Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me | Chicago Reader

Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me

A compelling profile of 50s R & B star Screamin' Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), who says he got his stage name when he realized that he couldn't sing but he could “holler.” The performance footage included by Greek director Nicholas Triantafyllidis, some of it shot at Hawkins's final concert, evokes the singer's untamed energy, making plausible Eric Burdon's claim that he was “definitely possessed.” In interviews Hawkins tells of his mother leaving him to be raised by Blackfoot Indians, his multiple love affairs, and his torture by the Japanese during World War II (he couldn't tell them anything because as a “black in America . . . they don't even tell me what time the chickens wake up”). Triantafyllidis effectively captures his subject's raunchy humor and off-center vision: noticing a cat in an airport, Hawkins says, “That kitty had something to declare” as we see the cat in close-up. With Bo Diddley and Jim Jarmusch. 102 min.

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