As the busiest and hardest working UK script consultant, script writer for hire and script doctor in the business I spend a lot of time watching movies from the past, this week I managed to catch up with Walter Hill’s cult classic Crossroads (1986).
This is not the Britney Spears movie of the same name – this is a film about Blues guitar, and about the history (kind of…) of blues music in America. It’s a musical (of sorts) and I think it was designed to get white American kids into classic black American music.
I saw it when I was very young – and it hooked me, and somehow decades later I still listen to Elmore James, Muddy Waters, BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughn… So, this alongside The Blues Brothers, has kind of shaped a lot of what I like musically.
I think I probably rented the film out from the local video shop because of Jami Gertz, but watching it many years later (despite my teen crush on Jami) the really great performance in the film is from Joe Seneca as the real blues man Willie Brown. He’s warm, funny and a talented singer in the film.
Ralph Machio is pretty much the same in everything – but pay attention to him playing the guitar in the film – he’s learned the fret work and in many scenes his guitar playing looks very authentic, and I expect a large amount the fret stuff is real. This will have required a hell of a lot of hard work from the actor.
The script (written by John Fusco – who was a student at the time) is a straight road movie story, but it has some nice touches, a steady pace and it works well for kids. There is humour, and some genuine threat at times. It makes you steadily care for the characters and the supernatural elements aren’t over done.
Hill’s direction is solid as usual. John Bailey’s photography is fine (I like his stuff on Paul Shrader’s films too) but, okay, okay – let’s get to it. The music by Ry Cooder is fucking great. And yes, everyone really watches the film for the final guitar battle between Machio’s character and Steve Vai. The film is much more than this guitar duel, but if want to watch the guitar battle itself, it’s below – from YouTube. Keep on eye on Vai’s face when Ralph starts playing Beethoven… At least Steve gives it a shot!
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour
His directorial debut Markham will be released in 2019.