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The enigmatic life of Robert Johnson in ‘ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads’

  • Published at 12:13 am June 11th, 2019
Devil at the Crossroads
Poster of 'ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads' | IMDB

Robert was the first popular musician to join the 27 Club, in 1938, and many believe successive musicians who joined the club, such as Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Kurt Cobain, also made deals with the devil

The life and death of legendary blues singer Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was shrouded in mystery and tragedy. Netflix attempts to retell his story authentically in a new original documentary titled “ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads.”

While watching the film, I lost myself in the beautiful visual narrative, completely forgetting that it was a documentary. The narrative style, stunning cinematography and use of colour tone make it seem as if it is a work of fiction.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the use of animation, and the last time I enjoyed the use of animation in a documentary this much was in “Cobain: Montage of Heck.” The animation gives a unique feel when used to portray certain incidents and tragedies in Johnson’s life.

Furthermore, John Hammond’s contribution to bringing the blues singer to the mainstream audience can be keenly felt through the animation in the film. 

Directed by Brian Oakes, the documentary is set in the heart of rural Mississippi in the 1930s.  In the beginning of the film, we see a brief history of Robert’s life and parents.   

The film also demonstrates the struggles of the black community at the time, which included facing racial violence and lynching. 

In the early 1930s, Robert was a struggling blues guitar player and singer, performing at various juke joints in Delta. He was initially unwanted in the music scene, facing criticism for poor guitar skills. 

Then, one day, Robert seemingly disappears from his hometown. He returns a year and half later, executing riffs that even his mentors could not do. Such was his new skill with the guitar and the power of his lyrics that rumours began to circulate that he had sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for greatness.

Robert was the first popular musician to join the 27 Club, in 1938, and many believe successive musicians who joined the club, such as Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Kurt Cobain, also made deals with the devil.

The rumours were further fuelled by Robert’s lyrics, which included subjects such as hellhounds, devils and crossroads. However, music experts believe the terms were used as metaphors to articulate the loss and misery that Robert had suffered.

Whether you believe the rumours or not, the documentary also reveals that Robert used to spend hours on end with his mentor at a cemetery at night, to practice his guitar playing.

Robert’s music inspired many renowned musicians and bands, including Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Keith Richards. In addition to interviews with legendary musicians and music experts, the documentary also includes interviews with Robert’s family members. The screenplay was written by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist.

The film is a beautiful tale of the life of Robert Johnson and the legacy he left behind. At the end of the film, each and every viewer realizes that the amount of sacrifice one has to make to achieve greatness is enormous. 

The film premiered on Netflix on April 26, and I believe it warrants a rating of 4.5 out of 5.