The Godfather of Soul

James Brown

I just saw the new James Brown movie called “Get on Up.” So many thoughts. First the young actor Chadwick Boseman is astounding! As one who has lived in that era, and reliving it through the movie of James Brown, I was highly moved with emotion. I came home from the theatre and my fingers started moving across the keyboard. Sometimes, I write in longhand, but I was too excited to try to draw out the letters, so for this piece, I chose to create it on the computer. This young brotha, Boseman, captured the essence of the majestic James Brown.

I had taken our 3rd and 4th graders to see him when he played Jackie Robinson in the movie, 42 last year. He was great in that movie, but this movie, directed by Mississippian Tate Taylor, required him to stretch his skills even further. He had James Brown’s voice, his dance moves, splits and was just so convincing in this biopic.

Mick Jagger is also one of the producers of this movie and he did brush shoulders with James Brown. He even borrowed some of his moves as many performers have that came after Mr. Brown. Michael Jackson always gave huge credit to James Brown for inspiring him in all that he accomplished and was visibly shaken at his death. It is said that he sat mortified for hours at Brown’s funeral and almost had to be nudged from his stone-like state.

This movie was done in a very creative fashion where it went back and forth through time periods from the life of James Brown. His childhood in the backwoods of Augusta, Georgia was extremely rough and in the midst of immense poverty.  Racism was quite evident and as a boy, he even takes a pair of shoes off the feet of a hanging man. In another instance, he is given 13 years in jail for stealing a man’s suit.

But help comes in many forms and in many faces as he is assisted to make his mark on the world. If art is truly borne out of pain, his life depicts this as he is being shaped by hard circumstances. He sees the dissension between his parents and he sees adults at their worse. He and other boys are used in a casino royale type of arena as they have to fight to entertain some wealthy whites for at party.

James finds  the courage to make something of himself but his inner rage is never too far from erupting. He proved to be a wise businessman and Dan Aykroyd plays his manager whom he trusts as they become allies. Great stars in this movie give it further credence. Viola Davis plays his mother and tells him that he has a spirit in him but is unable to be the type of mother he really needs. Yet, his Aunt Honey, played by Octavia Spenser gives him a pep talk that probably sustained him through life when she tells him that he is indeed a special child. Jamarion Scott, who plays Young James, is also outstanding and hopefully will be recognized for his brave talent. Jill Scott added to the authenticity of the movie as one of James Brown’s wives.

Chadwick Boseman becomes so convincing in his role as James Brown that by the end of the movie, you feel that it is him. Of course, as he gets older, his problems become greater as Little Richard had warned him. There is less laughter and playfulness and more of the serious peeks into his deeply troubled and hurt soul. When clips are shown of the real James Brown at the end of the movie, you can barely see a difference between the real Brown and Boseman.

This movie was basically filmed in Natchez and Jackson, Mississippi. The concerts were filmed at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, Mississippi.  There is so much history and this is a truly American film.

As a Chicago young adult in the partying days, a party was not a party unless there was James Brown music. I remember traveling through ice and snow to get to a house party in the cold, but when someone put on a seven or ten-minute James Brown record, everybody danced until they were dripping sweat. After the party, we would go and get some rib tips. In Chicago, a  south side party was not complete without some JB, as we called it, and some BBQ rib tips before returning to the parental home.

Most people think of party music when they think of James Brown but he sang slower songs such as ‘Try Me,’ ‘This is a Man’s World’ or ‘Please, Please, Please.’ This is when you can really hear his soul. Most of the movie reviews start off by calling it “an incredible life story of the Godfather Soul.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg and this is a movie that I definitely plan to see again to relish and savor every moment. So much substance here. Also, I can say that I saw Mr. Brown when we took a group of kids to a concert one summer in the mid-70’s. He was not moving as fast, but he was there and I was there.

In closing, this very special and sainted man passed on the most precious day of the year, Christmas Day of 2006. I recall he went out like a low, smooth flicker leaving us with  untouchable music which he defined as funk. It will last as long as we do.

Lynn                                                                                                                                                  August 4, 2014

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