Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Louie Bluie is a documentary about the obscure country-blues musician Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong and his idiosyncratic life. The sixty-minute film explores the man’s work in both music and art in this strange yet exhilarating portrait of one of the most gifted musicians of the early 20th Century.
Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong reveals a lot about his background as he performs with friend Ted Bogan as they’re set to go to Chicago to meet with friends and play a few shows. Armstrong reveals about the world of the string band and the traditional music he plays all over Tennessee as he visits his former sister-in-law. While going to various places including the world of the rural Tennessee, Armstrong reveals his artwork that he created based on memory about old towns and what they looked like back in the early 1900s.
In Chicago, he meets up with “Banjo” Ikey Robinson where they talked about playing to a club with Italians as Armstrong manages to win the crowd over because he spoke Italian through the people he knew in Tennessee. Armstrong holds an art gallery as he criticizes modern art while showing Robinson a pornography book he created. Armstrong, Bogan, and Robinson go to play a gig with James “Yank” Rachell as Armstrong discusses what art should be from a personal level rather than giving people what they want.
The film is about this eccentric yet extremely talented artist who is definitely an oddball of sorts but also someone so engaging and fun to be around with. Armstrong’s talents in playing a mandolin and fiddle while making some great artwork shows the range of his talent. Notably a scene at an art gallery where he draws a picture of two faces as he holds two crayons with one hand. Terry Zwigoff clearly loves Armstrong as he follows him around through various locations as they go to unique places that seems to attract Armstrong who is kind of an outsider of sorts.
The artwork that Armstrong creates through books and small paintings really reflect a period that is long and gone while his pornography book is definitely one of the most intriguing and funny moments of the film. Largely because of what each story he creates in the book tells as well as Armstrong’s view on pornography. The performances aren’t just intimate but also lively in the way Armstrong plays the mandolin and fiddle where he is really enjoying himself as is the small crowd that is watching. Through the colorful cinematography of John Knoop and Chris Li as well as the stylized yet straightforward editing of Victoria Lewis, the film moves with great ease and is never dull. The only flaw about the film is that it leaves the viewer wanting to know more.
Louie Bluie is an extraordinary debut film from Terry Zwigoff in this wonderful portrait of Howard Armstrong. Fans of string-band, traditional music will no doubt want to seek this out as well as hear some amazing old-school traditional, country-blues music. For fans of Terry Zwigoff, the film serves as a precursor to the films Zwigoff would make such as the documentary Crumb as well as Ghost World as they all share in Zwigoff’s fascination with oddball characters. In the end, Louie Bluie is a superb documentary film from Terry Zwigoff.
Terry Zwigoff Films: Crumb - Ghost World - Bad Santa - Art School Confidential - The Auteurs #53: Terry Zwigoff
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