"Black and Blue," now playing at the Uptown, is the latest addition to the rock film pantheon. It is also one of its least distinguished efforts. Poorly shot, poorly recorded, poorly edited, the film also captures a poor 1979 performance by two of the elder statesbands of the heavy-metal genre, England's Black Sabbath and Long Island's Blue Oyster Cult.
Outside of abrasive sound levels not even indicated in the film, the common links between these bands are a bubble-gum Satanism and a monotone battle plan that may work in concert, and has been occasionally effective on vinyl, but suffers considerably from the ineptly detailed attentions of the film medium.
"Black and Blue" offers few clues as to the continuing appeal of these two particular bands or of the cathartic powers of the genre in general. Even the stadium ritual connecting performers and audience is obscured by the slipshod focus of the film. Its grainy textures -- looking like blownup 16mm film -- might pass the television test, but on the big screen, it all looks tawdry and amateurish.
The 1979 performances themselves were perfunctory, aging dinosaurs on the road to nowhere. Blue Oyster Cult tinges its metal splurges with a certain intelligence and humor, but Black Sabbath is unbearably laughable. Its concept of dynamics is a twist of the volume knob. Ronnie Dio, replacing Ozzy Osbourne, looks like a fat, fully crazed Tiny Tim, flicking little Satanist gestures and generally camping up to the banality of evil.
Even the occasional sledgehammer guitar exorcism and the inquisitional approach to lyric sensibility seem wasted in the unsettling context of such poor filmmaking. "Black and Blue" offers no insights, no experience and certainly no clues as to the mysteries of Black Sabbath's or Blue Oyster Cult's pieces of the rock. As one Blue Oyster Cult slogan predicts accurately, you'll either be "on your feet or on your knees." Either way, you should be able to get out of the theater.