Belushi (4 stars)


Innovative documentary on a comic legend's almighty rise and equally hefty fall

If, to you, the name 'John Belushi' means Blues Brothers, drugs excess and having a less talented little brother, then 108 minutes of this new documentary might not add a huge amount more to your understanding of the comedian's hectic life and miserable death. But in terms of documentary storytelling, RJ Cutler's Belushi is a treat for its innovative style and measured pacing in laying out what is essentially an overly familiar show business biography filled with fast living, stratospheric fame and a calamitous, fatal downfall.

More and more documentaries are eschewing the previously fashionable 'auteur' method in which a Ronson or a Theroux or a Broomfield would provide voiceovers as well as putting themselves in front of the camera, but few of this distanced breed have thrown as much at the wall as Belushi. There's animation from Robert Valley (famed and acclaimed for his Gorillaz videos), shots of letters between Belushi and his wife Judy, and reams of excellent footage and stills from several periods of the comic's life and career, plus we hear contributions by everyone from Carrie Fisher, Jim Belushi, and the Saturday Night Live crew of Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and many others.

Belushi is the tale of a whipcracking talent whose energy and vitality bordered at times on mania and which inevitably blew itself out in a fog of heroin abuse, professional jealousy (he became increasingly irritated on SNL as Chase received most of the attention and plum scripts) and an emotional hole. This last aspect (which may or may not explain a lot) is perhaps rooted in the lack of emotion showed to him by his Albanian parents: his father came to America to be a cowboy, not to have a son who could make everyone (but him) laugh.

The kinetic antics in Belushi's most famous work (Animal House, Blues Brothers) might have a seriously dated ring to it all, but it's impossible not to be charmed by a man who appears never to have deliberately hurt anyone. With death finding him at 33, his ultimate demise is as familiar as it is sad.

Sky Documentaries, Friday 27 November, 9pm.