R. J. Cutler interview: ‘Belushi’ documentary
One of the biggest surprises in R.J. Cutler’s new documentary, “Belushi,” comes at the very, very end of the film towards the end of the closing credits. It’s a song that was written and performed by Belushi’s widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, about her relationship with John called “Best Days.” “It’s one of those happy accidents. While we were filming, she said to me, ‘You want to know what I’ve been doing lately? I’ve been writing a lot of music and I brought my ukulele. One of the songs was the story of her life with John,'” he explained in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). Cutler loved the song and was able to find the perfect place to put it. “When we put it over the credits, I realized that’s where it wanted to belong.”
“Belushi,” which is currently available through Showtime, examines the far-too-short life of John Belushi who served as one of the original “Not Ready For Primetime Players” on “Saturday Night Live” and later as the star of films such as “National Lampoon’s: Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” Through the use of home movies, animation, letters to Judy, media appearances and audio interviews from those closest to him, Cutler is able to show Belushi as someone who wanted to make people laugh but faced incredible challenges with addiction, which lead to his death in 1982 at the age of 33.
As a teenager in the mid-1970s, Cutler was a regular viewer of ‘SNL’ during its first several seasons and vividly remembers what Belushi brought to the show. He was able to single out his favorite Belushi moment and it was when he and Dan Aykroyd first performed as the Blues Brothers. “The essence of it was nobody knew what it was! It was like performance art a full decade before performance art existed. You couldn’t even contextualize it,” he says. What Belushi brought to that moment for Cutler was also a recognition of what made the man so special to so many people. “I think we all felt a connection to him that’s different than the relationship you normally have with a performer.”
Cutler also faced an interesting choice with the film in deciding who would read the letters that John had written to Judy. “I knew I wanted somebody to read them. The letters are a hugely significant part of the film and they reveal the essence of John and they are also the most confessional aspect of the film.” Cutler’s first thought was to have another SNL alumni, Bill Hader, read them. Hader said yes almost immediately. “He didn’t ask to see the film or read the letters. I asked why and he said, ‘What choice did I have, really?’”