Thursday, August 15, 2013

Babe's and Ricky's Inn [2011]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (B. Sharkley) review
Hollywood Reporter (F. Scheck) review

Babe's and Ricky's Inn [2011] (written and directed by Ramin Niami) is a documentary that played recently at Chicago's 19th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It is also available for rent or purchase at both Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

The film is about the legendary Los Angeles blues bar "Babe's and Ricky's Inn" founded in 1957 by Mississippi transplant Mama Laura Mae Gross after her husband died of a stab wound he received in the course of being robbed of his paycheck one day.  Honestly, talk about the blues ...

But rather than weep forever, she went into business, opening in 1957 a place called Laura's Bar-B-Que (located at Wilmington and Imperial Hwy in L.A.) and in 1964 she purchased a place located at 5259 Central Avenue in the heart of the then club section of Watts, renamed it "Babe's and Ricky's Inn" (after her nephew and son, and the iconic blues club was born.  In the 1990s, the club moved to 4339 Leimert Blvd (still in South Central L.A.) but closed in recent years following Mama Laura's death. 

The film features testimonials of dozens of blues musicians, local, "from the South," from the rest of the country and indeed from across the world, black, white, mixed black-korean (those who lived in L.A. in the years surrounding the 1992 L.A. Riots would know the pointed/poignant significance of that combination), chicano and even a young Japanese American guitarist who Mama Laura nicknamed "Tokyo Mississippi" (the name stuck ;-).

The only criticism that other reviewers have leveled at the documentary that IMHO any blues lover would cherish -- "Cracker" though I am ;-), I've loved the blues since college days, frequenting the Checkboard Lounge "back in the day" when it was still a "one lightbulb joint" on 43rd Street on Chicago's South Side (in today's Bronzeville) after a high school friend of mine discovered it while attending the University of Chicago.  And since coming back to Chicago ten years ago, I've taken a parade of friends, visiting relatives from the Czech Republic and visiting Servites from Mexico, India, South Africa and Brazil (and even the occasional parishioner... ;-) to "Lee's Unleaded Blues" at 74th St. and South Chicago Ave (about 15-20 minutes north or my current parish) -- is that the documentary is mostly about the music and only a little, at the end, about Mama Laura herself.

Still as the documentary progresses one gets a taste of her personality.  All sorts of younger musicians testified throughout the course of the film how she served as a mentor figure to them, that she wouldn't openly criticize, but if she didn't particularly like what they were doing on stage she'd "just turn away" and "start doing other things" ;-).  And then she was also a tough lady, by legend going to sleep at her club each night after closing "on the pool table with a .38 under her pillow."  With an image like that seared into one's imagination, what more does one really need to know? ;-)

ADDENDUM:  Babe's and Ricky's Inn [2011] is available for rent / purchase at both Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.  

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