In the time it has, a little underneath two hours, the fond, heartfelt documentary “Belushi” covers a few of who John Belushi was, the place he obtained that method (trace: right here, in Chicago) and the way he coped, or did not, together with his turbulent success till a deadly 1982 drug overdose.
It premieres Sunday on Showtime, which is becoming. As R.J. Cutler’s movie reminds us, the comedian maelstrom who grew up in Humboldt Park and, primarily, Wheaton, Illinois, spent uncounted hours of his stardom enduring interviews with journalists and “personalities” who simply needed him to be on, and humorous. His expertise preceded him, and confined him; it was all the time showtime, whether or not Belushi favored it or not.
The documentary presents some fascinating discoveries, which make up for its missteps. (The quite a few animated segments aren’t prepared for prime time.) There’s a wealth of archival audio interviews carried out by Judith Belushi Pisano, previously Judy Jacklin), and Tanner Colby for the 2005 e book “Belushi: A Biography.” The prologue captures a second of peak, precarious fame for Belushi, in live performance in LA in 1978. At that second he had a smash film, “Animal House”; a smash album with Dan Aykroyd, aka The Blues Brothers; and a smash TV showcase, “Saturday Night Live.” The late Harold Ramis, Belushi’s longtime accomplice in comedy, is heard on tape, interviewed by Colby, discussing Belushi’s superstardom in foreboding phrases.
“Knowing his appetites,” Ramis remembers pondering that evening, “I do not suppose he’ll survive this.”
The archival audio options buddies and colleagues courting again to his teenage Chicago space days, up via Second City, his New York decampment to “The National Lampoon Radio Hour” and all that adopted. The early years I discovered particularly touching, and of specific curiosity to Chicagoans. Along with the archival audio, “Belushi” is guided by longtime correspondence between the comedy-loving son of Albanian immigrants (Belushi’s restaurateur father was the actual inspiration for “Cheezborger Cheezborger Cheezborger,” not the Billy Goat) and his highschool sweetheart, Judy Jacklin, later his spouse and nonetheless later his widower and biographer.
A sophomore when John was a highschool senior, Judy assumed he was Italian (“Albania? Is that a nation?” she questioned). As a teenager Belushi gorged on Jonathan Winters and Bob Newhart albums, whereas making an attempt to tune out his mother and father’ arguments, or their distant silence. His grandmother provided the love and affirmation; getting laughs turned a chemical want for the budding actor.
Letters Belushi wrote whereas doing “The Tender Trap” in summer time inventory in 1967, on the Shawnee summer theater in Bloomfield, Ind., level to his stressed ambitions. Let’s go see a show at Second City once I get house, he writes Judy: “I hear it is nice.”
He made it higher quickly sufficient, and saved his opinions in his pockets. Belushi’s astonishing bodily fearlessness, mixed with gear nobody else had — these teeter-totter eyebrows, that inside, barely disguised sweetness, even within the crimson zone of hazard — propelled him ahead. By the second season of “SNL,” what Belushi termed his “coke paranoia” had turn into a very tough co-star.
Many of the tales of extra heard in “Belushi” have been heard for a long time: How the 1979 filming of “The Blues Brothers” in Chicago turned an off-screen pageant of blow, for one. (Carrie Fisher is heard within the archival interviews on the topic.) By the time Belushi and Aykroyd teamed up once more for the misbegotten “Neighbors,” issues had gotten uncontrollable. Belushi very doubtless would’ve loved a Hollywood profession resurgence if he had lived lengthy sufficient to co-star within the script Aykroyd was creating, known as “Ghostbusters.” It did not work out that method.
The clips from “Animal House” and “SNL” go a fairly truthful distance in explaining the volcanic impression of Belushi to newcomers. Showtime’s documentary arrives at a harsh pandemic period for improvisational and sketch comedy in Chicago. Looking again is a lot of what we’re all doing proper now. Cutler’s documentary skip-walks a nice line between a nice, unstable expertise’s rise and fall, and between the un-tender lure of dependancy and the joyous power of a Chicago-bred large.
3 stars (out of 4)
MPAA score: Not rated (drug use, language)
Running time: 1:48
Premieres: 8 p.m. Central on Showtime.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.