Get On Up
The James Brown Story
Last night I was privileged to attend a screening of “Get On Up” the soon to be released (Aug. 1) biopic about James Brown. It almost seems unnecessary to explain who James Brown was because he was such a larger than life artist who is known worldwide. In fact, all generations should know James Brown because his music has been sampled more than any other music artists, in contemporary recordings.
“Get On Up” artfully presents the life story of James Brown, known as the hardest working man in show business. Filmed on location in Mississippi, the picture opens with a scene that takes place in the 1980s at a low point in his life after his son’s death, and the film finishes around 1993 when James Brown has a comeback concert. “Get On Up” does present his life from childhood to fame, but does so in a non-linear fashion that engages the audience in a compelling and surprising way. You are led into each scene that bounces from up to down and back and forth in a style as amazing as the way the Godfather of Soul danced. Expert film editing mixing graphics, titles, clips, cues and occasional documentary style dialog of the character speaking directly to the audience were the combined techniques that kept you engaged and on track during the movie. There was a lot of humor in the movie as well. I can truly say I laughed, cried and danced through “Get On Up.” I did a whole lotta chair dancing through this film.
Heavy on the funky soul music but light on the drug abuse details and other negative aspects is in sync with my feeling that there are plenty of sources that give those sad details if you want to find them, but this film rewards the James Brown music fan with an entertaining and revealing tour through his life
The dancing, which is James Brown’s signature, was phenomenal! Chadwick Boseman, who plays James Brown, not only nails every dance move from the shuffle to the split and every other physical mannerism, made him real to the audience.
The screening was at the Writers Guild in Beverly Hills and I was invited by a good friend who is on the SAG Nominating Committee. Attendees were Guild and SAG members and their guests (me). After the screening Chadwick Boseman and the director Tate Taylor were there for a Q&A. Tate, who also directed “The Help” (2011), was forthcoming about his desire to cast Chadwick Boseman for the part of James Brown. In fact he phoned Chadwick, who at first turned down the part, and very strongly insisted he not be intimidated by this role and come to Los Angeles to read for him.
Chadwick Boseman (played Jackie Robinson in “42”) explained that once he agreed and read the part for Tate Taylor he was sold on playing James Brown, but he had to shoot a test for the producers a few days after the read. So he learned the dance moves and the physical mannerisms of James Brown in three days in order to shoot the test. When asked about the coincidence that his last film “42” was also a biopic he answered that it was just the timing of the project and not an intentional career direction that he specializes in these roles. However there is one person he would like to play if a movie is produced about him, but he didn’t reveal the person’s name.
Though other cast members weren’t present for the Q&A, I must mention that every actor was perfect in their roles – Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart (James’ manager), Nelsan Ellis played Bobby Byrd (James’ best friend and band member), Viola Davis was Susie Brown (James’ mother), Octavia Spencer played Aunt Honey and Jill Scott played DeeDee Brown, James Brown’s second wife. Brandon Smith plays Little Richard in the film and has a fantastic scene with Chadwick as James Brown, giving some advice. The scene and dialog are great! Allison Janney was also in the film playing a hotel guest in New Orleans who complains about the “entertainers” at the pool, but later does a fantastic dancing scene in the bar, hearing James Brown and his band rehearsing for a gig.
Tate Taylor was asked for his thoughts or reasoning on why he directed the film the way he did and his reply was he kept in his mind that the audience knows James Brown’s music which has a personal connection to their experience with James Brown and what he represents to them. People already are aware of parts of his history, but not some of the important details that influenced his style, his motivation to work hard and achieve what he did, and why James Brown was determined to keep moving forward. That is what Tate Taylor tries and succeeds doing in his direction of “Get On Up.”
“Get On Up” has a connection to me presently, because of the scene at the T.A.M.I. concert where James Brown and the Famous Flames performs second to last, in front of the Rolling Stones. (Mick Jagger is one of the producers of “Get On Up”) The actual T.A.M.I. concert was filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1964 and the band that backed-up the performers were the Wrecking Crew band. The T.A.M.I concert was produced and arranged by Jack Nitzsche and some of the other musicians in that backing band were Leon Russell on keyboards were Hal Blaine on drums, Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell and Bill Aken on guitars, Lyle Ritz on upright bass, Jimmy Bond on fender bass, Plas Johnson on sax and others. I am currently working with Don Randi who was part of the Wrecking Crew, writing his biography, “You’ve Heard These Hands.”
Personally, James Brown’s music was part of my life’s soundtrack growing up in Los Angeles during the ‘60s and ‘70s and still is. “Get On Up” is a must see for anyone who has moved to the groove of James Brown.
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