Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Get On Up (for James Brown!)

Spotlight: Get On Up - James Brown (1973)“It has taken a long time for Hollywood to recognize what Brown and other soul musicians accomplished”, explains David Denby in a particularly interesting article on The New Yorker. Taylor Hackford struggled for fifteen years to get his Ray Charles bio-pic, ‘Ray’ (2004), off the ground. The producer, Brian Grazer, obtained the rights to James Brown’s story thirteen years ago. He developed a script with the British screenwriting team of John-Henry and Jez Butterworth. But Brown died in 2006 and the project stalled, until Mick Jagger, who then held the rights, proposed to Grazer that they join forces. (Jagger, who learned so much from Brown, has been making his own film about him—collaborating with Alex Gibney on a documentary.) Grazer and Jagger hired Tate Taylor, a white Southerner, who directed ‘The Help’ (2011), the soft-grained movie about black servants and white bosses in early-sixties Mississippi.” With the rest being (now) history…

Ironically, James Brown and Bea Ford‘s son, Daryl Brown, 53,  just released a memoir about his dad (co-written with Michael P. Chabries) – ‘My Father the Godfather’ ( – featuring a bunch of revelations such as the fact that he (James Brown) “didn’t even like Mick Jagger… He used to call him ‘the devil’s son.” A fact bringing back to souvenir of the ‘T.A.M.I. Show’, a concert filmed in Los Angeles in 1964, where he famously had to let the then-relatively-unknown Rolling Stones close the show — the star position. The incident became a scene in “Get on Up”, and it appears the movie account jibes closely with what Daryl heard from his father. “He told me that he said: ‘Hey, let me go on last, and you go on first’.’ But Jagger argued and said: ‘No, we’re the Rolling Stones’. So he said: “OK. I tell you what, you do that.'” And then Brown proceeded to tear it up, giving such a high-energy show with his Famous Flames that the Stones limped on weakly afterward, forever learning the lesson: Don’t even try to follow the Godfather of Soul!, retraced Susan Whitall on The Detroit News.

All in all, the film which has hit the US theaters by the beginning of the month grossed a $13.6 million during its opening weekend, finishing in third place at the box office behind ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ ($94.3 million) and ‘Lucy’ ($18.3 million), received with positive reviews from critics, with praise mainly going to the performance of Chadwick Boseman who plays the Godfather Of Soul (source: Wikipedia). This said, “Taylor’s involvement turns out to be a mixed blessing”, pursues Denby on The New Yorker. “Altering the Butterworths’ screenplay, he has attempted to elevate the standard tropes of a Hollywood bio-pic into a radical new form. As Taylor shows us, James Brown had a terrible time as a child. Abused and beaten by his father (Lennie James) and abandoned by his mother (Viola Davis), he grows up in Depression-era rural Georgia, under the protection of Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), an all-seeing woman who runs a brothel, and who tells him that he’s meant for greatness. His mother, before she left (for unexplained reasons), told him the same thing. These solemn predictions give a corny, quasi-mythical aura of destiny to a triumph that was actually built on talent, hard work, daring, and opportunism; if anyone was self-made, it was James Brown. But Taylor can’t let go of his pretentious design: imitating Alain Resnais and other modernist directors, he dissolves linear narration, plowing backward again and again, giving us more Southern-gothic moss—often when we’re most fascinated or appalled by Brown and would rather not leave the moment to search for the root cause of his behavior. Didn’t anyone tell Taylor that you can’t explain a phenomenon like James Brown any more than you can explain Mozart?”, confirming the fact that Hollywood will always be Hollywood…

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