Satan & Adam | Chicago Reader
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Satan & Adam

For a movie full of music as earthy, rambunctious, infectious, and electrifying as the blues, this documentary about the celebrated duo of Black session and street guitarist Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee and Jewish musicologist and harmonica player Adam Gussow is surprisingly flat. Too bad, since their story would seem like a can't-miss: New York suburbanite Gussow was 28 in 1986 when he respectfully approached the Mississippi-born Magee, then a 50-year-old one-man-band dynamo passing the hat on a Harlem sidewalk, and asked if he could join him. The two instantly clicked; at a time when America's Black-white divide was widening, they became a fixture on 125th Street, and after inclusion in Phil Joanou's 1988 documentary U2: Rattle and Hum, graduated to clubs and concert stages, record albums, and overseas tours. Director and longtime fan V. Scott Balcerek shot this tribute over 23 years; to have stuck with it indicates enthusiasm, but perhaps the years not spent actively working on it took a toll. It's as if he lost the shape of his narrative while waiting for something to happen after Magee abruptly dropped out of sight in 1998. The circumstances of the guitar man's resurfacing years later are fascinating, but Balcerek doesn't have the storytelling chops of Gussow, who launched a successful writing career in 1995 with an essay for Harper's called "Winter Blues," a far more vibrant and insightful account of life with Satan than this one.


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