I saw the James Brown biopic, "Get On Up," at a screening just before it opened to the public. I've read many reviews and commentaries since, and I'm finally getting around to putting down some thoughts. First of all, Chadwick Boseman is amazing as The Godfather of Soul. He brings JB's moxie and moves to the role. He could very well get an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Initially, the biggest thing that bothered me is that the primary white characters — Brown's recording label boss Syd Nathan (played by Fred Melamed), and his manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) — are caricatures. It's a bad sign whenever Aykroyd is in a movie. I would much rather have seen, well, an actor. Any actor. The drama of the script would have been sharper with those characters more fully realized. And this wasn't a case of black filmmakers getting it wrong: the director and the writers are all white (as this writer noted).
And then I began re-reading my friend RJ Smith's excellent JB biography, "The One" (2012), and realized how many shortcuts the filmmakers took. Hollywood strikes again. But the film is worth seeing, solely for Boseman's performance and the many well-staged and edited concert scenes. (Brown's original recordings were used, though cleaned up and, in some instances, enhanced.)
The film depicts Brown's decision to record a live album at the Apollo Theater in 1962, though strongly opposed by Nathan. Brown financed the recording himself and it turned out to be a huge success. Released in May of 1963, the album spent 66 weeks on Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart peaking at #2. I was just a tyke, but I knew the album well because my older brother, Rudy, played it repeatedly. The introduction, by Fats Gonder, is classic. (What's the deal with that surf guitar sound?) And then it leads right into the dynamic "I'll Go Crazy."
And here's a litle bonus: a rudimentary mashup I made years ago (on cassette!), featuring JB's true heir, Prince. (Takes a few seconds to start.)