There are two kinds of collectors, Paul (Ronald L. Conner), a vintage record reseller, tells Alan (Grant Rosenmeyer), a school teacher and blues music fanatic. One does it for the love of whatever prized bobbles he or she covets. The others collect stuff just so that no one else can have it.
In Chasing the Blues, Alan and Paul are locked in a heated competition for a specific blues recording. It’s a rare one. How rare? It’s reputed to be the only one left on the face of the earth. Many believe it doesn’t even exist.
One day, Alan discovers the legendary recording sandwiched in a collection of vintage recordings. The platters belonged to Mrs. Walker’s (Anna Maria Horsford) late husband. She’s considering selling them all, unaware of what riches are contained on the shelves full of vinyl. The other records are notable, but this one, the granddaddy of all rare blues recordings is worth a king’s ransom.
But there’s a catch. The record was recorded by a scoundrel who committed a murder, and legend has it that the victim’s screams can be heard in the background. Only evil folks hear the awful background wails, so the legend goes, and the sound will drive them insane.
“…locked in a heated competition for a specific blues recording…It’s reputed to be the only one left on the face of the earth.”
There’s a mad scramble for possession of the disc, and that’s what takes up most of the film. As the two competing record collectors thrash it out it becomes less and less clear which kind of collector they are: music appreciators or hoarders. At first, we come down on the side of Alan, whose day job as a schoolteacher allows him to impart the finer points of the blues to his attentive pupils. But as the struggle for the record grows fiercer, distinctions between the two start to blur.
Paul is surely a capitalist who perhaps overcharges customers at his used record store. Between the pair, he seems to have the less noble motives at heart. He’s even willing to steal the record from the widow, and Alan is not. However, both are more than willing to pull the wool over the widow’s eyes and take the valuable record off her hands for a fraction of its worth.
As both dig in their respective heels and struggle for control of the prized recording, the record’s value shrinks in importance. Neither wants to let the other win.
“…picks up the spirits but doesn’t delve into the questions about human nature…”
Through a strange chain of events, both of them end up in a pickle that they could hardly have anticipated. The race to secure the prized record is delayed, and tied up in the end by Lincoln Groome (Jon Lovitz), a shifty operator who has a plan of his own. Meanwhile, Alan meets Vanessa (Chelsea Tavares), who strums her guitar and sings as they barrel toward Baton Rouge on a bus. The reason for Vanessa’s interest in Alan’s quest is not quite clear. And also left unclear, even at the film’s conclusion, is what her character’s function is in the movie’s plot.
At its core, this is similar to other films where men in competition become obsessed with defeating their opponent to the exclusion of everything else. Two very different but thematically related films come to mind, Treasures of Sierra Madre and Point Blank. In both the drive to win turns into a mania. Winning means not only bagging the prize but receiving justice.
But those films are quite different from Chasing the Blues, a light comedy that doesn’t take on any heavy existential overtones. In the other two films, the futility of the chase and the meaninglessness of finally winning the prize is apparent. Not so in Chasing the Blues. We’re left with a perhaps too tidy ending that picks up the spirits but doesn’t delve into the questions about human nature that the movie raises. Had it dug a bit deeper, it might have been something more than the overall pleasant entertainment vehicle that it is.
Chasing the Blues (2018) Directed by Scott Smith. Written by Scott Smith, Kevin Guilfoile. Starring Grant Rosenmeyer, Ronald L. Conner, Chelsea Tavares, Jon Lovitz, Clem Cheung, Steve Guttenberg, Billy Dec.
6 out of 10 guitar picks