan Freeman
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, if you count the concentration on the Subway
Action In or After Credits Yes, a song plays over the closing credits.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Last Of The Mississippi Jukes is not a documentary about displaced European nobles (they would have been Dukes anyhow), nor is it a tale of jukeboxes without the box (although the word jukebox itself grew from the meaning of juke). It is a look at the rapidly disappearing traditional style blues clubs in Mississippi. Even that is not quite correct though, as by the definition of the word "juke", which is "a roadside or rural establishment offering liquor, dancing, and often gambling and prostitution" - none of the clubs covered in this documentary are quite of that nature. While it never manages to admit this fact to itself, it does at least point out that the traditional juke joints were road-side shacks that sold liquor and food, and laid on acoustic blues for entertainment and dancing, all for a price that the poor black workers of the time could afford. To understand the need for these people to party, it should be taken into account that they worked 5 and a half day weeks at jobs that were extremely physically intensive, for almost no money at all - it was slavery by another name.

    With the death of that type of labour, so went the truly traditional juke joint, but what this film is about is what came after - the blues lounges and clubs of southern USA where many a great artist got their start. The focus of this documentary is surprisingly narrow - it looks only at two blues clubs, the Clarksdale Ground Zero Blues Club, and the Jackson Subway Lounge. The former seems only to have been included as the owner is none other than well known actor Morgan Freeman. It is obvious that he was the marketing hook of this documentary, as his name is prominently included on the jacket, and the first fifteen minutes are almost entirely taken up with interviewing him. From that point however, we move to the Subway Lounge, and stay there for the remainder of the feature.

    In the end, the narrow focus gives the documentary a rather lazy feel. Added to that, the concentration on Morgan Freeman seems cheap and commercial, which is a pity as there is quite a bit that might be of interest to blues fans here, and there was a real opportunity to look at the roots of the blues and how it has evolved. As Morgan Freeman says early on, "Blues music is to southern America what classical music is to Europe". Alas that opportunity missed, and all we really have is a film capturing the feel of the Subway lounge, and what it is like. The obvious reason for this is that at the time the film was made, the lounge was battling for survival, with the building that housed it being condemned. To that end, it serves its purpose wonderfully, giving a good deal of background as to why the Subway itself is so important, and deserves to be saved, which based on the evidence presented here, it should be. As for general applicability to the blues however - forget about it.

    Recommended for those who have actually been to the Subway Lounge in Jackson Mississippi (I can't assume there are too many in Australia), and to those who want a taste of contemporary American blues culture. Few others would be interested.

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Track Listing

1. Pony Blues
2. Joe Friday
3. Subway Swing
4. Blues Is Alright
5. Stormy Monday
6. All Night Long
7. Casino In The Cottonfield
8. Strokin'
9. You Know I've Tried
10. Garbage Man
11. Hole In The Wall
12. Last Of The Mississippi Jukes
13. Still Called The Blues
14. End Of The Rainbow
15. John Law Burned Down The Liquor Sto
16. What Goes Around, Comes Around
17. Cigarette Blues
18. Members Only
19. Subway Swing (reprise)

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is not too bad, although many of its problems can be laid at the foot of one single attribute.

    Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this transfer is not 16x9 enhanced - and that is the major problem with it. Had it been enhanced, a number of other problems would at the very least have been reduced. There is no information as to whether 1.85:1 is the original aspect ratio, although the framing of the shots would suggest that it is.

    Sharpness is generally good, but not spectacular. Fine detail is a little lacking, and this is the first problem that can be laid squarely at the feet of the non-enhanced nature of the transfer. Grain is a constant presense, but is usually kept under control, however there are times where it gets entirely out of hand, such as between 33:16 and 33:31 and again at 42:09. Shadow detail is sufficient to make out necessary detail in the club scenes, but not good enough to give the image any real depth. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are very good, with the greens of the cotton fields and other vegetation coming across with sufficient richness, and the reds and whites of the buildings standing out from the background without issue.

    Compression artefacts are a problem only when the grain gets out of control, but when that happens, the screen is almost entirely covered in pixelisation. Again, this would probably have been reduced had the transfer been 16x9 enhanced. There is quite a bit of aliasing, and while most is minor enough not to detract, the power lines from 21:00 to 21:13 shimmer enough to make the screen difficult to look at. There are also some film artefacts present, and not all small, such as at 37:08 and 55:33, although all appear for only a frame or two, and there are not very many, so it is less of an issue than it otherwise might be.

    There are no subtitles present on this disc.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 61:09 during chapter 13. It is reasonably well placed, and moves by quickly.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This audio transfer does what is necessary for the type of soundtrack, but it is nothing spectacular, essentially making a mockery of the numerous audio formats it is presented in.

    There are three audio tracks present on this disc. All contain the original English dialogue, and it is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo (both at 448kbps), and DTS 5.1 (full bitrate).

    Dialogue is clear at all times, although there are a number of thick southern American accents on show here, and some may find them difficult to interpret. Audio sync is spot on throughout the transfer and never causes a problem.

    The musical backing to the documentary is provided via a number of live recordings of blues sessions at both the Subway Lounge, and the Ground Zero club. It is excellent music, played by extremely talented artists, and just goes to prove the point that these clubs should be preserved for future generations to experience.

    Surround activity is extremely minimal - there is little more than a whisper coming from the surround channels in either 5.1 soundtrack, so those listening to the stereo track need not worry. As for the front soundstage, the presentation is very good, with the music especially making good use of stereo separation (with some assistance from the centre channel in the 5.1 mixes). All three soundtracks are so similar as to almost be indistinguishable, with the two 5.1 soundtracks only having a slight edge from the dedicated centre.

    The subwoofer bounces along nicely to the bass lines in all three soundtracks. Bass is very smooth and well defined, and is never over the top - a superb job, and great to listen to.

    So which soundtrack? As mentioned previously, there is nothing to tell between them in either the surround separation, or the bass track - which is where full bitrate DTS often has its advantage - and in general fidelity. This soundtrack really doesn't contain anything that is even going to push the Dolby Digital tracks, so there is no real audible difference between them and the full-bitrate DTS. This one is a tie.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    If you believe the back cover, this disc contains a plethora of extras. When you pop it in and dial up the extras menu, it turns out that it is actually only 20-minutes of B-roll footage and yet another of those oh-so-entertaining photo galleries.

Menu

    The menu is animated, themed around the documentary, not 16x9 enhanced, and features Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Bonus Footage (19:46)

    This extra comprises a number of chapters, and is pretty much the "deleted scenes". In most cases the reasons for the removal of the footage from the final documentary is rather obvious - it is not as interesting, or as good. Similarly, the picture quality is not quite as good as the main feature, while the audio is considerably poorer. Presented at 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced (now with a friendly time-counter to keep you company), and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, the chapter breakdown is as follows:

Photo Gallery (19)

    19 photos taken at the same times and places the filming was done. 'Nuff said.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc appears to be identical the world over, so grab it from your favourite DVD store.

Summary

    For a documentary that is supposedly about the very roots of blues establishments, it is disappointingly limited in focus, really only serving as a promotional film for the Subway Lounge. Despite that, the music is excellent, and the story interesting enough to warrant viewing by dedicated blues fans. Others should probably look elsewhere.

    The video quality is good enough, but does suffer for not being 16x9 enhanced. There is also quite a lot of grain, and a number of film artefacts.

    The audio quality is also good enough, although it really does not make use of the many different formats available to it.

    The extras are not as interesting as the main feature, and they are fairly limited, making them rather disappointing. Why could we not have been presented with a few more full performances, maybe of all the songs that are used as backing in the documentary itself?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

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