Babe's and Ricky's Inn: Film Review
Ramin Niami's documentary pays tribute to Los Angeles' now-shuttered, legendary blues club.
Blues lovers no longer need kick themselves if they never made it to Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn, the landmark Los Angeles blues club that closed its doors a few years ago after more half a century. That’s due to the arrival of Ramin Niami’s loving documentary of the same name, featuring so many performances by blues artists both well-known and obscure that it feels as if the club never went away.
It was started by Laura Mae Gross, eventually known as Mama Laura, a Mississippi-born woman who decided to fulfill her dream of owning a blues club after her husband was killed in a robbery. Named after her nephew and son, the club opened in 1957 on Central Avenue--it later moved to the arts community of Leimert Park when the area became too crime-ridden — and went on to host such legendary performers as B.B. King, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Albert King and countless others. Becoming a mecca for blues lovers around the world, it also helped launch the careers of such now prominent musicians as Guitar Shorty, Southside Slim and Keb’ Mo’.
Resembling a memorial service that just happens to include a plethora of sizzling musical performances, the film features affectionate recollections by a gallery of musicians who pay tribute to the club and its warmhearted founder as well as describing their own personal odysseys. There’s also brief interview footage of the bedridden 89-year-old Mama Laura, who died during the film’s production
Interspersed throughout are extensive musical sequences showcasing many of the interview subjects, filmed both at the titular venue and other L.A. area clubs.
Although ragged in its presentation and frustratingly unfocused in its storytelling, Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn is an endearing cinematic valentine that pays well-deserved tribute to a vanished musical institution.
Opened April 5 (Sideshow Releasing)
Director/producer: Ramin Niami
Executive producers: Karen Robson, Azita Shahryarinejad
Director of photography: Jack Cochran
Editor: Meg Pinsonneault
Not rated, 90 min.