Why you should rent ''Forty Shades of Blue'' -- Ken Tucker tells us why the Rip Torn film is worth watching

By Ken Tucker
June 16, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Why you should rent ”Forty Shades of Blue”

If the gifted but dissolute country singer whom Rip Torn portrayed so wrenchingly in the great neglected 1973 B movie Payday had survived, moved to Memphis, and become a record producer, he’d be Alan James, the genius-reprobate Torn inhabits with equal vigor in Forty Shades of Blue (2005). James is a Memphis legend who’s worked R&B wonders, and after living a full, bawdy life, he’s now settled into semidomesticity with his live-in Russian girlfriend, Laura (Dina Korzun). Director Ira Sachs follows the pair through a long weekend in which the city celebrates Alan’s achievements, even as he cheats on Laura and unintentionally sends her into the arms of his grown son, who’s visiting them (played by Darren Burrows, goofy Ed from Northern Exposure, now soulful with self-pitying resentment toward his titanic father). Sachs, who grew up in Memphis, captures its twilight sensuality. He notes in a commentary that background faces in the party scenes include the guitarist who ”played the original lick for the theme of Shaft” and, as one of Alan’s buddies, Red West, a member of Elvis Presley’s ”Memphis Mafia.” Forty Shades tells a familiar tale — a son ever-unable to please Daddy — but its cobalt blue nights, soul-drenched soundtrack, and overwhelming yet impossibly delicate performance by Torn lift it beyond trite psychology and into a realm of poetic reverie.