(CNN) Culled from an extraordinary collection of audiotaped interviews, “Belushi” turns out to be a lot more than just another look at a star who succumbed to drug abuse, but rather a celebration of John Belushi’s talent – and an era – as recalled by those who knew him best. R.J. Cutler’s documentary has its melancholy moments, but from the opening glimpse of Belushi’s “Saturday Night Live” audition video, it surely won’t give you the blues.
Because the documentary relies heavily on decades-old audio, Cutler employs a few devices to help illustrate the film, augmenting clips of Belushi performing with animation and home movies to help putty in the gaps.
Not surprisingly, the best portion centers on Belushi breaking into the comedy world through National Lampoon and Second City, coming up with an extraordinary collection of talent that eventually found a home on “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-1970s.
Even then, Belushi was already difficult, as series patriarch Lorne Michaels remembers, flatly stating his distaste for television, and subsequently chafing about Chevy Chase emerging as the program’s first star.
Belushi ascended to the “alpha” role when Chase left, but his early brushes with stardom only heightened an awareness of his excesses when it came to drug abuse. In a telling thought, the late writer-director Harold Ramis mentions seeing Belushi shine on stage with the Blues Brothers, rejoicing in his success before thinking, “Knowing his appetites, I don’t think he’ll survive this.”