Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Devil at the Crossroads


The Netflix documentary about Robert Johnson contains some innovative digital imaging sequences and a pastiche of a historical narrative, which gives the viewer a fairly standard (and mythical) biography.  I did not think it was nearly as bad as some folks out in the world.  For the most part, we heard from the usual cast of characters.  A few people were missing...Gayle Dean Wardlow, Peter Guralnick, Tom Graves, and attorney John Kitchens.  The new faces were 


  1. Steven Johnson, the alleged grandson of RJ, 
  2. Bruce Conforth, former scholar and museum director turned obsessive country blues romantic
  3. Adam Gussow, writer and musician who filmmakers have substituted as a historian in several films
  4. Taj Mahal, a musician whose interviews were poorly used in places
  5. Terry "Harmonica" Bean, a musician whose narrative about the competition between the preacher and the jook sounded as if he'd been talking to Adam


The most glaring omission, once again, is the addition of a historian to better contextualize the historical evidence and biography of Robert Johnson.  Although I have not seriously scrutinized the biography of RJ, I doubt that during the year he "disappeared" that he returned to the county of his birth, Copiah County, to seek out some unknown guitar player named Zimmerman. No, it's much more likely that he remained in the Delta and learned from some musicians such as Richard "Hacksaw" Harney.  Maybe one day I will tell you why....