Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Desperate Man Blues (2003)

Directed by Edward Gillan, Desperate Man Blues is a documentary film about record collector Joe Bussard who lives in the small Maryland town of Frederick. Joe passionately maintains a collection that is believed to be one of the largest in the world. Over 15,000 records that consists primary of American folk, bluegrass, gospel and jazz; produced in the 1920s and 1930s which Joe considers to be not only America’s real music but American history; a collective musical time capsule of that time period. We are taken down into Joe’s basement where the cigar smoke is thick and where good music can be heard. He shares some of his many interesting stories and speaks with great enthusiasm and passion about the music he has spent almost 50 years collecting and tirelessly preserving.

I absolutely adore this film beyond measure. I happened to catch the last 30 minutes of it during it's original television broadcast back in 2003 on SBS which along along with Warner Music Australia distributed the film. I found myself almost instantly hooked, there was just something so captivating about it. But the strange thing is that I’ve never listened this type of music at all in my life as I never really any interest too. It's Joe’s himself 
makes the film so enjoyable, his passion and enthusiasm for what he does is nothing short of infectious. Watching him dance away down in his basement to a favourite song absolutely care free I found really uplifting, you really drawn from it; he’s such a larger than life personality. And what I admire most about Joe is that he doesn’t care what other people think, he likes what he likes and he’s proud of it, also his dislike for modern music in particular hip-hop and rock and roll is well documented. As a collector of films I’m very inspired by Joe in regards to the importance he places on preservation and his devotion to collecting and the great lengths he goes to in search for records that would otherwise be lost forever. The entire film we follow Joe around during his day to day life; from breakfast at his favourite diner to pursuing a tip leading to an unwanted stash of potentially valuable records. It’s very candid and I felt very appreciative having been able to see inside this fascinating man’s life. At only 50 minutes running time I really wish it were longer as I simply enjoy it so much, I just wanted more.The DVD of this film is unfortunately not widely available which I think is a real shame. Only certain online stores seem to sell it and of course eBay is always a reliable source for titles such as this one. There are a decent amount of outtakes on the DVD which many are actually quite good and should have been kept in the film in my opinion. One thing I cannot understand is why the picture quality is so poor; it’s really odd as the TV broadcast I originally watched looked so much better. Apart from that it’s a fine release of the film with quality bonus content.

Desperate Man Blues is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen. Joe's music aside, it's also very much a film about the love of collection and loving what you collect. Which is why I think almost anyone who watches this film will enjoy it, regardless if the subject matter interests you, it’s pretty hard not to.


  1. This sounds like my kind of documentary. I'm just as big of a music fan as I am of movies, and judging by the photograph I'm sure it would take hours to explore his music collection, days maybe. Will have to check this one out - I enjoyed your review!

    1. Thanks Bethany! I heard that he keeps the way he arranges his records a closely guarded secret. He does a weekly podcast of his radio show that he has been doing for many years which very easy listening.