Martin Scorsese's The Blues, a seven-part series that features full-length films directed by Wim Wenders, Richard Pearce, Charles Burnett, Marc Levin, Mike Figgis, Clint Eastwood and Scorsese himself, premieres September 28th on PBS.
Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, Paris, Texas) directed the fourth film, titled The Soul of a Man. Using a combination of fictional re-enactments, archival footage and blues covers by the likes of Nick Cave, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and Lou Reed, the film tells the stories of blues artists Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J.B. Lenoir.
"Lou Reed is deep into those sources," Wenders says, "but he has always transformed them his own way. He played two great covers for us, Skip's rather unknown 'Look Down the Road,' and the classic public domain song 'See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.' He amazed us -- I actually shot Lou smiling and laughing with joy. Who can claim to have that on camera?"
The often-dark Cave, meanwhile, surprised Wenders by picking "the happiest song J.B. Lenoir ever wrote," 'I Feel So Good.' "He conveyed that message exuberantly in the performance," the director says.
Wenders became a blues fan in the Sixties, after the medium was re-popularized by rock bands like the Rolling Stones, who plugged traditional blues riffs into a pop context.
The director chose to the highlight the similarities in the stories of James, Lenoir and Johnson after getting the ground rules in a meeting with Scorsese: Every director works on the same budget, the films may not exceed 100 minutes and each should be "as personal and from the heart as possible." "What all three share," he says, "is that they were ahead of their times, they wrote their own material, they were accomplished singers and instrumentalists, and they all died pretty unrecognized and forgotten. They were musicians' musicians -- very influential, but not in a commercial sense."
Accompanying The Blues TV series will be a five-disc box set featuring music from the seven films and a book with a foreword by Scorsese and an afterword by rapper Chuck D.