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Honeyboy DVD - Directed by Scott L.Taradash
Reviewed by Mr. H, Oct 2005

An atmospheric and moving documentary film which centres on performances and anecdotes from the octagenarian delta bluesman David 'Honeyboy' Edwards, as well as interviews and archive footage of some of his contemporaries.

The story begins in the 1920s with life as a sharecropper's son, picking cotton on the plantations of the Mississippi delta, and also of the spirituals and work songs which would eventually transform and be reborn as the 'blues'. What follows is Honeyboy's life told in short story form as he reminisces about hopping freight trains, gambling, drinking, womanising, performing and the colourful cast of blues giants that touch his life along the way.

What sets Honeyboy apart is not just his talent but his longevity. Although not well known as a recording artist of either the pre or popular post war blues period, Honeyboy was a contemporary not only of seminal delta bluesmen, Big Joe Williams, Charley Patton, Willie Foster and Robert Johnson, but also of the later 'electric' blues pioneers, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and B.B.King. Some of the most touching tales are of missed opportunities with the likes of Sam Philips of Sun Studios and also at Chess Records, where Muddy Waters apparently "froze" Honeyboy out of recording as being too much of a potential competitor.

However, this is not a man looking back with bitterness or with malice. As the story of his life unfolds, we get poignant glimpses of life on the road, the perils of being a black man without a 'proper job' in the South in the 1930s, and of his joyous arrival in Chicago in the early 60s. Throughout the film Honeyboy revels in all the 'good times' of his life with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing cackle.

The musical sequences which pepper the film throughout are primarily solo pieces to camera with Honeyboy performing alone with acoustic guitar, although there are also a few snippets of live performance. These songs are delivered simply and photographed beautifully in a variety of mainly rural Southern settings. Honeyboy's playing feels spare, instinctive and genuinely authentic in that it feels like the music of a true original.

The film - the director's debut feature - has a cinematic feel and the peeling paint of the wooden shacks, and decaying plantation house locations look like they're from a much earlier time and place. The camera work is understated and allows the quiet dignity of the performers to shine through. A sequence with the now deceased Willie Foster singing unaccompanied in the midst of a field of cotton is particularly powerful.

DVD from £10.27 Available from AMAZON
(Although it's listed as 'Region 1' it works fine on my non-multiregion player. Director Scott says they've sold plenty in Europe without this being an issue...)